Grounded with Ziggy Slingsby
I am an aerial artist, teacher and shiatsu practitioner.
At the moment I am living in Bristol, getting back in to teaching my regular aerial classes, building up my shiatsu body work practice and next week taking my final shiatsu exam.
I started aerial when I was about 25, at the time I was working for a participatory arts organisation in Nottingham. I was learning Russian at evening classes and went to see Moscow State Circus with a friend in the hope of meeting some Russians to talk to. I did not get to practice my language skills, but instead I saw something of incredible beauty and simplicity.
The image of a solo female performer on a rope, simply lit and climbing to the highest point of the big top has stayed with with me since that day. I left the show that night knowing I wanted to be an aerial performer. I do not remember her name or what tricks she did, but it is the wonder of this memory that I carry each time I perform rope. Whoever you are beautiful rope woman, thank you!
It took me a few years to work it out, build up the courage and save up money. I did a week long course with Circus Maniacs in Bristol, a few weekend workshops, followed by the Circus in Performance course at Greentop Circus in Sheffield. Finally I moved to Bristol to train at Circomedia . Since then I have performed and taught aerial professionally for 12 years, completed an MA at DOCH University of Dance and Circus in Sweden, created my own show Two Legged Animal and worked in different counties. Really, I still feel like I am just starting out.
A couple of years after I left Circomedia I received some Shiatsu from a wonderful practitioner called Alice Hartley. I did not know anything about this form of body work, but I loved it and again a little voice in my head said “I am going to do this one day, not now, but later”.
In 2013, I got very ill. I had a virus the year before that left me with constant swollen glands, a sore throat and tiredness. I was juggling performing, teaching, creative projects and a complicated personal life. I tried to hide it from friends and colleagues because I was ashamed of what was happening to me and afraid that I could not cope with the aerial training, which I loved so much. Eventually I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue and post viral syndrome and advised to take a break from everything for a while. I took a couple of months off, but being self employed I never really felt safe and secure enough to rest fully.
Despite this I managed to carry on my career in aerial, but the experience left me with a sense of physical and emotional distrust in myself and my ability to do my job. Throughout the past eight years shiatsu has been a constant support for my health and aerial work, first receiving and more recently learning how to practice with The Bristol School of Shiatsu. Slowly I have learnt to be more open and ask for help when I need it, take time out and feel part of a brilliantly supportive community of aerialists and performers, even when I don’t feel good about myself.
The advice I would like to give to my younger self or anyone starting out in the world of aerial is “You are unique and will do things in your own way, take your time and trust in your own abilities. The bonds you build with people in your training and art are invaluable, make time for friendships especially when things get tough.”
This past year and the experience of the pandemic has felt epic and turned me upside down more than a few times. In this year I broke up with a parter who I really love, because he is not ready to have children and I turned 40. It has tested my love of both aerial, shiatsu and working self employed in the arts. At times I felt like my life has been a long string of massive mistakes and I craved the security of a job with a salary, my own home and family unit. Despite this, my desire to share with others through my creative and body work continues.
On the other hand, having the forced stop of my normal work and activities gave me time and space to take in my experiences of the past 15 years and start to rebuild my self trust. In some ways I have been given some of the rest and reflection time that I could never quite give myself when I had chronic fatigue. It created time and space to explore more somatic movement and qigong, unravelling some of the tensions and questions my body has been holding on to for a long time.
I have felt less inclined to train aerial over the past year. My body has changed, less muscular, softer and although I don’t feel like it is time to give up aerial, for the moment I am enjoying space for new directions in my life.
Returning back to life after a year of lockdowns I feel physically weaker, fresh and raw, but something about that feels exciting too.
Whats next? Once I finish the shiatsu course, I hope to take a break then write an Arts Council application to bring my aerial and shiatsu skills into one practice, researching making new work with other aerialists and feeding back knowledge in to the aerial community.
See more of Ziggy’s work here:
Watch my rope video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_NuzdZOeMP0
Watch trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fBpShOq0chM
Image description: Wearing an ornately embroidered flesh sleeveless top, a female figure arches backwards, the right side of her head nestled against a white cotton rope. One arm is bent behind her back towards the rope whilst the other reaches forwards, fingers curling back towards her body. Lit by a single bright white light overhead, her body from the waist down disappears into the shadow below.
Photo credit: Paul Samuel White