I lived near Bellingham for 22 years before discovering there’s a circus in town.
It’s aptly named Vaudevillingham and is put on by the Bellingham Circus Guild. Located just down the road from the hub of Fairhaven in a big warehouse, the circus puts on a show the 15th of every month. The event is a variety, kind of anything-goes, circusstyle experience.
Each act is supposed to be new and original. It’s a place for jugglers, poets, acrobats, dancers, singers, and artists of all kinds to share what they can do. It’s a space for clowning around and community.
My very first experience with the circus was at the Annual Aerial Showcase that I went to with my mom. It was a circus show, but with only aerial acts. From all the secure points and rigging that hangs from the warehouse ceiling, we watched dozens of astounding aerial feats. Artists performed on trapeze, silk, rope, hoop, and variations of all those apparatus.
The performers threw their bodies around, doing tricks that looked something like a graceful cross between ballet and weight lifting in the air. I was amazed by the talent, beauty and fearlessness. That’s when I said, “Oh my gosh! How do I learn to do that?”
We found out you could take classes in the circus space from one of the performers and teachers. My mom and I took the intro classes, and it was such an experience to be learning how to do what we had seen and been so impressed by. I loved it so much, the fitness and the art, and I kept taking classes for about two years, until my teacher ran away to join a prestigious circus school on the East Coast. Seriously.
Before she left, I had the thrilling opportunity to perform an aerial act at the monthly Vaudevillingham show. We got a group of six women together, ladies like me, who had found the circus and fallen in love with the magic of aerial. Our stories are different, but our drive to perform as aerialists was the same. We were known as the Ruffle Butts, because of the frilly, decorative bottoms we all wore.
It really was the culmination of my aerial education. All the skills I had learned, and the work and training I put in, was showcased in about five minutes of partner and group trapeze work. We did tricks, smiled, laughed, and used all our strength with a playful sense of joy to thrill and entertain the audience. I was sore and bruised for days, but at that point the pain was accompanied by a welcome sense of dedication and achievement. And I have the circus to thank for that.
The people I met along the way were wild, warm, and welcoming. Not to mention crazy-talented and devoted to their sport and apparatus of choice. The circus gave me the opportunity to find my wings, so to speak. I discovered strength and a confidence I didn’t know I had, and similarly I hurt muscles I had no idea existed. But more importantly, I found my very own circus family. And since then I’ve told everyone I meet about my time as an aerialist. Right here in our backyard.