Grounded with Justine Squire
Grounded with Justine Squire
Hello, my name is Justine Squire and I identify as a woman. I am an aerial and acrobatic circus artist, activist, seamstress, lover of dance and a certified dyslexic. Writing is not my forte so I apologise for any grammatical issues with my contribution.
Where are you now and what do you do?
I am writing to you from my bed in Bristol (UK), dizzy on painkillers and recovering from a recent surgery around my womb. When the world, and my body allows it, I create ,train and perform (almost) too many aerial/acrobatic disciplines to ever be on top of them all.
Chinese Pole and Corde Lisse were my first circus loves, and are still what I am drawn to today. I have been performing for 14 years, and have also been invited to direct shows a couple of times. Currently I am working on a wonderful project focusing on “the sentience of trees” with the Whispering Wood Folk.
What was your pathway into the professional field of aerial?
I used to feel like there was a defining moment that took me to circus, but honestly there were a mountain of moments that led me to that path; From climbing around on my dad, up buildings and in trees as a kid, or carrying a dressing up bag with me everywhere I went, watching Knee high theatre in the fields near Bren-Tor, (a village in Devon, UK), enthusiastically attending my super basic after school gymnastic classes, to discovering poi and dancing with fire in my hometown swimming-pool carpark.
When I chose travelling and volunteer work instead of applying to circus school around age 19, I thought I had sabotaged my last chance at making circus my life.
But then in my first year at university I found a pair of stilts at a party, loved it. I made a pair for my friend and we hitchhiked to Edinburgh fringe with the stilts, some fabric, a bag of chocolate brownies, and stepped into a world we had no experience or clue about. I am forever grateful for the welcome we received from the generous and talented performers we encountered there. Stilt-walking, hula-hooping and winging our way through the festival, on the final night we managed to get tickets to see No Fit State Circus’s show “Immortal” and it blew my mind.
From being a child at the Greenham common protests, to campaigning and activism throughout my youth, university intensified my focus on the issues I had fought for over the years. Facing these in the essays I wrote on poverty, conflict, colonialism and environmental degradation I became overwhelmed. Knowledge can be powerful, but sometimes it can be crushing. Without hope you can be drained of the energy you need to take action.
Watching the artists in that show not only perform physical impossibilities but with a playfulness, grace and such artistry, it unhinged my perceptions of reality and gave me hope, of what we can do, of what humans are capable of.
I got it. My desire to perform circus was no longer antithetical to my passion for the issues I cared about. I realised performance was an invaluable way of reaching people’s hearts and imaginations and giving something more meaningful and transformative to the world than continuing down the road I was on. (Total respect for anyone who persists in changing policy. It is a vitally important path and ultimately, we are all in this together. If your skill and heart take you in that direction, I admire and commend you on that journey!)
On a practical note, it took a year for this to sink in, during which time I searched for circus schools and asked everyone I knew where the best place for me go and train was. A friend of mine in Bristol got in touch as she was working in the office of a circus school in exchange for training. She had just got a job performing abroad so let me know of the opportunity opening up. I applied and got in!
No-longer holding myself back from this thing I had wanted for so long, I launched myself at the training with everything I had. My teachers where incredible and I took every opportunity I could find to perform. I would make new acts every show and sew the costumes the night or even hours before the gig. After circus school, I took a 2-year course in contemporary dance as this was the direction I wanted to take my work. I am so grateful for the community of artists that I found along this path and for the work I have had the honour to be a part of and contribute to.
Wisdoms, lessons learnt and advice for those emerging now
- You can push yourself to do just about anything but this doesn’t mean that you should. Following your heart will give you more energy, focus and reward than any other option.
- Try to listen to your body. This one I always struggled with and often resulted in my body screaming at me, so I get it’s not easy and training aerial makes you feel like you want to ignore or suppress your basic instincts, like stopping when something hurts, but rather than shut it out completely try to keep the communication open. You’ve got to live together and that relationship works best when you’ve got each other’s back.
- Nurture your own voice within your work. It is as important as developing your physical skill and it takes practice and time to build up trust with your inner creative force. Keep saying yes to it, allow yourself to follow your curiosities thoughts and ideas, give less importance to the inner critic as he/ she/ they will tear you down. You are valid and your creative spirit is unique.
- It’s ok to change your mind, life and people are flexible – honesty to yourself and others is paramount.
- The world and life is more abundant and generous than you can imagine. It’s hard to see this one at the moment but you’ll be amazed at what unfolds if you are open to it.
- Do a rigging course, know your equipment always double check your safety!
And any specific learning from the year we’ve just had? A hope for the future?
Wow Covid – such mixed emotions!
11 months later…. well I don’t need to explain the rest.
Losing all your work makes you see which jobs you miss and care about and recognise those that did not feed your soul. I have seen how friends who have never applied for arts council funding before have dug deep into their passions and put their beautiful and inspiring ideas on the table.
I have thought a lot about how I can create work which aligns more closely to what I care about and what this could look like in a world where we prioritise the health of our planet.
Don’t get me wrong it’s not been a breeze. One thing Covid has definitely done is make me face the stuff I would rather be too busy to engage with or look at. One of those things for me was my health. I have battled with endometriosis for 24 years and it has been a crippling condition, gripping my life with an unpredictable and terrifying schedule of pain. Covid amplified the problem, because of this it also helped me to finally face it head on. Last week I went under the knife having finally got it diagnosed and cut out with a specialist surgeon.
Sometimes things get nasty to highlight the stuff that needs to change. This doesn’t make it any easier to go through but I hope we can find the positive transformations from these tough times.
You can follow Justine and find out more about her work here
Website: Justine Squire
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Photo credits: Christophe Chaumanet
Image description: A young white woman, wearing pale coloured, tattered, high waisted trousers with braces and a long sleeved t-shirt, stands on a vertical Chinese pole. She is folded from the waist, one arm holding the pole overhead as her lower arm reaches down towards her feet. Her face is turned upwards, eyes closed, towards the light and her long dark hair flies away from her face.