The cliché says you run away to join the circus, but I’m not running away from anything. I’m running to something.
Lately, I’ve just rolled with life, and that’s how I ended up in Great Britain. In December, I got an e-mail from the Academy of Circus Arts. They asked if I could come to New York to audition. I got in, and it was a split-second decision — OK, I’m going.
I’ve done performance art in Cleveland. I’ve performed on silks before — I misjudged a drop once and banged my head on the floor. It left a divot. I perform on silks in Great Britain, but I also do things I’ve never done before, like the trapeze.
The trapeze I perform on isn’t the kind where you swing from platform to platform. It hangs in the center of the circus ring. Or it hangs from a single point that moves around the tent.
I perform with another woman, Disa Carneol. We’re marketed as sisters: The Zimbi Sisters, which means “happy” in Romanian.
To start, we have to climb a rope to the top. The bar is big enough so both of us can sit on it.
The first thing you notice is how hot it is at the top of the rope, because heat rises and it’s the top of a tent. And if it is really, really hot, I sweat. A lot. That can make some things slippery.
Slippery is not good when hanging at the top of a tent. The first time, it was really scary.
I’ve never used a net. That was a personal decision. For double trapeze we use a mat for training. But it is removed after the first few performances.
When you know your art so well, it doesn’t feel dangerous anymore. But —oh yeah! — I could die. People in the circus can have their careers ended in a second.
I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I probably wouldn’t get through the academy without getting injured.
We came up with a trapeze act where we mirror each other. I do a lot of the moving. A trick can start from standing on the bar, hanging beneath it or swinging from the bar. A lot of times, Disa acts as a ballast. She does some dance moves on the bar without ever taking her weight off it. I do tricks underneath the bar while she dances on it.
You have to rely on your strength. You can feel the strain in your muscles. Mostly upper body: neck, shoulders, arms, back.
We rub something called Firm Grip on our legs and ankles. It’s something that baseball players use. It is super sticky.
I fling myself upside down and she catches me with her feet. She’s holding me up, leg-to-leg. I never thought I would be able to say I let someone hold me in the air leg-to-leg.
I have to trust that she’s always going to catch me. If she didn’t, I could be hurt. Or I could die. You just can’t think about it.
She’s always going to catch me. I have to trust her because she is the base for most of our tricks. She’s a little bit bigger than me. She’s very strong and I’m easy to whip around.
It feels safe, and it’s absolutely not safe.
I am absolutely focused, completely, on the act. I’m freaking out. I’m thinking,What’s next? What’s next?!?
But I get through it, and it is such relief when I finish that first time.
After that, it is more fun. It gets easier over time. Every performance is different. We practice a lot, and some days you get into a zone and you get into the audience, looking at the reactions that you get. But sometimes I start going through a laundry list of things in my head.Oh gosh, I need to call home. I need to pick up some milk.Other times, I learn that my body can do some really amazing things, but I’m still only human. I still can’t feel my left foot from an earlier injury, but I’ll get better.
I may not stay in the circus for the rest of my life. I’ll be back in Cleveland soon. I’ll decide what to do next when I get there. I look at it as a step on my life journey.