Like many 19-year-olds Jessica Ladley is studying for a degree. Unlike most undergraduates, the teenager from Castleford spends most of her time either upside down or spinning in a large metal hoop.
Jessica is one a select group of students enroled at the new National Centre for Circus Arts in London which is home to the next generation of trapeze artists and tightrope walkers. Formerly Circus Space, yesterday it was elevated to ‘national’ status by th Government keen to show it is taking the taking the arts seriously.
“It does feel different,” said Jessica, who is in the second year of a degree in circus skills. “Being a national centre tells everyone else that what we do here is world class.”
Growing up, Jessica attended classes at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance and a local gymnastics club. When she heard about the circus school it was the perfect opportunity to combine her two passions.
She said: “The audition was nerve-wracking because I was completely out of my comfort zone, but I just thought this is my one chance, if I don’t give it my all then I’ll regret it.”
Since arriving at the school in North London, Jessica has chosen to specialise in the cyr wheel. It’s basically a large metal hoop in which she performs tricks and spins. After months of training, she makes it look easy. It’s not and she’s got the bruises to prove it.
“I’m covered in them, but thankfully I’ve only had one really bad accident. The one thing they drill into you is, ‘never let go of the wheel’. One day after completing a really difficult trick, I was so shocked that I forgot to hold on. The wheel came crashing down on my head and I was left with concussion and a cartoon-style bump.”
None of Jessica’s family have been involved in the circus, but when she graduates next year, she hopes to fulfil a long held dream of performing on some of the world’s biggest stages.
“My dream would be to join a group like Cirque du Soleil or work for one of the big Las Vegas shows. I’m really desperate to travel the world and hopefully by being part of a big troupe will allow me to do just that.
“I may not have quite run away to join the circus, but it was a real leap of faith and one which I really hope will pay off.”