Zoe founded CirqueScape after retiring from international performing. Her touring career spanned more than a decade and saw her ice skating, juggling, and aerial dancing across six continents. Her guest blog posts will give an insight into her experiences over the years. You can check out her performance background at www.zoebaldock.biz
People tend to have a lot of questions about my stint as an ice skater in a Samoan circus. Admittedly, it’s not your average postgraduate job. A common query is how they managed to keep the ice frozen in a tent on a tropical island. The short answer is, they didn’t.
It’s magic! Magic plastic…
If you ever see an ice show on a surface that doesn’t quite look like ice, it’s probably synthetic ice. AKA, plastic. A special kind of plastic, but plastic all the same. Back then it was still a fairly new thing, and I’d never skated on it before. How difficult could it be though, right…?
My first few days in Samoa were spent acclimatising, recovering from jet lag, and getting to know people. The boss patiently waited until I’d settled in before introducing me to the “ice”, and everyone gathered in the big top ready for the momentous occasion as my circus ice skating debut approached.
Cue big speech from the boss and much fanfare about the first ice skater to perform in the South Pacific. All my new colleagues and friends were watching with palpable anticipation. No pressure or anything.
I stepped onto the stage and pushed off from the edge, just as I would have done on a rink at home. Fun fact – scientists think that what makes ice slippery is a layer of loose molecules on its surface (all you science fans can read more about that here).
Expectation vs reality
Sadly for me, there are no loose molecules to be found on the surface of synthetic ice. This means your legs have to work a whole lot harder to get you moving. My skate only nudged a couple of inches forward before friction brought it to a grinding halt. Meanwhile, my body continued moving with the forward motion it was expecting from my feet. I landed with a thud on my knees. Friction: 1, Zoe: nil. Expectation vs reality at its finest.
My new colleagues watched awkwardly with a mix of encouragement, pity, and unmet expectation on their faces. I didn’t dare look at the boss. I stumbled around for a few more minutes and eventually parked myself in a sweaty heap at the edge of the stage.
Swallowing my shame at not having met the mark, I found myself apologetically explaining to the other performers and the boss that it was quite different to skating on real ice. But not to worry, I’d work hard and make sure I got the hang of it by opening night.
Learning to skate on plastic almost felt like learning how to skate all over again, and both my pride and my body took a beating in the process. There were many moments when I felt like giving in, but I was determined not to be defeated by a bump in the road. Before too long, and with a lot of hard work, I’d managed to put a routine together and was feeling a bit more sure of myself.
All learning together
There was actually a pretty steep learning curve for all of us when it came to bringing ice skating to the circus. Ever noticed the rubber matting that covers the floors around ice rinks? It’s there to protect the metal blades of the ice skates from nicks and chips. Nobody in the circus had realised that I wouldn’t be able to walk on the rough jungle floor to the stage in my unprotected skates.
Fortunately the circus strongman was on hand to save the day at our first rehearsal with quick thinking and brute strength. Without hesitation he threw me over his shoulder and carried me to the stage. I’d like to say this was an elegant solution, but in reality I looked rather like a sparkly sack of potatoes as I tried desperately to keep the blades on my feet from slicing through the strongman’s chest.
The long term (and far less exciting) solution was a network of makeshift boardwalks that allowed me to move around backstage in a floor-is-lava style. Although the effectiveness of this system did depend on how many parts of the path had been borrowed for other purposes on that particular day!
Lessons in life… and plumbing
The lessons I learnt in those first few weeks weren’t just related to the pursuit of bringing a winter sport to a tropical island. Life in the mountains was a far cry from growing up in suburban Britain.
Not too long after I arrived at the circus base I went to the shower block after a particularly sweaty training session, only to discover that the shower wasn’t working. I tried the tap in the sink, and the one by the kitchen, and all were dry.
When I reported this to the boss I saw a twinkle in his eye. Sensing an opportunity to teach me about life in a South Pacific circus, he sent me off up the mountain with the magician to see if we could find what the problem was. Turned out a coconut had fallen onto our water pipe and cracked it. Hashtag island life.
When reality beats expectation
I can’t actually remember what I thought circus life in the islands might be like before I experienced it. But I gradually grew accustomed to the reality of being woken by a crowing cockerel every morning. I instantly fell in love with enjoying my breakfast in the mountains under a big yellow and purple tent. And my new life was providing more wonderful new surprises every day.
Having just made a move all the way around the world, my next relocation was to be my first as a part of the circus family. Preparations began for taking the big top down to the town for opening night…
The photos you see in this post are Zoe’s personal photos. The “expectation” photo was taken of Zoe while she was performing (on real ice!) in a circus in Malta – you can see the globe of death behind her.
The “reality” photo was taken of Zoe during a training session (nobody’s perfect, eh?!) at her old home rink in Bracknell, UK.
Tell us about your expectation vs reality experiences by commenting below!
Want to know what it was like moving down to the town? Read Zoe’s next guest blog post to find out!