Jaine Mieka spends a lot of time upside down. A senior circus performer at The Dust Palace in Auckland, the 27-year-old explains to Juliette Sivertsen how she stays on top of her wellbeing, and dealing with the pain and injuries that go alongside being an aerialist.
When you spend as much time as we do in the air,
you can feel the full range of human feelings up there. Sometimes it feels elating and epic, other times it feels like a wrestling match with your apparatus and often it just plain hurts and you come away squeezed, bruised and with fabric burns. Performing specifically gives me a beautifully juxtaposed feeling of extreme vulnerability brushed with power and visibility.
I think of what I do more as a symbiotic relationship with gravity than a defiance of it. Mentally this relationship is very calming and regulating. Neuroscientists have done some really cool research into this and say that when we train as acrobatics, we are expanding our window of tolerance for stress by allowing our brains to practise responding to emotional and physiological challenges in an overall safe environment.
Physically, aerial acrobatics keeps you extremely fit but it also conditions you to need as much exercise as a boisterous dog and puts you massively at risk of overuse injuries. There are pros and cons to every career choice.
Anyone can practice circus,
form will be different depending on your interests and abilities. All you technically need is a will to learn and access to the right resources.
I devote a lot of time to restorative practices like physiotherapy and trigger-point release and, as I've become older, I have become much better at prioritising warming up and cooling down. It means doing some goofy-looking exercises but it's worth the effort.
Acrobats have their routines before a show and we are all a bit different. I start with setting my props and then take my time to do makeup. To warm up, I do a bit of cardio and then some specific exercises to get the correct muscles firing and ready. In group shows we always come together to focus and set intentions before we go on stage. This part is really important and beautiful for me and I love leaning into the group dynamic and preparing to share with the audience.
I'm a vegetarian and I love lifting unloved veges from dumpsters. The performing arts industry as a whole is prone to size discrimination and body shaming, many of us are actively fighting this and I think in this context that it's important to prioritise a healthy mental relationship with food and steer clear of restrictive dieting.
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Things that enhance my experience are being hydrated, well rested, in a good emotional space, with a good coffee and a high ceiling to hang from.