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Life Arts    H3'ed 8/7/14

Whitni Battle: Learning to Fly - How Circus Changed My Life

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Whitni with her dog Carruñas, who came to live with her after they met in Costa Rica
Whitni with her dog Carruñas, who came to live with her after they met in Costa Rica
(Image by Whitni Battle collection)
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My guest today is Whitni Battle, aspiring circus performer. Welcome to OpEdNews, Whitni. Where did your interest in circus performing come from?

WB: Thank you, I'm so happy to be here. Now looking back on it, I feel like circus has always had a presence in the background of my life. When I was nine years old, my father took me to see a French Canadian circus which focused on acrobatic acts and I remember being spellbound by the performance. Fifteen years later while vacationing in Mexico, I met an airline pilot couple who did advertising for a traveling circus.

They took me to a performance and I was mindblown by the contortionist and impressed by all of the aerialists. The couple told me they wanted to expand their business and offered to give me flying lessons so that I could help them pilot their planes. I told them I would think about it while I continued traveling. Before I could make a decision, I met a troupe of fire dancers, drummers, acrobats, and clowns from Mexico, Texas, and Europe in the jungle of Palenque, Chiapas. They invited me to travel with them on a converted school bus they had recently inherited from a freak show and I decided against flying lessons in favor of circus traveling.

JB: So, what was that like, traveling with this international troupe?

WB: It was terrific fun! We'd pull over and practice handstands in the middle of the road. We'd glean soup vegetables from local markets. We'd stop and do street performances when we needed gas or oil changes. We'd all get dressed up in costumes and while my new friends did their fire and acrobatics acts I would collect money from big crowds of locals. We would also perform at intersections juggling or twirling fire for cars stopped at red lights. I would go around to each car after the brief show asking for a contribution to support the arts. Living on the bus was also a great adventure.

JB: You could stage impromptu shows without getting hassled by the local authorities? I don't think that could happen here - you'd probably need permits and have to jump through all kinds of hoops.

WB: That's for sure. The personal freedom I enjoyed in Mexico was certainly one of the main reasons I chose to move there. When I traveled in Europe, I saw plenty of remarkable improvised street performances brightening people's days. Some U.S. cities are more accepting, especially in the Northeast and Northwest. I think our general lack of openness to artistic expression, especially the spontaneous kind, deprives us all of culture. Seeing talented people practice their art makes people feel good and reminds us that we are living in a world rife with beautiful possibilities. Anything that inspires childlike wonder in people should be encouraged by society, otherwise we tend to lose hope and begin to depend disproportionately on anti-depressants.

JB: I agree with you there. Flash mobs, some of which are incredibly well done, are a variation on that. I find them riveting, even once removed, via YouTube. It sounds like you've done an incredible amount of travel in your young life. How did that come about?

WB: Back when airfare was cheap, I used to take every opportunity to travel as far away from home as possible, often in the most extreme circumstances I could manage. I had a natural yearning for adventure. As soon as I could walk, I started running away, since then travel has been one of my consuming passions. When I travel, time seems to slow down and I find myself learning and experiencing so many things in a short period of time that sometimes my head feels like it's spinning. On numerous occasions, the whole course of my life has changed in the span of a single day, even an hour. The only problem is that after seeing everything that I've seen, I feel like I can never settle down. I get restless and I feel this vast, exciting world calling to me, usually in the form of something warm and tropical.

JB: Yes, travel can be exciting, that's for sure, if we're truly open to it. And most of us don't do it enough. You mentioned that "on numerous occasions, the whole course of my life has changed in the span of a single day, even an hour". That's a pretty bold statement. What do you mean exactly by that?

WB: I tend not to carve my plans is stone. We never know what tomorrow will bring. I've heard that the best way to avoid disappointment is to eliminate expectations, so I've accepted the fact that I have no idea what I'm doing in life and I try to leave myself open to anything interesting that comes along. For example, after I met my circus friends in Mexico, I ended up moving there for six years and learning to make jewelry out of wire, stones, and found objects that I could sell to support my travels. Last month I came to Chicago for a visit and on a recommendation from my aerial hoop coach, I decided to move here to go to full-time professional circus training school. Anything can happen at any moment, the trick is not to be afraid.

JB: When did you find out you'd gotten into the circus training school? And were you ever afraid you wouldn't get in?

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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