I’d only seen the headlines about that circus accident on Sunday, in which eight performers took a nasty spill, so I figured it was a tightrope act or something similar. But no — they were doing something called hair hanging:
“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’s not even a morbid curiosity driving me to look for YouTube videos as soon as I’m done writing this. This sounds like a strangely beautiful performance art and I have got to see it.