You choose, we deliver
If you are interested in this story, you might be interested in others from The Journal Gazette. Go to www.journalgazette.net/newsletter and pick the subjects you care most about. We'll deliver your customized daily news report at 3 a.m. Fort Wayne time, right to your email.

U.S.

  • UCLA wades through damages from pipe flooding
    LOS ANGELES – The quiet summer campus of UCLA suddenly was steeped in water and chaos after a major water pipe burst and spewed about 8 million gallons, stranding people in parking garages and flooding the school’s storied basketball
  • US economy grew at strong 4 percent rate in spring
    WASHINGTON – After a dismal winter, the U.S. economy sprang back to life in the April-June quarter, growing at a fast 4 percent annual rate on the strength of higher consumer and business spending.
  • US sues Pennsylvania over police fitness tests
      HARRISBURG, Pa. – The Pennsylvania State Police, one of the nation’s largest forces, is faced with ending the physical fitness tests it gives to applicants for state trooper positions or defending in court a practice
Advertisement
Associated Press
Performers hang during an aerial “hair-hanging” stunt at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus on Friday in Providence, R.I.

'Hair hanging' a rare, painful act

– “Hair hanging” is an incredibly painful, highly specialized aerial performance in the circus world, confined to certain families who pass their secrets about the tradition down through generations of performers.

Eight circus acrobats plummeted to the ground during such a performance at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey circus Sunday in Rhode Island when the apparatus they were hanging from fell.

Experts say the rare performance art – in which acrobats literally hang from the scalp as they fly through the air and perform various tricks – is practiced by fewer than a dozen circus families around the world, though it has existed for more than a century.

“It's a very unique, traditional circus act. And most circus schools that I'm aware of don't teach it,” said Elsie Smith, the artistic director at the New England Center for Circus Arts.

Each acrobat's hair is wrapped around a steel cable ring attached to rigging that hoists the performer upward. And therein lies the secret: The specific technique used to secure the hair to the rigging is closely guarded.

“We all keep it to ourselves how we tie our hair and how we do it,” said Christopher Williams, a 24-year-old hair hanger who counts some of the injured performers among his friends. “No one really knows the secret.”

A third-generation hair-hanging circus performer who grew up on tour with his family, Williams has shiny brown hair that dangles down to his elbows. Like most hair hangers, he has a strict regimen that keeps his hair strong, including a regular treatment mixture of avocadoes, eggs, mayonnaise and vinegar.

The hair must be tied to the rig in such a way that the load of the person's weight is evenly distributed across the scalp. Otherwise, performers can literally scalp themselves accidentally or fluid can pool in one section of the head.

“It is very painful. There's a reason that not many people do it,” said Williams, whose act includes juggling fire and hula-hooping while suspended high in the air. “We smile and we look like we're not in pain.”

Out of respect for his friends, Williams canceled his scheduled performances Sunday for Circus Sapphire, which is currently touring in Martinsville, Indiana. But he was soaring skyward again Monday.

“The reason I put up with the pain is because of how rare it is,” he said. “It's beautiful. It's really a beautiful act.”

Advertisement