Friday, June 20, 2014

Becoming a trapeze artist again

It's finally time to write about this journey, the one that led me to a once-in-a-lifetime performance on the Totem stage.  I've kept silent about it (on the blog at least) for all these months… maybe I didn't want to jinx it.  But it really happened… and I am glowing with joy and pride.

It took 5 months.  In January 2014, I decided it was time to get back in shape again, after years of being away from the aerial equipment.  I set myself some goals, and a training schedule, and started climbing.  

A few people dropped in on my practices during the early months, but very soon I was joined by Oyungerel Davaatseren (Oyuna), who became an incomparable, consistent, amazing training partner.  Some background:

Oyuna was a professional circus performer many years ago.  She grew up in Mongolia, and began training acrobatics at an early age.  She was particularly driven, and leapt quickly into work, performing  professionally for the first time at the age of 15.  While she had a full range of circus skills - she can juggle, and tumble, and do hula-hoops, and goodness' knows what else - duo trapeze became her specialty.  She performed for many years in traditional circus companies, until she met her husband-to-be, Tamir Erdenesaikhan, who was a Russian bar porter in Alegria.

Oyuna and Tamir married, and she dropped her career completely to become a touring housewife.  She says the early years were hard - she didn't speak the same language as anyone else in Alegria.  Over the years she has come to understand Russian, but she still doesn't speak it; but she has learned to speak English well, and the other Russian bar wives can also get by in English.  In 2005 her daughter Kherlen was born, and her role as full-time wife and mother was cemented.  Along the Totem tour, Oyuna got pregnant again and gave birth to daughter #2, Saikhan, in 2011.

While Oyuna doesn't always see it in herself, to the rest of us she has always been marvelously slender and beautiful.  She takes great care with her clothing, her shoes, and her makeup; she appreciates nice jewelry.  When she started coming to train with me, though, I discovered so many new things about her.  For one, she was never happy with her thin physique - she missed her more muscular days.  And that was one of the things we both set about changing.  As the months passed, we admired each others' newly-defined arms, shoulders, and backs.  We became cheerleaders for each other, trying new tricks and exercises on the equipment.  I learned that Oyuna has a tough, determined side, and an enviable discipline when she trains.  Morning after morning we showed up in the tent - some days overtired, some days worried about our families, some days with head colds and muscle pains.  But every day we left our cares at the door of the Artistic Tent, and without fail we got caught up in our practice, always running out of time to do everything we wanted to do.

When the Kids Show took shape, it was originally planned as a cabaret, with adult acts included as well. We started talking about performing, and quickly jumped up to try some duo trapeze tricks.  Oyuna's memory of duo trapeze was rusty, and she performed as a base; I never had much of a duo repertoire, and now it was my turn to be the base.  So this really took some figuring out.  We watched videos, looked at photos online, and begged help from Sarah and Guilhem, who graciously came out on several mornings to coach us.

The cabaret idea eventually got tossed out, and it became a Kids Show instead - but Oyuna and I still wanted a chance to perform our act.  Fortunately, there was a time slot available - when the kids all needed to be preparing for the finale, we could have our moment.  The training continued.

I will remember so many things about these months.  I'll remember building and sewing the trapeze, and loving the look and feel of it.  We raised the trapeze a little higher each week.  Working on tricks, we had moments of exciting success and moments of confused failure.  I learned to take moments in the routine just to breathe together, getting ready for the next sequence.  As we got closer to showtime, Oyuna took charge of our costumes and makeup, sewing sequins and rhinestones and doing my hair.

And then - the performance!  Exhilaration.  The lights, the faces in the audience.  The delicious feeling of being lifted and lowered on the automation system.  The sparkles of our costumes, the way the children hugged us afterwards with delight and pride in their Moms.  And the bond of friendship, made ever so much stronger by this experience - something beautiful that we could not have done alone, but that we achieved together.


  1. sounds amazing and wonderful. while you have dozens of unique and special memories of your years with Totem - the Kids Show and your trapeze piece seem like a great way to be wrapping it up.
    I just looked back at the start of your blog in 2009 to see when your journey began... I was of course struck by how much your children have grown, but so have you. "It is not going to be an easy leap, for any of us. Every day we are wrestling with questions about our two studios, our house, our belongings, our travel plans, etc."
    thank you for sharing your journey :-)

  2. Wow, Shana. I'm beyond emotional and excited and proud of you. What an incredible journey and challenge for you! I was waiting to write about you on my blog, but now I see the time has come. :) Bravo!!!

  3. You rock! Where is the video?