Performing the Norm

Circus, Visual Art

By Dana McMillan, Feature Image by Regan Ainslie

We play many performances throughout our lives; our costumes the clothes we wear for different circumstances, and our masks the subtle shifts in the way we hold our bodies in the different spaces we fill. The everyday nature of these performances means they are so subconscious that they become disguised as normalcy. As a young (unaware) queer woman, I didn’t realise I was onstage 24/7.

The performance of femininity never quite sat well in my body and the beauty rituals of my peers filled me with an anxiety I couldn’t name. From quite young I knew I wanted to be an actress, but I recognised that I did not look like the people I wanted to be – the women projected on the screens around me. They were beautiful, feminine straight role models. Even the great roles they played worked to ingrain a sense of there existing a normal feminine to perform.

I looked at the people I admired and the great theatrical roles that a young woman could aspire to: tragic Shakespearean heroines and disenchanted Chekovian maidens. I wanted to be worthy enough to die like Juliet, or go mad like Ophelia (or mad again like Lady Macbeth). Madness. Tragedy. Depth. Soul. This was acting. This was being an actress. I wanted to speak words that were heavy with the importance of the Canon. I wanted to be what I saw as a classical actress.

I stuck pictures on my walls of these actresses, hoping that their greatness would cast some sort of spell. Ritualistically, I would rehearse monologues to the air, thinking that they had the gravity to hold a room. While I thought maybe I could train my voice to have the power of those words, I kept coming up against one hurdle: I was at war with my body, the instrument of my performance.

There was a disparity between what I wanted and what I thought I was fit for. I realised I wasn’t going to be a pretty enough Juliet or lithe enough to disintegrate as Ophelia. I wasn’t going to be the ingénue who people would want to see weep as Nina in The Seagull. I could feel the gap between my own body and theirs becoming larger and larger. When I stood on stage I recoiled from gesture; moving would surely only draw attention to the fact my body did not move like it should and its mistakes would make this disparity even more hideously obvious.

Doublespeak, The Dig Collective, Photography by Aaron Walker

Yet in the face of this perceived failure, I clung harder to these roles. If I could succeed at playing them, then it would prove that I could fit the model. I clung to the idea of Nina. In a Christopher Hampton translation of her speech to Konstantin at the end of the play she says, “I started acting badly… I couldn’t work out what to do with my arms, I forgot how to stand on stage, I lost control of my voice. You have no idea what it is like to know you’re acting appallingly.” I kept trying to convince myself that maybe I could still be a Nina. Wasn’t I her? Stuck on stage with my arms like two dead weights at my side, all my movements mechanic. I was so unsure of my own bones, muscles, and flesh that words breathed no life into them. I would try to lean into the fragility of the inner world, hoping I could show enough emotion through my eyes rather than my wings. It never quite clicked. I was told once by a director that they felt like my scene partner was acting to a brick wall – talk about unable to move. Perhaps I was just acting badly because I was young and inexperienced and all of the things that create a bad performance. However, theatre relies on being under an audience’s gaze and it is very hard to perform when you believe your body shouldn’t be seen.

The physicality knitted into the words of these great roles I have mentioned reflects the historical context in which they were written. For women this includes the ideals of beauty, and the ways in which they could take up space. It is not just the words these women speak, but also the words spoken about them, that construct the way audiences see them. Shakespeare and Chekov may be adapted for contemporary settings, but these characters still bear the weight of the expectations honed by audiences over hundreds of years.

I didn’t think I was beautiful enough for Nina, but I also didn’t see how my body could love Trigorin or be loved by Konstantin. It did not love Romeo or Hamlet. I could imagine what it felt like, even telling myself that I knew what it felt like, but the inability to recognise my own sexuality meant I couldn’t channel these characters’ desire into a language I understood within my own body. I could find no honesty in their passion.

Soothplayers Hares and Hyenas.jpg
Completely Improvised Shakespeare, Soothplayers,

There was a separation between my head and my body and while method acting works for some, it still requires you to be able to use your body on stage. It wasn’t until I started working in more physical practices that I realised how to actually be present on stage. As almost a trial by fire, I found physical performance when I joined The DIG Collective, an experimental theatre collective (then based in Melbourne, we now we cross Melbourne and Sydney). On my first day with the collective – a sort of come and try – I was so nervous. I thought any minute they would realise that I couldn’t move, how funny my body was… and not in a good way.

We trained regularly and rigorously, and as a result knew each other’s bodies to the point where I could anticipate what someone was about to do and fit my body to theirs.  Our trust and physical openness began to break down the tensions and rigidity of my limbs. We allowed ourselves to be silly, for our bodies to be ugly, and from there we built new worlds without physical constraints or conventions.

The joy of being silly came to surpass the desire to be a ‘great actress’. I fell in love with all the bizarre things my body could do and all the beautiful ways it could move. When someone gave me direction it made more sense through bodily instruction. Where is the tension? What body part leads? When I think about my own practice and the performances I create now, it is always through the lens of the body first, then the emotion, then the words. I am so used to talking with my body that I now know its rhythms far better than I know my vocal ones.

My actor’s body means more to me than the contradiction of what I think a role should ‘look like’ and my own frame. I no longer need to be Juliet or Ophelia. In a physical, devised world, women have the power to create bodies that lie outside the norm; bodies that are rebellious and subversive to social expectations. We can reinterpret the social standard of whose bodies are acceptable onstage.For example, in my  work with improvised Shakespeare collective Soothplayers, everything is created on the spot and without a casting process there is no limit to the characters I can embody. I can become kings, queens, witches, fairies or soldiers. There one condition is, “does the character serve the show?” not, “does my body serve the character?” I do not have to limit myself to the handful of Great Roles for Women. I can play a diminutive lover, a bloody queen, or any role or gender in between.

By letting go of the feminine ideal onstage I was able to start embracing my identity as a queer woman offstage. No longer constantly trying to brand myself as the pretty lover, I have no expectations on myself to uphold this identity in my everyday life. This is one less role I have to perform and I am happy to embrace the identity of something ‘other’ if my artistic practice does not rely on how normal I can be. In fact, it relishes how weird I can be. I think what a difference it would have made to me at fifteen if I had understood the power in being a clown and that greatness is larger than the Western Canon.

I thought I would never touch The Seagull again, but last year I did return to Nina during a course to see if she was still in there and still held some importance to me. What I found was that when I shattered my own expectations of how she moved, she somehow came alive in my body. I had thought of her as fragile for so long I did not see that she could be like me or that I could be her. What we had in common wasn’t that we were both bad actors, or that we loved the same people, or fit some ideal –  it was that I knew what it was like to be heartbroken, desperate, alone and lost. When I asked the question, “How does my body respond to this moment?” a massive but simple realisation occurred; that my body as a queer woman was enough. It could feel her. Its experience was special for this moment. It was only on the stage we both couldn’t move our arms and when I finally let her into them, the seagull flew.

Dana McMillan Headshot- photo Alex Talamo 2

Dana McMillan is a  Melbourne based performer, theatre maker and improviser. She is currently working as Co-Artistic Director and performer with The DIG Collective, an experimental theatre company dedicated to making performances through a devised process and non-linear storytelling.  She is also a founding member of Grub Theatre and ensemble member of Soothplayers: Completely Improvised Shakespeare and Quiet Achievers, a silent physical improvised comedy. You can find out more at

Seeing the Work: The Dangerous Act of Looking in Contemporary Circus


Feature image: Emily Chilvers captured by Aaron Walker Photography

by Alex Tálamo

Lately, I have been thinking about the radical act of looking. Having been recently immersed in the 2018 Sydney Festival and the concurrent Circus Industry Forum, I have been reflecting on my role as a witness to performance and what relationship this might have to the circus arts in particular.

In the late ‘90s I was a performer within the flourishing industry of Australian youth circus. Now, I am an observer: a performance artist and academic, who is lured back into the world of Australian circus as a heavily invested audience member. Watching circus from the seating bank still evokes the feelings of thrill and awe that captivated me during my training, but as an audience member I have discovered that looking—particularly in relation to circus—is also potentially a dangerous act.

The action of looking or ‘bearing witness’ is theorised about extensively across performance studies. Scholar Peggy Phelan famously declared that “[p]erformance’s only life is in the present,” suggesting that while the witness is necessary in framing a performance, the work only exists within the live moment shared between performer and audience. Alternately, Diana Taylor has suggested that an exchange of knowledge occurs between performers and audiences, “transmitted through a non-archival system of transfer … [called] the repertoire.” She argues that this is an embodied knowledge, which therefore escapes articulation. But it is within trauma studies that the witness is most directly attended to in understanding the relationship between the event and the context in which it is witnessed. In this account, the position of the witness, both physically and socio-politically, dictates what is possible to be observed.

In the book Testimony, which discusses the crisis of witnessing across trauma and literature studies, Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub note that a witness experiences events within a historical context, but that this historical context is also narrated—’texualised’. They propose that the way a witness experiences an event is part of a narrative that has led them to the moment of witnessing (and continues after the performance is over). What a witness can see in any given event is defined by this pre-existing narrative. That is, an event doesn’t just have a historical context, it has a narrative context, and this is important because when something is narrated it necessarily requires including (valuing) some things and excludes others. Given this, a witness may be unable see things that are designated ‘unimportant’. In Australia, for example, you don’t have to look far to see how narratives about who or what is important has enabled the inability to acknowledge those perceived to be unimportant. From the colonial racism that led to Governor Bourke’s 1835 false proclamation of ‘Terra Nullius’, or the reimagining of national borders by shrinking Australia’s ‘migration zone’ in order to deny visibility, and therefore accountability, to refugees landing on Australian soil, to the unwillingness at a governmental level to acknowledge the epidemic of misogyny that is enabling a proliferation of family violence: these major events in Australia’s history demonstrate how narratives that precede an event can enable powerful acts of acknowledgment or exclusion.

The politics of looking within history and trauma studies provides some understanding of how the politics of looking shapes what is possible to be seen in contemporary circus. It allows us to question who is acknowledged and who is excluded in the witness’ vision of circus, providing an understanding that issues of inequality in the arts are only half answered by looking only at the stage. To understand how the form of our art produces meaning and politics we also have to think about how circus is looked at. This is an argument that the ability to philosophise within a form—to create new social dynamics—requires the audience to also engage in the task.

I want to be clear: racism, sexism, ableism, transphobia and other forms of bigotry exist on circus stages, and in the pursuit of attempting to understand the role of the witness in circus performance I am not suggesting that performers are excused from their accountability in perpetuating this bigotry—we should absolutely be held accountable for our performance choices. However, in order to understand why this bigotry is so persistent, both on and off the stage, and in order to understand the social mechanics of how our form operates, I argue that we also need to understand how an audience enters a circus performance, and how a circus audience is created.

The narratives of the contemporary circus form are entrenched in its traditional (modernist) history. Circus, more than any other art form, has a mythology and media spin that frequently refers back to the traditional form. Whenever circus is evoked, it is framed in marketing and by media coverage with phrases such as: ‘roll up, roll up’ and ‘run away with the circus’. This framing positions circus within a narrative of social outsider-ism. Drawing on a history of constant travelling and a mythology of ‘belonging nowhere’, the circus is both an event and site where normal social rules don’t apply. Its parallels might be the Roman festivals of Bacchus, or the Christian Twelfth Night festivals, where misrule and revelry subvert social norms for the period of the festival, but where the status quo is re-established once the festival is over. In this frame, the circus is a place of wonder, where the ‘impossible is possible’; a site where magic is expected.

If this is the narrative in which a witness enters a performance—where literally anything might be possible—then subversive or empowering representations are only possible within the frame of the circus performance. That is, of course women can be strong, people of colour can be visible and outspoken, people in wheelchairs can do acrobatics, and gender diverse people can exist, but this openness and possibility doesn’t extend to anyone outside of the boundaries of the circus world. Off stage, in the ‘real world’, these people are still expected to shut up and behave as they’re supposed to. The narrative that the audience enters with makes circus performance difficult to be subversive in because the more regressive a performance is, the more ‘magic’, ‘unique’ and ‘impossible’ the representative world of the performance becomes. It is for this reason that within contemporary circus, it is actually hard to see performers as people. Within the narrative of circus as a site of ‘wonder’, performers are more like superheros, whose humanity is only recognised after a serious fault or injury—after the performance is broken.

How audiences imagine contemporary circus, is also a question of what are the philosophies of circus that are as yet unarticulated or not widely articulated. It offers the question: How might the articulation of these alternative philosophies change the way audiences see work? For example, contemporary circus is based on intense interpersonal relationships. I argue that, to a greater degree than other artistic forms, circus relationships are highly specialised. Where contemporary dancers might be expected to dance with any number of partners and collaborators across their careers, frequently circus partnerships are so specialised that substitutions are not possible at all. When a performer’s life depends on their partner catching them within a millisecond margin of error, they engage in a level of trust not often experienced by other performers or members of the public. How might the representation of these complex relationships on stage, be overshadowed by the ‘magic’ of the traditional circus narrative? Does the ‘impossibility made possible’ frame fail to allow us as witnesses to see the real skill (and philosophy of the form) in the performance?

There are already some strong examples of attempts to reframe the way circus is witnessed. One way that performers are slowly shifting this narrative is to inhabit an aesthetic of ‘training’; to focus on the physical reality of the skill, rather than the spectacle of its performance. This has included a focus on failing bodies—bodies that do not perform ‘the trick’ successfully and have an aesthetics of grit, with unglamorous sweating hairy bodies and stripped-down lighting and costume elements. I do not present this example in order to dictate a new contemporary aesthetic. This is only one example of an exponentially growing contemporary form that will no doubt find several creative solutions. I highlight this choice in order to ask if we invite a new way of seeing the circus, not as a place of ‘wonder’ but, for example, as a place of work, does the witness have access to a more radical seeing? Could changing the narrative the witness enters with allow audiences to see a richer picture of the nature of the relationships between circus artists? Could it allow audiences to see performers as people?

Circuses have always been sites for housing and looking at those pushed to the margins of a society, and therefore, held the potential for radical seeing, but I suspect the contemporary form will be defined by how we (as artists and audiences) imagine the new circus narrative that will enable richer, more dangerous, ways of seeing.

Alex Tálamo is a performance artist and researcher, currently undertaking a Ph.D. candidature in Creative Practice at UNSW. She was part of the Australia Council for the Arts’ Cultural Leaders of the Future program (2011) and was an Emerging Cultural Leader at FCAC (2016). She has presented at The Performance Studies International Conference: Performance Climates (‘DoubleSpeak: excerpt’, 2016), The Circus Futures Forum (‘The future will demand new leaders, new cultural and social models of practice and more importantly community engagement’, 2014), and SPRUIK! (‘The language of circus performance’, 2010). She posts writing via twitter @alextalamo_ and documentation of her performance work is available via

A Sustainable Festival Outfit

Circus, Pictures, Visual Art

han cas small

Cas and Hannah @cassia_acrobrat and @hanisius

One of our first projects at Tons of Sense was a glitter shoot, and whilst we were so happy with the photos, and the message we created- we were at little bit less happy with all of the craft glitter we used. So here is our glitter shoot 2.0 with a focus on how you can be more sustainable in creating in the perfect sparkly look.

The first step in this shoot was to find a source of bio degradable glitter, so we turned to local Melbourne brand Eco Angel. Their glitter is made from plant based cellulose and natural minerals, it even comes in its own aloe vera gel for easy application. Whilst micro plastics from normal craft glitter never bio degrade, Eco Angel’s glitter only takes between 6 months – 1 year to completely breakdown. We also enlisted some professional help thanks to Alex from Black Swan Makeup creating these looks for us!

We also got our hands on some beautiful flowers from Dragon Fly Flowers and Design in Prahran,  that meant instead of using plastic gems or headpieces, we could use fresh petals.We used whole flowers for hair decoration and individual petals for sticking onto glitter.

To go with our bright make up looks we had some fantastic clothes courtesy of Fantom Wear. Fantom wear is a Melbourne based clothing brand that makes amazing shiny clothes for festivals, still small operation they make all their clothes locally- sweatshop free!

abby ferns.JPG

Abby – @abbymkay

So we know not everything project we undertake is going to be 100% environmentally friendly, but this was for us a step towards creating a more sustainable practise and just in general being aware of the wider impact we have on the world around us.

Project Credits

Makeup @blackswanmakeupfx

Wardrobe @fantomwear

Glitter @eco_angel_

Flowers @dragonflyflowers

Photographer @jackwilliamwilde

General getting stuff done awesome person @winteracrobat

Models from @tonsofsense:







Does the Bechdel Test Have a Place in Circus?


This article was written for, head here to read the original post.

by: Charice Rust and Latonya Wigginton

There is nothing more satisfying than walking out of theatre having been inspired by an amazing circus show. However, a conversation we increasingly find ourselves having in post show conversations is the role of women in circus and the way they are represented. There have been incredible, strong, stereotype-defying women in circus for as long as there has been circus ,and their commitment to claiming space on stage cannot be overlooked. Nevertheless, whilst viewing a performance at the Mullumbimby Circus Festival, Charice raised the question of whether or not the show would pass the Bechdel Test. This began a discussion between us about the need for a framework to interrogate and understand female representation in circus today.

If you haven’t heard of the Bechdel test before, it is a set of three very simple rules that are most typically applied in the world of cinema, first seen in the comic by illustrator Alison Bechdel Dykes to Watch Out For.  The test is used to assess how much and what quality of screen time women receive in any given film. To pass the test a film:

  1. Has to have at least two [named*] women in it
  2. Who have a conversation with each other
  3. About something other than a man

To give you some perspective, found that of the 2015 Academy Awards only 38.46% of films nominated for an award passed the test. Of course, such a simple test is by no means claiming to tell if a film is feminist, has interesting female characters or even attests to the overall quality of the film. What it does do however, is spark a conversation around the sexism in the entertainment industry, and with so many films being unable to pass such a low bar, it pinpoints the lack of representation of women.

While the Bechdel test has been mainly used to analyse films, we are reaching a time when producers of circus shows need to start examining the way in which they create works and how accidental dramaturgy can be interpreted by the audience. Circus is increasingly moving into the realm of high art, and with this comes the expectation that creators will think more deeply about the work they are creating. As Mitch Jones discusses in his article Creating Meaningful Contemporary Circus, creators of circus need to be aware that audiences are learning to read the contemporary art form and to find meaning in what the ensemble does. This means that acrobatics on stage have significance beyond physical tricks that will be read dramaturgically.

Applying something like the Bechdel test to a circus show can be quite difficult, as it is uncommon for circus artists to speak at all on stage. For that reason, here is a slightly revised version of the test for circus (see image).


In this way, a “conversation” was taken to mean a physical conversation or a distinct interaction on stage.  For example, a female adagio pair performing an act would constitute the circus equivalent of a conversation. If that act was a about two women and their friendship, then the show would also pass step three, as the act wasn’t about a man. Instead, if their act was about competing for the attention of a male performer– then this hypothetical show would have failed the Bechdel test. With this version of the Bechdel test in mind, we examined some of the shows performed in Australia in 2017.

In some cases, it is easy to see whether a show has passed the Bechdel Test. For example, Rouge a  recent production by Highwire Entertainment, which played at the Wonderland Speigletent  in November.Rouge  is a sexy, adult cabaret that features an act by female hand balancer Annalise Moore. In the act, Moore is supported by the two other female cast members Tara Silcock and Isabel Hertaeg. The act explores themes of female identity and sexuality and therefore passes all three steps in the test.

For the most part, Rouge is a fairly standard cabaret with acts that are flashy and funny rather than political. However, it is clear that the director, Elena Kirschbaum, has also considered how the performers are represented in the wider world of gender politics. This has resulted in a show that not only has a cast that is 1:1 female to male ratio but that also explores gender and circus roles in unexpected ways. The show even includes its own nod to another feminist device, the sexy lamp test, which examines whether a female character could be replaced with a sexy lamp without affecting the story line. In the show, Silcock has an early act as a lonesome sexy lamp unable to move freely or take initiative. However, as the show progresses she returns to the stage in an act that shows her taking control of her own sexual desires.

Silcock as a very empowered ‘Sexy Lamp’. Photo courtesy of Brig Bee

Backbone  is the explosive new work by Gravity and Other Mythsthat premiered at the Adelaide Fringe Festival and was also performed at the Melbourne Fringe Festival.There is no denying that Gravity and Other Myths is at the forefront of Australian acrobatic performance, with a world class cast that truly owns the stage in terms of physical prowess and personality. Their show Backbone, however, does not pass the Bechdel Test.

The show’s director Darcy Grant states, “…it examines strength. Honestly, ironically, and personally” (cited in Rodda n.d.). However, in a show touted to examine strength, there doesn’t seem to be any real representation of female power. For example, both Jascha Boyce and Mieke Lizotte have major acts in which they are limp ragdolls, not moving their limbs themselves– instead they are manipulated by the male members of the ensemble.

In a further scene the male ensemble members lower a giant pile of rocks onto the women, literally limiting their ability to claim space on the stage. Whilst this might be seen as an ironic examination on Grant’s part, as a metaphor for womens’ space in the world today, it doesn’t read that way. Instead it feels as though the rocks lowering onto the performers were added for the visual effect and to build tension without thinking of the dramaturgical implications. The result is that the women do not have an interaction to themselves without the involvement of the men, which therefore fails Step two of the test.

image002Moore performing supported by Silcock left and Hertaeg right. Photo courtesy of Brig Bee.

Naturally, the Bechdel Test is not without its limitations, and this is even more apparent when it is applied to circus. For many productions it is harder to determine a clear pass or fail. For example, Driftwood by Casus does have at least two female performers that have a vibrant presence in the five member ensemble. They perform a lovely duo trapeze act together, free from male involvement – an incredibly refreshing moment where the audience can enjoy watching women relating to each other, thereby completing step three. However, the piece acts as a lead in for a male trapeze solo moment. So in considering step three of the test, it appears that the “conversation” of the two women is related to or about the male performer. Of course, this is a just one reading, and highlights one of the larger failings of the Bechdel Test in circus.

Contemporary circus as an art form rarely has clearly defined characters, roles or narratives making it difficult to apply such a simple test to a show. It also misses acknowledging the other areas a show might excel in such as representation of acrobats of colour, LGBTQIA acrobats, or acrobats with a disability. For example, while Driftwood may fall short of the Bechdel Test, it excels at positive portrayals of LGBTQIA relationships and contemporary portrayal of  Polynesian culture.

image004Figure 3 Lachlan Mcaulay (base) and Jesse Scott (flyer) in an touching and intimate act

This will always be the limitation of a simple set of rules, the goal is not to enforce the test on every circus company, nor to limit the enjoyment of any performance. Instead, a tool like the Bechdel Test should be used by creators and audience members alike to start thinking more critically about work that is produced in the circus industry and to be aware of the greater world of art, history and politics that circus performance stands in.

So, in the end, what does it matter if a show has passed or failed? Backbone, the only decisive fail in this list, was nominated for three Helpmann awards. Yet the ratio and roles of men and women in circus has meaning and inadvertently influences audience perspectives. On stage contemporary circus performers inhabit an imagined world that is similar to our own. It is therefore strange that some new circus ensembles can’t imagine women having an equal and active presence in that world. Female acrobats should be involved in the actions that have agency in circus choreography as well as being allowed to occupy and claim space on stage without being cramped out by male ensemble performers. Directors and performers both need to be aware that neglecting the consideration of dramaturgy with respect to gender risks perpetuating a tired and patriarchal representation of women.
This awareness can be seen in the work of artists with a passion for exploration who move beyond traditional gender and circus roles to create work that does not rely on preconceived notions of how a circus show should work. When this sort of experimentation is present it results in work that inspires, awes and adds to the overall conversation of women in the arts today.


Charice Rust is a circus artist and co-founder of One Fell Swoop Circus. She is passionate about hanging by her arms and challenging expectations, explicit or otherwise, of what female performers are capable of.

Latonya Wigginton is a acrobatic performer and lover of chocolate. She is always working on a new project and believes strongly in the ability of circus to break down social barriers.

Digging Up: The Importance of Cross-Training

Circus, Digging Up

Digging Up is a fortnightly segment that shares advice for building your own circus practise- from a struggling artist just trying to ‘Dig Up’.

One of the most useful exercise tips I have discovered is the importance of implementing cross-training into my routine. If you have never heard the term before cross-training refers to exercising in a range of ways outside of your main training focus. Basically it means if you want to get better circus you need to more than just circus.


So what is so important about cross-training? Firstly it can help to prevent injuries. Repetitive movements over time cause large amounts of stress to specific muscles and joints. For example I have had heaps of hip problems from overworking my hip flexers without paying any attention to the surrounding muscle groups. By exercising with different parts of the body you can reduce muscle imbalance and stress to vulnerable parts of your body. Now I focus more on ab and glut strength try to balance everything out.


Secondly hyper-specificity makes you very strong in some areas but weak in others. For example I do a lot of strength work so am great at squats- but I hardly ever did cardio which meant I would sometimes end up struggle through a routine on stage! Or if you are an aerialist you probably focus on shoulder conditioning- which is fine until you need to use your hamstrings in a heel hang!


The good news is cross training is really easy! I was struggling with glut and ab strength so added some ballet classes to my routine. I thought cardio was the worst until I started playing social touch football and now my cardio fitness is the best its ever been. For me the greatest part of cross training is it’s outside my usual training space. I put a lot of pressure on myself to get better and achieve in the circus sphere, but I can leave that competitiveness behind and really just enjoy the physicality of a run around the oval.

There haven’t been many studies done into the benefits of cross training so this information is coming straight to you from my own personal experience, if you are struggling with a certain type of fitness I would recommend going to talk to a physiotherapist. If you are interested in the science here is a link to a paper from the Sports Medicine Journal.

Photographs from this article where taken at EYWA Yoga Studio in Marbella. If you are ever in Spain go and check them out because their space is beautiful!

Photographer was the lovely Cristo Veber  

Talking on SBS中文普通话

Behind the Scenes, Circus

Last week Tons of Sense member Latonya (唐雅)had the pleasure of talking to YuXia on SBS Mandarin about her life and circus

下个星期团体人 唐雅 (Latonya)说话跟 Yu Xia 在 SBS中文普通话电台。


You can listen to the interview below or on the SBS website.

Tons of Sense – Take Back the Night

Circus, Video, Visual Art

Dressing up and heading for a night on the town should never make anyone feel uncomfortable or afraid.

It doesn’t matter what clothes you wear, or where you walk, if you are drunk or if you’re alone — There is never an excuse for sexual violence.


We took to the streets of Melbourne to spread a message of femininity and positivity. Fighting against sexual violence may seem like a monumental process but everyone can do something to raise awareness and fight against victim shaming.


glow hops

In these pictures we wanted to show people wearing clothes that made them feel great, doing things they love. They are about claiming urban spaces and making them our own. We refuse to accept the notion that the onus is on us to cover up and stay indoors; the night should belong to everyone!




Sexual violence in Australia is a large and complex issue, here we have touched on just one facet that we felt we could address — That it’s everyone’s right to feel safe at night. This shoot was inspired by the Take Back the Night foundation, an awesome group that raises awareness around issues involving violence against women, as well as providing support to people who have suffered domestic or sexual violence. You can check them out on Facebook here.



Photography by Jessica Howes

Videography by Isaac Lawry 

Digging Up: How to Do a Photo Shoot

Behind the Scenes, Circus, Digging Up, Video

Digging Up is a fortnightly segment that shares advice for building your own circus practise- from a struggling artist just trying to ‘Dig Up’.

So here is a very well thought out guide on how to carry out a photoshoot….


But in all seriousness taking quality photos is an important part of marketing any project. It can seem like a daunting task but here are a few easy steps to take to ensure that you walk away from a shoot with usable photos (without costing an arm and a leg).

1. Scout an interesting location

Hiring a studio is expensive and finding one with the space to do circus tricks is very difficult. Instead I would recommend  finding an unusual but relevant location to take your pictures. For our ‘Stand Here’ shoot we used the Testing Grounds in Melbourne, which is also the place the project would take place. Often if you have already sourced a venue they will be happy to negotiate a time for you to use the venue for promo pics. Or if the venue doesn’t have the vibe you are looking for choosing a location that fits the theme of your show. For example check out this shoot by Na Djinang Circus– shooting promo for their show ‘Social Staples’ in a cool retro kitchen. 

2. Find a good photographer

You can find a lot of great photographers in Facebook groups like the Melbourne creative network (they have a Facebook group in each state). Groups like this area  great way to find talented photographers who are also at the start of their careers and are willing to work together on a shoot TFP (Time for prints) or at reduced/ student rates. Make sure that if you are negotiating a TFP shoot that it is clear how to credit everyone involved and explain exactly how the photos will be used. Once you’ve found a photographer that you work well with I try and give them priority for any paid shoots that come up. You shouldn’t expect someone to work with you for free every time, just because they did once.


3. The details matter

The difference between an average promo photo and a great one is in the details. This includes things like having cohesive clothing/ costumes, makeup and hair. Check what is in the background of images and clear clutter if needed. Which direction is everyone in the photo looking and what expression do they have? To help with all these little parts I find it really useful to have a mood board and shot list. This is particularly relevant if you are working with a photographer who doesn’t know a lot about circus. having a shot list with pictures of the poses you want gives the photographer a clear idea of what to shoot.

So here is the image we ended using as our ‘Hero Image’ for the Stand Here shoot. We’d love to know what you think?


Captured by EmmelineD Photography