In 2020, you would be hard-pressed to find a sword swallower. Well, any sideshow act, really. In the age of entertainment media, traditional circuses and sideshow, performances grounded in sheer novelty and oddity have slowly disappeared.
In 2017, the Ringling Brothers Circus and Barnum & Bailey both closed. The last place you saw a traditional circus probably wasn’t even a circus at all, but either The Greatest Showman (2018) or in Dumbo (2019), two films that harken back to the golden era of vaudeville and live performance. Today, for a circus to survive, it must produce “new and incredible circus acts and apparatuses and shows that have an artistic context and theatrical storylines, or well-drawn characters. And this has been happening around the world for the past 10, 15 years or so.” according to Voice of America News. Shows like these don’t have names like Ringling Brothers or Barnum & Bailey. Instead, they’re called Cirque de Soleil and Shen Yun. But how are the sideshow performers, whose skills lie in shock value rather than artistic merit, faring?
The Sideshow Swordsmen
Today, there are few sword swallowers still exclusively associated with sideshows. To find those making waves within the last few years, you might turn to Betty Bloomerz, an American self-taught sword swallower who recently performed at The Box in NYC. Emblematic of the stuck-in-time nature of sideshow sword swallowing, The Box’s website is styled to look like a vintage playbill. Bloomerz was a yoga teacher who taught herself the art of sword swallowing after seeing a picture of it being performed. While studying at The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, she read the sword swallower’s bible — “Memoirs of a Sword Swallower” by Daniel P. Mannix — and set to work. For many years she performed at Coney Island, a theme park that is perhaps the world’s only living monument to vaudeville culture, and she continues to travel the stage circuit today…
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