Hoops On Deck
From circus academy to spinning for a living on the ocean wave, hula hoop and balance artist Jess Mews talks us through her fascinating journey
From Berlin to the Bahamas, Australian Jess Mews has been wowing audiences with hula hoop and balance routines for almost a decade. Jess, who describes herself as an ‘introvert’, feels very lucky to have discovered circus training at such a young age before grabbing the opportunity to attend the prestigious academy the Flying Fruit Fly Circus, which helped to shape her career. Now aged 26, Jess is currently living the dream, performing while cruising around the Mediterranean. With a real insight into the world of circus arts, she tells us about her hula hooping journey, cruising lifestyle, the challenges of live performances, and who she’d most like to be lost at sea with.
Glorious: Tell us about yourself
Jess Mews: I’m from Perth, Australia and grew up next to the ocean. My mum was an animal care nurse, so we lived in Thailand for a short while and my dad owns a music store, so I’ve always been around music. My parents encouraged my sister and I to try everything at least once. I dipped my toes in literally every extra-curricular activity you could imagine and I found circus when I was 5 years-old. I kept training until I was 15 and suddenly realised that circus could be a career, so I left home and moved to the other side of the country to study at a specialised circus academy. I’m now 26, travelling the world as a professional circus artist. I’m a grandma at heart, and love books, early morning swims and dogs.
Glorious: What attracted you to circus training at such a young age? Is this a popular activity for kids in Australia?
Jess Mews: Circus isn’t mainstream at all, and I feel quite lucky that I found it so young. I was an introverted kid (and still am) but circus was the perfect mix for me. I could get all my energy out whilst making friends and trying new skills.There’s no age/ gender/ ability limits on circus either, so it was a very inclusive and safe environment to grow up in.
Glorious: You attended one of the world’s most prestigious schools, Flying Fruit Fly Circus, tell us about the program and how it helped to shape your career.
Jess Mews: The Flying Fruit Fly Circus is a professional program for kids and young adults to train at an international level. During the day we all go to normal school and attend training in the afternoons/ weekends where we perfect all the basics (acrobatics, juggling, dance and theatre) as well as our own specialities. I attended the school for 2 years, met some incredible people and was mentored by living legends. We had world class performers breeze through the school quite often, giving masterclasses in the most specialised disciplines and I’m grateful for every moment I had to spend in that building because it really did help shape me into the circus artist that I am today.
Glorious: Why did you choose to excel in hula hooping, what is it that you love about this activity and art form?
Jess Mews: I only tried hula hooping when I was 15 years old, and never thought of it as a speciality, let alone a career. I’m a very detail oriented person, so training manipulation was a great way for me to harness all of that energy into one skill. It just clicked in my brain. I love that almost everyone has hula hooped at some point in their life too. It isn’t a skill exclusive to the young or super fit, literally anyone can do it and that community is so amazing to be a part of. I also perform an aerial straps duet with my partner Oscar (but I’ve trained every circus discipline, so I can do a bit of everything these days).
Glorious: How big is the hula hooping community, who/what inspires you worldwide?
Jess Mews: The hula hooping community is HUGE, with over 200,000 active hoopers online. I’m inspired by a lot of music and dance choreographers, basically anything that get’s me creating outside of circus. I love moving to Stromae right now!
Glorious: Tell us about the challenges of your performances – has there ever been a time when an act hasn’t gone to plan?
Jess Mews: That’s the beauty of live performance, nothing will ever be perfect. We are only human at the end of the day, so there have been plenty of times when shows haven’t gone to plan and we figure it out on the fly. Injuries, technical failures, illness and costume mishaps all come with the job, and most of the time we can laugh about it afterwards.
Glorious: You have performed all over the world, do you have any inhibitions or do they disappear as soon as you walk out on stage?
Jess Mews: There’s an old quote that goes, “If you don’t get nervous before stepping onstage, it’s time to retire” and I think that’s very true. Every performer I know gets a little jittery before performing because it means you care about what you are giving to an audience. When I first started performing, I was a nervous wreck shaking in the venue wings. These days I’m not so bad (phew) but I do get butterflies before every show. As soon as I’m onstage, I’m totally in my element and forget about everything.
Glorious: You are currently cruising around the Mediterranean with Virgin Voyages. Tell us about this experience and describe a typical week at sea?
Jess Mews: It’s been amazing! I wake up in a different country every day, eat delicious food and explore cities I’d never get a chance to see normally. A typical week starts with a sailaway party as we leave Barcelona, sipping champagne and watching the sunset. Most days I get off in port, walk around and have some lunch in a local tapas cafe. I’ll head back to the ship in the afternoon and do some circus training, show rehearsals or go to the gym. We perform 2-5 shows per week, as well as various pop-up performances and nightclub acts. The Mediterranean is fairly calm sailing, so you hardly feel the ship rocking at all and often forget you are living at sea.
Glorious: Is it hard to remember choreography?
Jess Mews: Once you start using that specific part of your brain, it isn’t too bad. Practice makes perfect, so I’ll often finish a rehearsal and keep practising in the kitchen while I make dinner that night. Repetition until muscle memory kicks in.
Glorious: How many shows a week do you perform? Does it ever get monotonous?
Jess Mews: Currently I’m on stage 2-5 times per week, but I’ve done tours where we had 14-20 shows per week as well. If it’s a long season, sometimes it does get a little repetitive, but we always like to challenge ourselves on stage with new tricks and harder choreography.
Glorious: Had you cruised previously, either personally or professionally? What do you like about the lifestyle?
Jess Mews: I’ve never cruised as a passenger, but I have worked for other cruise lines before. Personally I love the structure. Accommodation, visas, food and medical are all taken care of, so you have barely any expenses. I encourage anyone to give cruise ships a try (there are roles for anyone onboard) because it’s a great way to travel the world and save money at the same time. I’ve met some of my best friends on ships, people I would never have crossed paths with normally, so that’s also pretty cool!
Glorious: Without a phone signal in the middle of the ocean, who are four inspirational women that you would like to pass time with and why?
Jess Mews: Mila Kunis, as I find Mila’s background and childhood fascinating. I’d love to have a coffee with her and she’s the type of woman I want to be best friends with. Jacinta Ardenis incredible. She is such a powerhouse in parliament, the perfect leader, and didn’t let motherhood stop her doing anything. Nova Peris was the first indigenous Australian woman to win gold, and then took her talents into politics. Nova is an icon! Maya Rudolph is my favourite actress/ director/producer ever. I love everything she creates.
Glorious: You travel a great deal, what’s your favourite destination?
Jess Mews: I loved living in Thailand, since it was so different to Australia and I was pushed out of my comfort zone on a daily basis. I also enjoy visiting Barcelona, Montreal and Singapore.
Glorious: Where would you like to visit next?
Jess Mews: Iceland is on my bucket list but I’m saving it for a special occasion. I’d also love to visit Budapest.
Glorious: If you weren’t a hula hoop artist, what would you like to be?
Jess Mews: I actually have a degree in technical management and live events, so I’d probably be a stage manager! If I had to choose something outside of the industry, I think my childhood dream would have been to study marine biology or to become a firefighter.
Glorious: What advice would you give to women who are thinking of getting into circus arts?
Jess Mews: Do it. Don’t wait until you are “a little more fit” or “when your friends want to do it with you.” Find a local circus school and start taking classes. Most of them offer trial classes, so try everything and figure out what you enjoy doing (even if you think you’ll be terrible at it). Circus is a safe place, so don’t worry about wearing a matching activewear set or shaving your legs, just rock up with a positive attitude and some water. Watch as much circus/ dance/ burlesque/ drag and music as you can and absorb everything. You might discover a world that’s perfect for you.