Heidi Hickling-Moore is in her third year on the BA Circus Arts degree programme.
She has been training at Circus Space for 13 years and specialises in rope.
Did you always know you wanted to do circus?
When I was really little, we used to go swimming every Wednesday at Britannia with my mum. I used to watch the gymnastics class and I always wanted to do it. I’d always said to my mum I wanted to join the circus, but she couldn’t find anything at first. She said, there’s gymnastics…or you can do ballet classes with your sister. And I said I didn’t want to go by myself so I went to ballet.
When was you first experience of doing circus?
When I was five my mum signed me, my sister and my big brother up for a Circus Space one off day at the Barbican. We did acrobalance, trapeze and a little bit of rope, juggling. It was a children’s workshop, because I remember we got put in partners, and me and my sister didn’t get put together. I found it so scary that she got put with a little boy!
Did you start going to Circus Space after that?
All three of us got put on a waiting list and they called my mum when I was eight, so three years later, and said we’ve got spaces…I wanted to join straight away.
What have you noticed about the changes here?
The way it’s run, the spaces. It’s gone from being like a happy hippy circus to more like a theatre or ballet school. It’s a lot stricter.
Did you miss aspects of the old programme?
When it changed to include the London Youth Circus you couldn’t specialise in more than one thing anymore. I still loved it, but I had to choose between either flying or static.
What do you think about that now?
I think it was great to specialise in static trapeze but I think it would have benefited me to do flying as well…We do flying all the time now on the degree; I have regular flying classes and it’s been really helpful for my aerial awareness.
Did you start specialising in rope on the degree?
Yes. We did a bit of rope on the youth programme as a complimentary classes on Friday evenings. And I was absolutely terrified of drops…I used to refuse to do them. My friends loved doing them, and they’d always do curly wurlies which is the one where you go like a star shape and tumble down. At the time I would never have dreamed of doing one.
And how did you come about deciding what discipline to specialise in?
At first I didn’t want to do rope, I was a bit bored of solo static trapeze; I’d done it forever (from 8 – 18 years) and my doubles partner didn’t get into the degree because she had an injury. I didn’t want to do doubles with anyone else other than her.
What changed your mind?
On the degree I was dead set on doing Chinese Pole. I think I thought it was cool. I was useless though. I tried so hard, practiced every day after school any free time I had I was climbing up and down the pole, but I was still useless at it. I didn’t have the natural strength for it; I’m happy that I tried otherwise I would never have know. My teacher, Glen (Head of Acrobatics), was like, it’s not really the right skill for you, and I said, can I try and prove you wrong and he said I don’t think you will, but you can try.
I went through the process of pushing myself with something that was so unsuited to me. I was determined. Somewhere you’ve got to draw the line. But I think going through the process was really valuable because I think if I had decided to do rope in the first place I wouldn’t love it half as much as I do now. They said afterwards, okay you can do rope or hula hoop. I’m naturally quite good at hula hoop so that could have been the ideal choice, however, I went with rope. I was like, I’ve done aerial my whole life, I really like rope and I want to push myself and I feel like I can do hula hoop in my own time.
What did it feel like to decide you wanted to do Chinese Pole, try really hard at it and then realise you couldn’t do it?
I was really upset, but it was like fighting a losing battle. I think the reason I pushed it so hard is because I’m quite determined. You can’t say you can’t do something if you haven’t tried hard enough. For the strength I had at the time I tried really hard, but it was the realisation that this was going to be such a struggle and it was just going to be such a waste of my time on the degree because I would be spending my whole time learning to climb and looking like a clown. Some people can climb Chinese Pole really easily and look quite good and I’d do it ten times and still look rubbish. But, I’m very happy that they wouldn’t let me do it.
That’s why when people get fed up that they’re not allowed to do a certain discipline I think, that’s (the teachers’) job, they know what they’re doing and they use their knowledge of the field to advise you in the best way they can. I respect my teachers quite a lot; they said you’re still not naturally strong so rope will still be a challenge, which it is; it’s a challenge for me every day. I have to really push myself with my conditioning.
What do you do to build up your strength?
When it’s just building up strength I do lots of different climbs, pull ups, meat hooks, leg lifts, a million different things. I have at least an hour rope lesson a day and then a couple of hours extra for strengthening. And then, if you’re working on shows you’re running routines over and over again. We used to do sand bag conditioning where you do lots of conditioning with a weighted sand bag belt. Everything feels easy afterwards because you’ve lost loads of kilos when you take it off.
What made you decide to stay on the Youth Circus and do the degree?
I’ve always wanted to do circus.
Stupidly, when I picked my A-Levels, I did Biology, Chemistry, Psychology and Geography at AS Level and an extended project for Circus Space, which points wise counted as an AS. I went through all the archives and had a look through everything. It was really interesting.
I don’t know why, but when I was picking my A-Levels for some reason I thought I could be a GP as well. I didn’t think; I must have been really naive. And then it dawned on me, I’m just doing science for no reason, why am I here? I tried to change to do drama, my dad was like if you drop out of chemistry now who’s to say it won’t happen with biology? Which is hilarious because I failed AS-Level Chemistry and then I failed A-Level Biology once I got on the Circus Space degree. My school set me so much work to do and I was like, look, I’m at Circus Space every day of the week. By that time I was doing so many extra classes… People moaned, and would say they’d ruined the youth programme, but I was like, use it to your advantage – if they’re going to offer you all these extra free classes take them…I had a scholarship for a few years as well, on the youth programme and that really helped.
How did the scholarship help?
I wouldn’t have been able to stay if they hadn’t given me the scholarship, so that for me was a really big part of it. I’m sure I would have begged for money somewhere, but it made a huge difference.
Was it a natural progression to audition for the degree?
I wouldn’t say natural progression. I spoke to Eira (Director of Participation and Outreach) who was really supportive in advising me on what I needed to focus on to get on the degree. I wanted to do tightwire instead of acrobatics and Eira advised me not to because on the degree you need acrobatics. I’m still useless at it but I think it was helpful to have a strong understanding of it.
Do you think you were in a stronger position for your audition?
Stronger than I would have been without it, definitely. And having the extra conditioning as well. We didn’t understand why we needed to condition for the trapeze because trapeze is moves. When you’re 15, with a group of other girls of course you’re not going to understand why you need conditioning.
It’s really important to have the right mind set, five of us auditioned from the degree and two of us got in. The two people who went to extra practice time. Technically I wasn’t the best acrobat or the best on the trapeze, but I think if you work for something and try hard they can see you’ve put the effort in. I know a lot is about ability but not everything is.
Do you think if you hadn’t been accepted onto the degree you’d have reapplied the following year?
Definitely. I had a back-up plan – I got into all of my unis to do primary school teaching degree. I didn’t initially get on (the Circus Space degree), I was on the waiting list. If you ask some of the staff at Circus Space they will tell you how I upset I was. I was injured at my audition, I came in on crutches. I’d injured myself the day before. My teacher told me not to train the day before, and at the audition she was like, what did you do? But I think to get back up shows determination.
How have the last three years been on the degree here? What have been the highlights and the challenges?
The highlights have been being able to learn a new discipline inside out and really getting to know things…training regularly.
The challenges have been deciding what discipline to do in first year and trying to get stronger and fitter every day.
Overall, it’s been amazing. I don’t want to leave, loads of people get really excited about leaving but I don’t want to at all. I’ve been here for 13 years!
What benefits do you think a Circus Arts degree offers that other performing arts degrees do not?
The chance to be completely unique. Even within your own discipline you can adapt it to your own style and invent tricks that no one else has done before.
What do you feel the challenges are facing performing arts graduates? Do you think doing a circus arts degree has put you at an advantage?
Finding people that will pay you what you deserve to be paid. If I went into a club and did an aerial rope act I could die – if you do a risk assessment that’s the worst case scenario. It’s not like your job is on the line, your life is on the line every time you do a performance, but bookers don’t see it like that. Plus you’re in competition with people who are undercutting your fees. I think people should be educated to charge what they rightfully deserve. It’s hard, because if you charge a certain amount for a rubbish act and the booker is happy, they’ll pay the artist who is charging £50 rather than someone else who’s much more skilled but charging a higher fee. Circus is a community, if you undersell yourself you mess it up for everyone else, and take their jobs which then causes a backlash within the community because you’re undervaluing what your colleagues are worth. It’s not the way to go about things, because then everyone ends up with less work or they’re forced to undersell themselves in order to get work.
Do you think there’s a benefit to doing a Circus Arts degree in London?
Yes. It’s the hub of circus in the UK. There are so many venues opening, cabarets, companies. You get to know professionals, form links and learn the etiquette of being a professional performer; it’s not just about the skills.
What are your plans for after your graduate?
I’m not fully sure. Definitely performance work… I want to find lots of high spaces where I can perform rope, which will be a big challenge. And I want to perform as much as I can and to always be able to enjoy it. I also want to set up a company with a classmate which specialises in hula hooping hen and birthday parties and workshops for children and adults.
How do you find work when you graduate?
I’m on a couple of agencies’ books. A lot of circus work is through connections, castings and being able to apply for jobs through Side Show Circus Magazine. Circus Space now has a jobs page specifically for professionals. I’ll definitely join Circus Space’s Artist and Company Development Centre when I leave.
If you had a magic wand what three things would you like to be doing in five years time?
Perform rope regularly in well established venues.
Develop my company from a business plan into a successful reality.
To be one of the most successful rope performers in the country.