Creativity Interviews

Jess Mews Is a Professional Hula Hoop Artist

“I was never into conventional Australian sports as a kid. When I was about five, Mum started getting a bit worried, saying, ‘You need to get out of the house.’ So she found this ad in the local paper for a circus school, signed me up and I just kept going. First you learn tumbling, cartwheels and backflips. Then juggling, aerial skills, trampoline – all the basic skills every circus performer needs. Then as you get older, you find the one you really like doing, and that becomes your speciality. For me, it was hula hoops, which is now my full-time career.

“I saw another girl performing it at a circus festival when I was about 13. I thought, She looks pretty cool; she’s got a cool costume on; I want to do that one! So it was really random. I had a few teachers, but most of it I learnt off YouTube. I’d be in my lounge room after school and on the weekends, I’d find a video I liked and replay it hundreds of times, looking at every little thing that person was doing, and just repeat, repeat, repeat. I smashed a lot of things in my house – I still do. But it’s all about patience. Like anything with circus, it’s just putting in the time and the effort.

“My act is choreographed, very similar to a dance. So I’ve got the music, I’ve got the costume, I’ve got the vibe. It’s normally about five minutes, and I just pack in as many tricks as I can. I’ve got a lot of skills that I’ve honed from different countries, because different countries have different specialities in hula hoops. China’s known for very flexible tricks; Ukraine’s very good at juggling. I’ve trained with them and taken what I can. It requires a lot of multi-tasking, balance and knowing what your body’s doing. But after seven years it’s kind of become muscle memory; I don’t think at all. I can do it asleep at four o’clock in the morning.

“There’s about 15 professional hula hoopers in Australia and we’re all friends. If we’re in the same city, we’ll meet up, train together, exchange tricks. It’s a really inclusive community, and I think that’s true of circus in general. All circus performers are welcome at other spaces around the world; you just have to give a heads up if you’re coming. So I can go to Portugal, for example, and say, ‘Hey, I don’t know anyone here, I’m a circus performer, help me,’ and people will open their doors, give me a bed, tell me who I can train with. It’s like a giant family.

“Personally, I like to make all my costumes myself. I’m always looking for costume designs at Spotlight. At the moment, I’m really into 1950s traditional circus outfits, like full corseted costumes – they look so beautiful. My favourite outfit is this vintage 1950s crop top with swing dancing frills. It’s white and got matching high-waisted pants. I actually found it in an op shop in Paris. I’m always op-shopping.

“We don’t have any specific diets. Just try and lay off the ice-cream, that’s about it. I always try and keep fit, but I think circus does that for me. It’s very therapeutic. It’s actually used as therapy for people with disabilities, social insecurities or anything like that. Everyone can get something out of circus. There is no too young, too old, too inexperienced. It’s great for joint movement, flexibility, all-round fitness, focus and self-confidence. No one walks out of a circus class going, ‘Oh my god, did you see my thighs?’ Everyone comes out with a really positive outlook on life.”

Image: Olga Bennett

This article first appeared in frankie magazine issue 75 (Jan/Feb 2017).

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