A Sober Take on Love, Life and London
By Janna Fox
My Aerial Romance began in 2015 when I moved into The Aeronaut in Acton, a pub with it’s very own CIRCUS! Like many of my earlier romances it began by accident and somewhat reluctantly.
When I started in April 2015 I met the Circus Manager/Producer/Performer Extraordinaire, Jackie Le. Jackie trained as a circus performer when bored with her job at 25 as a pretty successful (and painfully organised) executive PA. She was the original creator and long term producer of The Aeronauts in-house circus show and also performs professionally as a contortionist and aerialist on hoop, silks, rope, you name it she can probably do it!
An aerialist, as I understand it, is an artist who performs tricks and choreography in the air which is an incredibly impressive sight regularly inspiring awe in its audience. I got quite used to this feeling of amazement as there were two shows every weekend on Friday and Saturday nights and unless I was away on an acting gig I would be working.
Like Tinkerbell to Peter Pan I sat on the side lines and admired the skill, grace and strength of these performers. As an actress myself, yet one that rarely did any formal exercise, I developed a keen respect for these beautiful creatures who came alive in flight. I adored watching them, it was my favourite part of the week. I would sit on the dirty steps to the side of the stage and gaze in wonder as they mastered their performances so easily, fluidly telling me their story to music. I would be either loudly whooping and screaming in encouragement or silent and star-struck, jaw dropped. It reminded me of watching ballet dancers as a child, whom after watching at the ballet I would race home, move all the living room furniture out of the way and prance around to my Dad’s Romeo and Juliet CD.
As the weeks went by I became a teenager with an unrealistic crush waiting every week for those five minutes of aerial. No matter how many times I had seen the same routine I was still amazed by them all and would have loved to have been able to get up there and do what they did.
Jackie must have sensed my enthusiasm and started to try and recruit me. ‘Let me teach you’, ‘Have a go’, ‘Go on; you’re strong from lifting barrels you could do it’. To which I firmly replied ‘NO’. I am a very competitive person and if there’s one thing I hate it’s not being able to do something I like. I could see pretty clearly that I was not going to be up to standard when it came to fitness, strength or elegance so in true defeatist style I chose not to try at all.
Months passed and I continued to watch and cheer and dream while falling deeper into my own other self-destructive habits. I was at the stage where in between acting jobs my drug and alcohol use was positively hindering me and I felt like I had nothing else besides the months I was employed as an actress. March 2016 arrived and I had no acting work, some pretty bad habits and was bored shitless so when Jackie said for the millionth time ‘LET ME TEACH YOU’ I finally said ‘yes’.
One of the places she was teaching was a studio called Skylab in Camden. As I walked down Ferdinand Street, following the signs to ‘Skylab Studio’ that first Wednesday night I spotted a rainbow coloured graffiti fox playing with a crow on one of the walls and took it as a good omen. I was going to try the one hour Aerial Taster Class that Jackie teaches; a drop-in class for £15 that ANYONE can go to and try hoop and silks for the first time.
I was a bit nervous, a bit excited, I didn’t really know if I’d be ‘good enough’ to actually do anything but I was at least game to try. I’d seen them every week for a year. I’d probably watched more aerial than most people so at least I had a fairly good idea of what I was in for, right? I mean how hard can it be?
OH MY GOD IT’S MEGA HARD.
AND IT HURTS.
These were my first three thoughts however not one to be put off by a bit of pain after about thirty seconds on the hoop I was hooked. I started going to the taster every week. I loved it. I got to see my friend away from the stress of managing a Friday night (who is also a wicked teacher) I was actually getting fit for the first time in my life and I could do stuff. I was bendy and pretty strong and with the spirit of a true performer I could not wait to do a new move, take a picture and show off on Facebook. After a couple of weeks I booked onto one of the courses. There are four Levels at Skylab for hoop and silks divided by difficulty with up to six students and a teacher who shows you the ropes (!). I enrolled on Level 1 Hoop taught by the lovely Suzy and did the extreme stretch class before every week, which is exactly how it sounds; mega hard yoga type stretches designed to develop flexibility. Suzy encouraged us when dismounting from the hoop to land like a snowflake and not an elephant.
I’m definitely still working on that one…
Lifting barrels all my life was starting to pay off. I was pleased with my gradual progress. It was tricky to add yet another thing to my already complex schedule of auditioning actress, bar manager, writer and employed actress but I always went back to Skylab. I had found another love. Clambering around a hoop while making shapes and friends had become one of my number one things to do.
However even my pub strength and natural flexibility had nothing on the kind of stamina and muscle required to really be able to do aerial, not to the standard that I wanted to achieve. I had pipe dreams of performing at the Aeronaut; Jackie would look on so proud of her baby student all grown up…. I was still watching these performers every weekend, now with even more respect having a better idea of what is actually involved; the pain, the time, the frustration. Their performances spurred me on to work harder, do better and get GOOD but I was starting to feel defeated.
Why couldn’t I hold myself up for longer? Or do a proper split? Why couldn’t my callouses be thicker already?
So I started training.
Astra, the fabulous lady who single-handedly runs Skylab (applause please) also runs fitness classes in order for people like me (and you) to build up fitness, strength and stamina to help you do aerial or just to keep fit. So the Aerial Fit class was next on my list, a one hour fitness class using hammocks (a piece of fabric suspended from the ceiling in hammock form) to develop the right muscles for aerial and practice inversions. I also started hot yoga and continued progressing on the Levels, recently making it to Level 3. Yay.
Recently I’ve started putting together my first routine to music. Enabled by Jackie’s incredible knowledge and encouraged by Astra’s brilliant blogs I will perform in the next Skylab Showcase, held every six months, along with other students who want to share their work in front of a friendly audience.
The more time I spend at Skylab the more I notice a sort of sister-hood developing. It’s not cliquey or competitive or culty but it’s safe to say if there was a coolade I’d definitely be drinking it! It’s simply nice to know other people who all enjoy doing the same thing, who witness your achievements and disasters and like your pictures when everyone else is sick to the back teeth of them. Yes, I am competitive, that’s my personality but the girls I come across at Skylab, be it waiting for the next class or during a taster on a Wednesday or Air Time on a Friday or Sunday are generous with their knowledge. We help each other, cheer when someone gets a trick and hug it out when our hands, hocks and hearts are sore.
As a person who spent most of her adult life only really socialising around drugs and alcohol it’s been a very new experience meeting these girls in this place to do this activity. It’s really exciting for me and couldn’t have come at a better time because staying sober isn’t always easy and having a physical distraction is incredibly welcome. Aerial is also physically taxing which helps with all those noisy thoughts that try stop me from sleeping and encourage me to use. After an hour on the hoop I’m satisfied that I’ve worked hard and my body is tired enough to sleep.
Yes I have a goal to perform, of course I do I’m a born performer but not everybody does most people do it for fun. It’s so inspiring to see these women from all walks of life come together in the studio week after week. We don’t know each other, really. I’m always surprised at the end of the class when people get changed into their normal clothes and I see these ladies in dresses and nice shoes that they came straight from work in walking back out into the real world with bruises on the backs of their knees.
All sizes, big and small, short and tall, from actresses to lawyers, heart surgery nurses to sales assistants, bar managers to bankers; we all come together and play in the air.
Astra started Skylab hoping to inspire people to find their inner circus performer, one of which she believes lives inside us all.
Astra, you’ve totally nailed it.