I just sat down on a lopsided ottoman with my laptop to do some writing. “Be careful sweetie! You’ll fall over!” exclaims my husband.“Oh please,” I reply, “I was in the circus!”
Yes, it’s true, while most people dream of running away with the circus, I bear the proud honor of actually having ran away with one. Well, ok, so I didn’t run away exactly, but I performed with one. I didn’t really have a circus talent—I can’t do acrobatics, tame lions, or swing on a trapeze. I took a trapeze class once, but it nearly pulled my arms out of the socket and I couldn’t stop giggling as the teacher pushed me, trying to get me to swing. And don’t even ask about my fire-eating class. Well, ok, since you asked, I took a fire-eating class from an opera singing fire eater who’s house looked like a psychokiller’s incubator—delapidated furniture, junk cars in the yard, 3 foot tall grass… I couldn’t quite bring myself to actually eat the fire. Ok, to tell the truth, I couldn’t even bring myself to light the little torch. I had visions of my eyebrows—or worse—going up in flames. I’d rather not walk around with massive scarring due to my own ineptitude.
And so, when the circus asked me to perform, they hired me as the “girl who doesn’t really do anything but dance a bit.” I had a dance partner who was a contortionist and I liked to call myself a “contortionist illusionist” as she did all the contortions while I twirled my hair next to her, looking by turns, bored or seductive. Amazingly, people always praised my flexibility, mistaking me for her. I just smiled and said thank you, not pointing out I hadn’t done anything. Sometimes I’d lie down and balance her on my feet while she did some amazing trick. (My favorite tricks being ones where I could lie on the floor–I’m not inherently lazy, just the less work the better). Ok, I’m selling myself short, I am a pretty good belly dancer, and I’ve been on many belly dance auditions that were filled with giants, exotic animals, tattooed people, and midgets, aka little people, who wore Viking helmets and could spin plates on the horns on their hats. I never felt like I totally fit in with this crowd, but I wasn’t a total misfit either.
Performing in the circus taught me many things, most importantly, you can do pretty much anything if you put your mind to it. It’s all about believing in yourself and not being afraid to follow your dreams. It’s really true- if you believe it, you can make it happen. If you build it, they will come. When you wish upon a star…you get the picture. For example, ask me how I met the fire-eating baritone? While doing the opera of course. Yes it’s true, I love opera, but I could never afford a ticket. What better way to see the opera than from backstage! I auditioned for my favorite opera, Pagliacci, starring Placido Domingo. I’d like to say I was singing opposite him, but no, I was a supernumerary (a fancy word for those people you see on the stage that don’t talk or sing). I rode a moped across the stage and pretended to be a village person. Mr. Fire-eater wasn’t singing either—he was swallowing swords, a talent I considered learning for about ten seconds before common sense got the better of me. I got paid to hear my favorite aria sung by my favorite tenor night after night. Definitely living my dream.
If I’m not a poster child for living your dreams, I don’t know who is. When I was 18, I wanted to be a movie star, so I arrived in Hollywood wearing my little polka dotted dress and white gloves (I’d read a lot of bios on Bette Davis and Marilyn Monroe). While I obviously didn’t quite succeed, I lived my dream, and then some. A quick compilation of my favorite dream pinnacles: I was kissed by a Beatle (on the cheek!) and even better, worked with a Beatle when I danced with Paul McCartney; I danced with the Go-Go’s on tour (if you don’t think it’s surreal standing in a little rehearsal room listening to “We Got the Beat,” live, ten feet away from you, think again; I wanted to make the world better for children so I taught dance to children with AIDS for nine life-changing years; I wanted to learn the cello and Italian, and live in Florence and Paris– and I did. I wanted to marry my soul mate, and I did; I wanted to teach school in the woods like Tolstoy, and I did; I wanted to attend Harvard—and I did; I wanted to live in New Orleans someday—and I am; I wanted to have my own children and stay at home and raise them—and I am. And who knows what other treasures are in store for me as I continue to live my dreams? As I read on an inspirational rock somewhere, “What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?” Perhaps a little jaunt with the circus?