Grounded with Amy Panter
Hello I’m Amy Panter, she/ her.
I define myself as an aerialist/equestrienne, (if that’s a thing), teacher and costume maker, although for the last year ‘unemployed’ seemed a more apt description.
I grew up on a farm in rural Scotland so outdoor life climbing trees, scaling barn walls and straw bale pyramids, (this is incredibly dangerous and I don’t condone this, its just what we did back then). Riding bareback in sunny stubble fields and being bucked off my pony many, many times was everyday life.
I had a lot of freedom and independence – seriously my dad would blow a horn to call us in for lunch – and exploration and creativity was always encouraged. My performing side started in ballet, but I was a keen gymnast too and at the age of twelve discovered the sport of equestrian vaulting, probably one of the more bizarre sports ever invented but unbelievably addictive, encompassing all of my passions – dance, gymnastics and horses and I was hooked .
I had just lost my mum to cancer and looking back not only do I thank vaulting for instigating my career but also giving me something to focus on in the aftermath and trauma of the following years as I continued to lose what was normal, solid and home to me. For the first and not last time in my life I learnt the value and escapism of movement as therapy and healing.
I made the Scottish Squad and thus competed for Britain until I retired at 18. I loved it but competition life was not for me, too many rules and small print, I just wanted to perform – hence circus! I auditioned for the degree program at NCCA, surprisingly got in and three years and one BA Hons degree later I was thrust into the world of circus and had absolutely no idea of where I was going next. I spent the next few years doing any job I could get, I worked in cabaret, theatre, street shows, corporate events and a bit of film and TV mixed in there to boot. It sounds great on paper but it was tough and I didn’t thrive, self-belief is a constant battle for me even to this day and at many times has held me back. It would have been easy to give up but my thankfully stubborn attitude got me through and teaching on the side allowed me to survive and I kept going.
It was a small company called Jive Pony run by Rebecca Musselwhite who came to my rescue. A vaulting based show it encompassed comedy, theatre, dare devil riding, clowning, stripteases on horseback and honestly so , so many carrot treats in my bra – costume didn’t have pockets. There ensued some of the best five years of my career. It was graft; long days, heavy lifting, challenging, all weather shows, mucking out in my pjs at 7am, being upside down on a cantering horse on the side of a hill with your fake eyelash stuck to your cheek but still manage a cheeky wink to the audience as you fly past, learning to talk on a mic for the first time, learning to improv and yell at the audience when said mic customarily broke, but boy did I learn about performing and I loved it.
Since then I’ve done well and gone from one great show to the next. I’ve performed in some incredible shows over the years, too many to list, from huge arena shows on a world stage level to tiny street festivals but I refuse to define myself into one category even if others do, at the end of the day I’m a performer and as long as I have an audience I’m happy.
I still struggle with confidence, self-belief and body image, imposter syndrome definitely runs strong as it does for many in my field. Predominantly, I think there is so much variety for those who choose a career in circus, where no one path is the same, and where this should encourage innovation and trail-blazing, you also have anxiety and self-doubt. In this case I try to take myself back to my sixteen year-old self and go well you wanted to be different right?
In 2016 I joined two companies ; The Dream Engine and Buffalo Bills Wild West Show in Disneyland Paris, both of which allowed me to live the dream performer life, travelling, learning, being part of an ensemble, challenging myself as a performer – I mean seriously, speaking french with an American accent, on a galloping horse whilst shooting a winchester rifle, in front of a audience of 900 wearing a head mic so you can’t swear when it goes wrong or your horse just decides he’d rather have the night off -(love you Baritone but my god were you a dick at times). Both companies allowed me to grow as a performer and in confidence – I seriously learnt the value of fake it till you make it. To anyone doubting putting themselves forward for something, ignore your feelings, say yes, fake your confidence, do it, then do it again. Before long you won’t feel like you’re faking it because you’re just doing you.
I was seriously living the good life when the pandemic hit, I’m grateful for everything I had but it made the shock all the more. I believe in positivity in the face of adversity and trying to make the most out of every situation so I used the time well – time off for a start to rest and recuperate, seriously appreciating the lack of pressure (mainly self-pressure of course), honing my sewing skills and self-studying costume and clothing design – thank you youtube, home training as much as I could, getting back to vaulting training properly for the first time in years, time in the countryside (thank you Becca) and of course a new found passion for gardening. It wasn’t easy at times and I’ll admit my mental health isn’t always great but I find solace in staying busy, I’m good at that, and I had faith that shows would eventually start again.
And they have! Slowly, very slowly but we are steadily getting there and I’ll be forever indebted to the team at Dream Engine for keeping me employed, without them I think I would of felt very lost. Sadly the Wild West Show closed its doors permanently after 25 years, it was incredibly sad to see happening but I’m forever grateful to the people who supported and helped me and proud of my time there.
Getting back into aerial training was tough. I hadn’t had regular access to an aerial point for the entire year and I was battling injury. All my time over the last few months has been dedicated to teaching all hours to make ends meet and due to lack of space availability and fitting it around teaching hours, I was feeling my mental health really start to slip. However when and where I could I made sure I could just get in the air and move, it didn’t matter what I was doing, or that I couldn’t do some of the stuff I was doing before but that I was just moving and starting to feel like me again. Movement = therapy ;-).
It’s still a rocky road and as for many others, last year brought up some tricky questions like age, being good enough and is this a precedent to stop – before quickly realising I didn’t want to stop. I love what I do, so bollocks to that and anyone who says otherwise. The perfectionist in me will never think I’m good enough but the year off allowed me to become a student again and realise I love to learn and increase my knowledge, so it’s an opportunity to re-evaluate and change your perception too. I’m not good at that yet, but I will be.
Thanks for reading, and apologies for the probable bad grammar,
You can follow Amy and find out more about here:
Website: Amy Panter
Photo credit: Bryn Musselwhite (with Mr Bean from Jive Pony)
Image description: Against a black background above a sandy floor, Amy dressed in a white strappy leotard, pale tights and ballet shoes hangs by one knee from a white taped hoop which drops into the centre of the photo. Below, Mr Bean, a beautiful white pony, immaculately groomed pony stands centre frame, turning his head back towards Amy and nuzzling into her outstretched palm as she offers her performing partner a treat.