Friday, 20 February 2015

Chapter 65: Circus Strongwoman

"Life is like a fan, Lucy, our strength lies in opening up."

"Circus Strongwoman" by @franceswidow

I was 20 when I received those words of wisdom from a friend, Paco, along with a russet-coloured, intricately decorated fan, and I have kept them close ever since. I was living in Valencia at the time and once a week would meet up with him and his friends, and over red wine and baguette-syle bocadillos we would share tales, and tales within tales. The fan is old now, the hinge has loosened, and with the slightest flick it whirs open. It remains a constant reminder to take risks, tell stories and keep sharing, even when the temptation is to snap shut. 

So here's a story I'll share, because it is a striking and fundamental part of this circus adventure, though I'm not quite sure how without revealing a bit too much. Here goes anyway:

A couple of years ago, I felt worn out and short of breath. Literally and metaphorically. So to shake things up I started a pole-fit class for fun (see The Polelogue). With pole came access to a range of movements I would never have believed possible.  Handstands, and all manner of inversions for starters. And with that physical freedom came a euphoria, a liberation, an attitude and a joie de vivre that I wanted to capture somehow. So I looked around for a  female boudoir photographer - had to be a woman - with whom all my negatives (the photographic kind) would be safe.  And I lucked out. I met Stormy Sloane from Rebel & Romance, a young photographer over from the U.S. who is going places. 

We spoke on the phone initially, and Stormy was very warm and friendly. Even so, the very thought  of a shoot took me well out of my comfort zone - but that was the whole point, to push boundaries and counteract that suffocating feeling of stagnation. Stormy came round to my house with her portfolio. I took to her instantly and when later she came to photograph me, Stormy put me so at ease that her pictures captured my soul - the naked truth, as it were. A year or so later, I found myself writing this blog and thinking of one of Stormy's pictures I'd seen on Instagram of the most beautiful girl with an albino python around her neck. A snake charmer, I thought, that would fit nicely in my post I was writing at that point (see Chapter 19). I contacted her to ask for permission to use it, along with that of her model. It turned out that the model Katrina Lilwall, was in fact a circus performer. By chance it turned out that she was in the dramatic "Midnight's Circus" that very week at a theatre called Jacksons Lane in Highgate, which I'd never been to before. My husband came along for once, as did another friend, and Stormy happened to be free that night as well. It was a turning point in many ways as by that time I was training at Circus Space too, and it was an opportunity to really show my husband what I loved about the beauty of pole, straps, silks, trapeze and aerial skills in general. To hear him say "I get it", well, that was a eureka moment, for sure. As we were with Stormy we ended up chatting to Kat and some of the performers afterwards from Aircraft Circus, which inspired me to write about the show by way of an open thank you (see Chapter 24), and that in turn brought me into contact with folk at Jacksons Lane, kickstarting a whole new chapter in my life.

It's funny too, as Midnight's Circus was styled as a dark, sexy spectacle, and given the current wave of Fifty Shades hysteria around a fantasy which, quite frankly, I find disturbingly misogynistic, I especially enjoy remembering a show where straps were used not as restraints to pin down, but as an aide to soaring to new heights. A show where the women were fire-eaters rather than damp sponges. And reading Lucy Ribchester's "The Hourglass Factory" at the moment, in which a female journalist is exploring the mystery of a disappearing trapeze artiste, set in the context of the suffragette movement and emancipation, really brings home to me this idea of women finding empowerment and strength in a circus space.  A space of action, rather than reaction, where you are continually pushing yourself out your comfort zone, rather than being dragged through it by the hair, caveman-style. It is light-years ahead (give or take a few worm-holes) and quite literally poles apart from the Dark Ages of Fifty Shades. And it is, for me, where the real adventure begins …

Photo by Stormy Sloane

Thank you to multi-talented circus performer Frances Widow (@franceswidow) for permission to use her stunning Circus Strongwoman. I noticed her beautiful sketches on her Twitter feed at the same time as she had been helping me find the Facebook page of Alula (@AlulaCyr), the new female Cyr wheel trio on the block. One of the group is Lil Rice who I last saw in Tangerino's "Red Shoes" in summer (see Chapter 28). Circus Strongwomen all, exciting and super-inspiring. Ones to watch.

Lucy Ribchester is reading from her book The Hourglass Factory at the Brixton BookJam on Monday, 2 March at Hootananny's (Whoot! Where I last saw Kate Tempest! See Chapter 17 and Chapter 18 )
There is also a book launch on Thursday, 5th March at Lutyens and Rubensteins, Notting Hill.
Follow her on Twitter @lucyribchester for further news about upcoming events.

And speaking of Circus Strongwomen, great to hear, hot of the press as it were, that Katrina Lilwall is in the flaming brilliant group Black Fire Girls (click herewho you may have also seen performing, and voted for!, in ITV's "Get Your Act Together".

July 2015 update: I have now had my own experience fire-eating - see see Chapter 88: Playing With Fire (click here)

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