Circus Aerialist Discusses the Art of Circus Performance
While circus arts are generally on the descent — the company that owns the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus closed in 2017 after 146 years — St. Louis resident Elliana Grace is trying to ensure that performers continue to ascend high into the air.
The daughter of Jessica Hentoff, the Jewish founder and executive director of Circus Harmony, a local nonprofit that teaches children the art form, Grace, 27, is an aerial coach and performs a one-woman show at the City Museum.
When did you know that you wanted to perform in the circus?
I have been doing it since I was very young because my mom was in the circus, and I was kind of born into it. I did my first show at two-weeks-old and started actually working when I was 6, so it was always there but it was also understood that if [my siblings and I] wanted to do something else, we were allowed to. We weren’t forced into it; it was very open — this is what we have here, if you don’t want to, you don’t have to. But we were at practices all the time and constantly being exposed, so it’s not surprising that I ended up in this job.
What did you like about it?
I love a lot things about performing and teaching. You get to bring this sense of joy to people that you don’t get if you have a normal office job. It’s really rewarding work to be able to take somebody out of their head and any problems they may be having and bring them into this joyful experience.
How did you become a human cannonball?
I was 20 and had recently moved back to St. Louis. I was in an in-between-period in my life, and someone asked if we knew anyone who would be interested in auditioning, and I went out and auditioned. You are not allowed to do the cannon when you audition because you have to sign a contract and do all these legal things, so we did high falls, which is where you stand on a platform and fall into an air bag. I signed a contract to say I was going to do cannon for two years before I even got into one, so it was a little crazy in that sense, but it just kind of became what I was doing.
What was that experience like?…
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