If you can spare me a moment of your time, I’d be honoured to share my journey with you all since taking up aerial arts.
Where It Began
Since I was little, I’ve been absolutely fascinated with acrobats, contortionists, trapeze artists, dancers, you name it! So when I found out that a small studio (Body Couture Cheshire) was opening up in my hometown, it took me back to that time and I couldn’t wait to enroll in their silks and lyra course. It was January of 2018, and I was 25 when I began to train circus for the first time.
After learning the art of hoop and silks for eight months, I decided to enter my first competition, and I chose to apply for the International Pole and Aerial Tournament (IPAAT) Intermediate Hoop/Lyra category, for no other reason than to challenge myself. I never did dance in school, I was never very good at sports and I had the flexibility of a stick at the best of times before starting! This seemed like the perfect challenge for me to see how good I really was at this sport.
So I started my preparations. I found the perfect song, I choreographed my own routine and sorted my “costume” out. The routine was inspired by someone suffering a bad night’s rest, and my costume was meant to look like pyjamas!
For my first ever sports competition, I qualified as a semi-finalist! I was in the top 15 for the IPAAT 2019 and when I found out I was beside myself. I was shaking. I felt so honoured and when reading through my feedback I was extremely proud of what I had achieved but knew at that moment I would apply again next year. I wanted to do even better.
Where I Ended Up
It was 2019. The new year had arrived. I was still an aerialist student, practicing, enjoying my new skills whilst being quietly smug about my achievement in the year prior.
I applied for and performed at the UK Aerial Performance Championships (UKAPC) in April 2019, as I wanted to get as much experience performing in front of an audience as possible — after all, one day I want to do aerial shows and events!
Although not everything was blissful… I started a new job in August 2018 and received a promotion in January 2019. Anyone would think that was a good thing, except it opened me up to a lot of bullying from my managers for reasons that I will never know.
I suffered this for many months, but I chose not to give up on the role yet. I continued to go to aerial classes after work to help me manage the stress. It definitely helped, more so because one of my best friends came with me and we talked about my experiences ,–not just occupational-wise –and my options.
After four months of undeserved mistreatment, I finally mustered up the courage to report the incidents that had happened, and I handed in my resignation. Unfortunately, the nature of the company was very “cliquey” and I was essentially ganged-up on and told to leave on the same day.
Being unemployed when you’re in your mid-20s is hard and although I’m very fortunate to be living at home with two loving, supportive parents, it took its toll on me.
This was all (luckily in some ways) during the summer, so it wasn’t too bad being at home whilst I licked my wounds.
I had a lot of time to think during this period. “What was my next move?,” I thought whilst applying for jobs, “What am I supposed to do now?” I’d earned a qualification whilst at my last employer, but given the issues I’d experienced I was sad to say that I felt “scarred for life” and would likely never, ever use that qualification I worked so hard for.
Alongside this, I had huge matters of the heart to contend with. I was also having trouble with my relationship, which sadly after seven years resulted in me and my partner making the decision to part ways. To top it all off, my Grandmother fell ill and we discovered her condition was terminal.
Now I was unemployed, alone and worried about my Grandma. But I knew it would get better. I knew I’d sort myself out eventually, but I did find myself in a dark place at times. Good job I took up cleaning the house to keep those thoughts at bay!
This period really was the lowest point in my life to date.
Between dusting off my CV (and the cupboards) and attending interviews, I still attended silks and hoop classes at a new location in Stockport, UK (Cloud Elite) after the unfortunate closure of Body Couture Cheshire. I genuinely feel like if I hadn’t been going, I’d have been a lot worse off. It was so good to get out of the house, to exercise and to socialise. I received so much support from my mentors and other students. Whenever I was hanging upside down or mastering a new move, I genuinely forgot all of my problems. I stopped feeling lonely, I stopped thinking I was a failure and I just enjoyed myself. Things like that are priceless, and although I didn’t really discuss any details of my hardships with anyone at class, they welcomed me with open arms, they inspired me and pushed me– and for that I am eternally grateful.
Where I Am Now
In mid-July, I was finally successful in my application for a job. Things were finally looking up for me, so I decided to revisit my idea to enter the IPAAT 2020.
“Do I really have time for this?”
“Am I stable enough to do this?”
“What if I do worse than last year?”
All these thoughts — and more — were swimming around my mind, and honestly, I almost didn’t apply at all. But I’m very glad I did.
My Grandma was well enough to visit my house during the summer, so she would watch me practice on my hoop and silks. She had a speech disorder known as aphasia, which she contracted following a stroke but despite struggling to form regular sentences, whenever she saw me training she would always say “Wow, you’re bloody good you are!” and every time it made me smile.
She had been on and off with her health for many years, but in August 2019, she was diagnosed with two different kinds of cancer. She was terminal and it was very difficult to accept this. She’d been a very strong female character in my life, so this was pretty hard to digest.
She never acted ill, which was a miracle. She never stopped smiling, laughing and being cheeky. She was even flirting with her male nurses when she was at the stage where she qualified for home visits.
More than ever, I knew I needed to really make my routine something special. I wanted to show my Grandma my routine when it was finished, at its finest and ready to be submitted to the IPAAT.
When I was finally happy with my work I sent it off, and I couldn’t wait to show my Gran. You should have seen her face when she watched it. She was very poorly at this point, but she sat up in bed with my phone in her hands and her jaw hit the floor. “Is that you!?” She kept saying, which just made me laugh. She even gave me a little applause at the end. She loved it and she kept passing my phone around to other family members who were present, saying “Look, look!” After seeing how happy my Gran was, honestly, at that point, I already felt like a winner. At that point, I didn’t care if I’d only upped my rank by one position or dropped it by 10.
Fast forward to the end of October and low and behold I can proudly say that I qualified in the top six for the IPAAT, meaning I would be going to the finals held in Nottingham, UK in January 2020.
I was able to show my Grandma my routine before she passed away in December 2019, which meant more than words can describe. The support she and my family have shown me since taking up this sport has been remarkable and I’m extremely grateful. From my parents sitting with me in the garden whilst I practiced at home, making sure I don’t injure myself, to my mum shouting “Toes!” if my feet ever became flexed and/or ugly. It brings me great joy knowing that they support everything I do, and it brings me even greater joy to know that my Gran witnessed what might be my finest moment in this sport.
The Big Day
What an absolutely amazing day! The atmosphere was crazy, my fellow competitors were all brilliant and really supportive. It was just a great place to be! I was so nervous I kept running around the back of the venue doing laps to try and ease myself, and this was quite funny for everyone who came to support me!
Luckily, I didn’t have to wait too long before getting on stage, and when I did it was like a switch flicked in my head. I went from being a nervous wreck to “performance mode” and it was so crazy. I really couldn’t believe the change!
I didn’t win my category — Intermediate Hoop — but I never expected to. The whole point of the day was to showcase myself, and to do my best and I genuinely think I did that. I’ve never performed my routine so well before and I had amazing feedback from the judges. They loved my theme and they loved my costume (better than last year’s pyjamas!) and overall I just had so much fun on stage. It was a day that will go down in my personal history, and I have come away with a medal and can proudly say I am a IPAAT 2020 Finalist, and there isn’t a soul on this earth that can change that.
All photos provided courtesy of Natasha Ghamimeh