Research: Women in Circus

Women in circus - cultural science approach

For years, in fact forever, I have been searching for feminist empowerment: as cultural scientist, artist, performer. I have been creating within the Berlin art scene, within Berlin sub culture. There is plenty of feminist empowerment there, sometimes marginally, but it's there.

On the other hand within the context of show business, circus, touring performing arts – I am hardly finding this. That's why I feel challenged to find feminist traces in circus. To find them, epower them. To write a her-story of circus.

Circus has always been a space and a topos of freedom for the "other". Circus collected the outcast of society and accepted and created radical ideas: from homosexual desire and other deviancies of the classical family (like single mothers), to subversive bodies ("freaks" like the bearded woman or the strong woman) and performative cross dressing; from artistic fulfillment to financial independence and nomadism. Just a few examples that interest me in my research.

Maryse Begary

Maryse Begary


Louise Leers - the muscle grind - Film by Thomas Kelling und Jana Korb

Luisita Leers

Luisita Leers

Luisita Leers

Luisita Leers

Presentation formats

I do not only research for academic reasons, but I use my research directly in my artistic creation. Apart from my touring production "Vintage! Women! Variete!", I create and perform with other formats, like lecture performances, moderations, and infotainment.

Shows and acts
Some of my productions are directly linked to my research and treat the historic and social aspects of circus:

- Vintage! Women! Variete!
Documentary circus theater
Facing the destruction of her circus dome in the 1930s, grand circus director Paula Busch remembers her encounters with extraordinary circus women. We present some long lost circus artists from the heydays of circus, with their art and their unconventional lives.

- The Sassy Jassy Sisters
This show is based upon the historic performance of the aerial ballett. It was very famous during the time of the American travelling mega-circus in the beginning of the 20th century.

- The Trapeze Artist
Based upon a fictional short story by Franz Kafka, the artist explains gendered aerial tricks and their roots in show business, e.g. the eroticism of the split.

One of my (and my audience's) favorite show formats are my infotainment moderations and emceeing of cabaret nights. In 2015 I was the M.C. of the cabaret night at Fun Fatale Festival, Prague, introducing each act with background information about the circus technique. 2016 we did a Q and A with Arnulf Rating at the Aerial Arts Festival Berlin, to tell stories and histories of aerial arts.

Lecture Performances
Mostly in the context of Magdalena Project I have presented several lecture performances about the visibility of women in circus, and about circus bodies. With video projections, Q and A talks, aerial performance, and academic elements.

Together with Thomas Kelling, I created and produced a documentary short film about my grand role model Louise Leers in 2015: "Louise Leers - The Muscle Grind"
See above.

Since 2015 I have been working on a travelling exhibition for public spaces – finding, researching, and celebrating circus women. I am creating an archive of circus women, both historic and contemporary. I connect her performative creation with diverse gender relevant contexts – thus trying to write a circus her-story.
Mostly I am interested in their performance and creation. Furthermore I research aspects of 'circus bodies', 'erotic show business', and the traditional motif 'battle of the sexes'. I also connect this with the every day and stage life of circus women.
A first part of 12 exhibition panels has been travelling with Vintage! Women! Variete! since 2014.

At the moment I am mostly collecting and archiving material. In the future I am hoping to transform a former circus wagon into a travelling circus archive – maybe inhabited by a former circus artist, who will present tours of the exhibition.