Finding Feet

When I was younger, (12) I went to circus skills classes for a while (six years). The first time I went it was being held on the top floor of the Enterprise Centre in Cinderford, an ugly, barely-used seventies-born building hidden away in a car park on the industrial estate. And for those of you who don’t know Cinderford; (all of you that haven’t lived there at some point) it’s this big:

Hidden away on the top floor in this tiny town, was a gaggle of hippies and lost children, all chatting enthusiastically, learning, and skipping from one area to another of a hall-sized function room, picking up and dropping at their leisure all the different equipment and advice available to hand. There were gym mats in most places, some juggling balls, poi, Diablo, a single trapeze, and other bits that I can’t remember. I didn’t care very much about anything outside the trapeze, and Indie and her mother. Indigo and her mum were a petite acrobalance duo; the former fresh, mute and pixie-like, and the latter pixie-like, Welsh and involving. I was captivated. My best friend Erin stood at my side and we fell in love at once together with this skill. I had had my doubts before we came, though it was a secretly welcome change from our quiet, pensive visual art evenings at Artspace, to which this crew were linked – I hate, because I am crap at, art. I am also not a mousey, floral, swishy-handed type; I know now that in my element I need to be handing upside down and cartwheeling to get from A to B.

I still had a few doubts while we were there, and hung back and let Erin do the talking. She was the accepting one, the one who didn’t judge people on first impressions, or first years, or ever. Erin gave people multiple chances as if she wasn’t doing them any favours, but instead felt blessed by the presence of everyone she met, and treated them that way, and consequently had a great many friends in her life that she could call close, who opened up to her and spent time with her, invested in her. She was a giver. She still is.

Despite us evolving into an acro-forte double act, I remember first being drawn to the trapeze most of all. Erin and I both wanted to have a go at the acrobalance, but that became more of a love for me later on. I caught sight of the ropes as we walked into the room, and made a subconscious (coy and probably completely invisible) bee-line for them. A girl we came to know as, and then berated ourselves for calling, ‘Crazy Kate’ (in reasonably short-term hindsight, we realised our mistake in thinking that she was with it enough to just be quirky) with bright pink pigtails and huge flared cords was hanging upside down, bum stuck out like a monkey-impersonating toddler, giggling like a loon and chatting happily (all her teeth were out; a true sign of a kind of joy that literally took your breath away) to the workshop leader, Sally. I knew where I was meant to be immediately. Of course, I would never have announced as much, but luckily I had Erin. An advocate and activist in my interests always, she made sure we got our money’s worth.

I waited patiently, and then took my turn. I padded up barefoot on the spongy mat and jumped up to grab the trapeze. Being shorter yet older than most there, what came so naturally to Kate in lobbing up her long legs to catch the bar was seemingly impossible for me. Mortified but still excited, I accepted a helping hand that guided my legs up and kept them there, until the swinging bar stopped at the arch of my feet, and I hooked myself over and on. Heaving myself upwards with my hands on the ropes, I head-rushed into a sitting position and took stock of my wonderful new world. I had come home. Here I was, on a triumphant ten-foot-high swing, surveying my kingdom. No one could touch me. (Not even those years in the future, who wouldn’t understand, and would burst into this tune in delighted prejudice: 

In fact now, I find it rather comforting and exhilarting.) I felt brilliant and modest in one moment. I am sure my eyes must have said it all, but I quietly bottled this feeling and went through the acceptable amount of adjusting moments and came down ready for the next person’s turn. I eyed up that trapeze for the rest of the session, and I can still see it vividly now. I can see the one in the new Artspace building that I frivolously got straight up on with my arm in a fresh pink cast, to Sally’s tamed but sincere concern (the arm having been broken in – guess what – the warm up of an acro performance about a week before.) I used to get up there as soon as I walked in the door, or after the break, to eat snacks, just any moment, and sit there like it was an armchair. It was comfortable, right, settling. Maybe I just felt that everything that colour pink belonged up there in those glorious heights. The world from up there was certainly rosy. The world in which I really learned to flex my feet.

There they are.

Tonight, I realised that some of my wardrobe unintentionally but perfectly doubles up as circus costume. Either the universe is looking after me well, or I have been hunting out a certain look. A style with a certain reminiscence of something pink from my past. That Summer evening thirteen years ago set the bar. There is something in me that desperately needs to hang upside down, feet flexed, sparkling with outrageous make up and lycra, at least ten feet in the air.


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