Amanda Lum | 31 | Circus Aerial Silks Dancer

Amanda Lum, posing mid-air upside down using circus aerial silks

Speciality time: 6 years

Inspiration for starting: Growing up, I was not a very physically coordinated kid (I only learned to ride a bicycle at the age of 25!) so things like sports and dancing felt awkward for me and I didn’t really do much of these activities as a result. But I’ve always loved watching circus performers, and seeing how they could express their strength in such a beautifully creative and disciplined way, so a few years ago I decided to try and see if I could learn to do it as well

Full time, part time or hobby: It started as a hobby, but I’ve become more involved in the studio community, and am now a part-time instructor with the studio.

Claim to fame to date?
I performed with the studio at a Westfield showcase last year.

Can you share your training journey?
It started as casual participation – just something fun to learn and stay fit. But as I’ve progressed, I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of continually improving and advancing my strength and skills, and finally being physically coordinated at something!

Training in aerial silks has also trained me to take better care of and listen to my body more, in order to be able to execute these skills. I now feel more in-sync with my body and my physical needs. The other aspect of it is the creativity. In aerial silks, there are many different possible ways to set up tricks and link them in combinations. As a creative person, it has really helped me to develop my creative thinking and reasoning as I come up with new routines, and combinations and learn from others. I’ve become more confident in myself as a performer and in my own creative direction as my training has progressed, and what started as a casual class has now become an integral aspect of my life.

What are you most proud of accomplishing so far?
Performing lyra (aerial hoop) at my wedding and teaching my husband some tricks for the wedding as well! I was performing a lyra routine as part of our pre-reception entertainment, but along the way we thought – what if we got my husband up there as well? We managed to teach him a few tricks which he performed after my routine, and we also did a couple of duo tricks together at the end. He was a really good sport about it and had fun doing it, and was actually pretty good at it! We got a perfect run on the whole performance, so I was really proud of that.

What’s been the most memorable moment for you?
Performing lyra with my husband at our wedding. Specifically, the moment where all of our guests were egging him on to get on the hoop after my performance, not knowing that he’d trained for this moment, and their screams of surprise a minute later when he mounted the hoop and they realised that he actually knew what he was doing!

How has COVID-19 affected your ability to do your craft?
As aerial silks requires specialist rigging equipment and height, it is not something that could easily be done in a home setting. I did manage to purchase a small aerial rig (the one that was used in the photo shoot) which I could do basic training on, however this also had height and weight limitations so I wasn’t able to train to my fullest ability or create performances.

Aerial silks is also a very collaborative discipline and we are always working tricks and pathways out with our training partners, coming up with new things together, or working on solo and duo performance ideas. The isolation made this much more difficult as we couldn’t visit one another, train together or work on the same apparatus for duo routines.

How has it made you feel to not be able to do your craft?
We were forced to shut down the studio with very little notice once lockdown was announced. We previously had plans for a mid-year showcase and a few other performances in the pipeline which obviously could no longer go ahead. It was a very chaotic and uncertain time. As a few of our instructors were stranded interstate because of border closures, there were only a few of us who could assist with packing down the studio facing the possibility of an indefinite close down (as we didn’t know how long lockdown would last at that stage) and supporting the studio owner through the process. This was very tiring emotionally and physically.

Both my husband and myself are frontline workers in Health so we were already affected by COVID-19 in other areas of our lives, and the lockdown and its effects on the studio really contributed to that stress. Although we are of course grateful that we had ongoing employment throughout the crisis.

How do you feel not being able to perform/participate because of COVID-19?
It felt stressful and I felt like I was burning out. As a frontline Health worker, I was still required to attend work in person during the lockdown period as work-from-home arrangements were not possible at the time. Aerial silks was my creative and social outlet and with a very limited ability to continue doing so, it made the effects of the burn-out I was experiencing much more pronounced. It is a bit better now that the lockdown has eased, however we still can’t do shows or large gatherings, so it feels like we’re in limbo at the moment with no momentum.

What do you think the effect to society as a whole would be without performing Arts?
I believe the arts provides unique opportunities to experience the world through another’s eyes or through a different viewpoint, while allowing for our own self-expression and inward emotional journey. If the arts are not accessible to the public, I believe that people in society will continue to lose the ability to connect with themselves and others, and to empathise and engage in critical thinking and conversation with one another.

What are some positives that you’ve experienced during lockdown?
It has been a good time to strengthen friendships in new and innovative ways in trying circumstances.

If you could ask politicians or Create NSW to consider one thing about the future of performing arts, what would that be?
To provide better funding, more opportunities and governmental support to encourage children to pursue it as a viable career path. We need to nurture our local talent from a young age to ensure that we have a strong domestic performing arts market that reflects our unique and diverse Australian culture.

If you could ask fellow Australians to do one thing about the way they support/consume performing arts, what would that be?
It would be to consider how much the performing arts truly contributes to their daily lives and the amount of work creators put into their work, and show how much they value the arts through tangible action by supporting local artists and being willing to pay for what they consume.

What improvements would you like to see made to the arts sector?
Better government support through arts grants to encourage children to pursue it as a viable career path, more support of performing venues and the development of new venues so performers have access to venues at all stages of their career, more of a supportive arts culture where the arts are actively nurtured.

What are the greatest challenges facing Australian performing artists?
Resources, depth of industry and lack of opportunity. Compared to many other countries, the performing arts community in Australia seems to have less resources to provide quality arts education, teaching, training and performing opportunities. This leads to a lack of depth in the local industry where there are not a lot of high calibre training or performing opportunities for performers past a certain point, which leads them to seek opportunities internationally and subsequent skill loss in the domestic market.

One of the consequences of this is that the public are not very aware of domestic talent and domestic performers don’t have the recognisability of international talent.
This often results in international talent being cast in local productions ahead of domestic talent which further contributes to the devaluation of the domestic talent market, as recently seen in the casting of Pippin.

If you had a magic wand, what would you do next with your speciality?
Probably get all the routine ideas I’ve got in my head and make them all happen!

What do you hope for future generations of performing artists?
That they will be valued.

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