Celebrate High-Flying Circus Women on International Women's Day!
On Thursday 8 March Circus250 launches Women in Circus, a short film on female circus artistes past and present. Watch the film here!
A unique soundtrack, rewriting the famous 19th century popular song The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, accompanies the film, putting women back in the spotlight on the bar, highwire, aerial hoop, straps, silks, corde lisse …
Women in Circus presents an extraordinary cast of historic and contemporary women, from 19th century tightrope walkers to today’s ringmistresses. It features, in live performance, the most daring Yasmine Smart, the most astonishing Nell Gifford, the most talented Rebecca Truman, the most clever Dr. Dea Birkett and the one and only Professor Vanessa Toulmin.
Ten Fascinating Facts About Circus Women
- Women make up the majority of circus performers in UK, but you can still count on one hand the number of female clowns.
- The art of the Strong Woman is enjoying a revival. From Abergavenny preacher’s daughter Kate Williams, who performed as Vulcana in early 20th century, to today’s Heavy Duty Dame Aoife Raleigh and Strong Woman Charmaine Childs, they’ve shifted from lifting weights to lifting men.
- On 10 April 1877, teenage girl Zazel became the first Human Cannonball, aged 14. Still considered one of the most dangerous acts, over 30 human cannonballs have died during the performance of this stunt.
- The three Cottle sisters – Sarah, April, Polly – set up Cottle Sisters Circus and continue to tour with their father, circus impresario Gerry Cottle.
- The first female ringmaster in the UK was Yasmine Smart, granddaughter of Billy Smart. There are now many ringmistresses, including Nell Gifford who founded her own Giffords Circus.
- Founder of modern circus Philip Astley’s wife Patty performed alongside her husband in the first circus in the centre of London. A talented trick rider, her speciality act was riding around the ring smothered in a swarm of bees.
- ‘Dona’ is ‘woman’ in Polari – the language traditionally spoken in the circus community.
- Degas’s famous 1879 Painting Miss LaLa at the Cirque Fernando depicts real life 19th century circus artiste Miss LaLa, a black French woman.
- There are many female-led circus companies working in UK today, including Upswing, Mimbre and Crying Out Loud.
- Britain’s national circus school, the National Centre for Circus Arts, is run by a woman. But female circus directors are still rare.