Behind the Mexican Circus with Young Explorer Emily Ainsworth
Photo: Emily Ainsworth
by Lauren Ward of NG Staff in Explorers Journal
May 23, 2012
“Blood, Sweat, and Sequins: behind the Mexican Circus”
By Jhunehl Fortaleza, Media Intern
As a journalist, anthropologist, and dancing circus princess, Emily Ainsworth has spent the past few years capturing the hidden lives of performers who’ve tantalized audiences for decades. Emily somehow manages to capture the color and texture of their everyday lives, using a camera lens to uncover what lies beyond the circus veil.
We only ever get a glimpse at them under a bright spotlight, but through the National Geographic Young Explorer’s Grant, Emily gives us a unique window into what she calls a world of “blood, sweat and sequins,” where most performers have “generations of circus blood pumping through their veins” and many artists “die in the ring, rather than of old age.
With the help of NG, Emily was able to work with seven different circuses around Mexico City—Circo Hermanos Vazquez, Circo Atayde, and American Circus to name a few.
With more than 200 circuses in Mexico, traveling with them gave Emily an opportunity to see Mexico from a different perspective, from the eyes of those growing up outside of mainstream society. Emily says that this project had particular significance for the performers. NG magazines are sold on every street corner in Mexico, so their lives being featured in association with NG gave them confidence that their culture was valued.
Photo: Emily Ainsworth
Life as a Performer
When Emily was performing with the circus, she lived in a trailer like everyone else. Though the days often passed in a sleepy haze, night brought the entire world to life. The close-knit, hierarchical culture Emily became a part of was just as riveting as the shows they put on every night. Even the circus had its social order—performers associated with performers, riggers with riggers, the two rarely mixed. But all ran high on adrenaline during these performance nights.
“You really feel part of the community,” says Emily. “People truly look out for you. Many performers have seven generations of circus blood, and most who are born in the circus can’t imagine a life outside the ring. If you’re not born into the lifestyle, it’s a difficult community to infiltrate; I was very lucky to get that insight into this world.”
Being a circus performer, Emily says, is an exclusive birthright. Talents and tricks are passed down through generations. Parents often train and imagine futures for their children in the ring, even before they start to walk.