March 25, 2022
This Mother’s Day, we wanted to celebrate some of the amazing mums – and parents – who are part of our community at Up Side Down Circus.
From our co-founder Tammi Brown, who is currently on maternity leave, to community member Sara Hartel, proud parent to Ronya, and “circus mum” Deb, here are their inspiring stories.
“My daughter is my biggest fan,” said Deb – mum to two-year-old Ariyah. “She’s truly mesmerised and loves to practice with me.”
Deb, 35, from Caerphilly, first became interested in circus after seeing aerialists on the BBC.
“There were artists on red silks, just before the programmes started,” she recalled. “I wanted to ‘join the circus’ after seeing that, but at the time, I thought it was impossible. It was the early 90s, I was living in the Valleys and there wasn’t a lot going on circus-wise.”
Deb first got involved with circus around 2012, after moving to Cardiff. She tried joining a gym, but found it difficult to keep motivated.
“I was looking for something interesting to do,” she explained. “A way to meet new people and make friends, while keeping fit and learning a new skill.
Deb is now a keen pole dancer and trains on aerial hoop, rope, silks and straps. She performed on rope at the Roald Dahl centenary celebrations - City Of The Unexpected - in Cardiff in September 2016 and NoFit State community cabarets between 2015 and 2017.
She was also in Y Môr by Splatch Cardiff on Penarth Pier and The Big Splash in Newport in July 2017, as well as competing on advanced aerial hoop at the Welsh Aerial and Pole Championships in 2018.
When she became pregnant, Deb was keen to continue training, as long as she could do so safely.
“I asked the doctors at every scan and they said yes,” she explained. “I was told it was beneficial to continue exercising as I had been, just be mindful of any moves on my tummy and general safety. My partner Gavin was very supportive in me continuing to train.”
Deb trained right up until the day before a routine appointment at 42 weeks and believes this made it easier for her body to deal with the emergency C-section.
Her daughter Ariyah was born in June 2019 and is nearly three.
“I was desperate to get back to training,” said Deb. “I’m used to being up and about. Plus I was told I wouldn’t want to – never tell me I can’t or won’t do something!
“I found it hard at the start because my physical appearance had changed. I felt weaker and frustrated I couldn't do everything I used to be able to do.”
She added: “Even though I was a mum now and this takes over a huge part of your identity, I felt it was important – not only for my health and fitness – but also to set an example for Ariyah.
“I wanted her to see early on that you can do anything you set your mind to. Plus it’s nice for her to see that mummy has a hobby too.”
Deb started bringing her daughter into the training space and said she “absolutely loved it”. Deb continued training on a rig in her garden during lockdown. Ariyah is now following in her mum and dad’s footsteps getting into dance and gymnastics.
“She goes to gymnastics once a week and asks to go every day,” laughed Deb. “Gavin has a gymnastics background, so I guess it was inevitable. We practice at home most days.
“Circus is definitely a great family activity. It’s something fun you can do together and it’s a great way to keep fit.
“It’s something to look forward to each week and a great way to learn life skills like perseverance and determination.”
What about Deb’s words of wisdom for any mums thinking of giving circus a try? “Just sign up as soon as you think about doing it,” she said.
“I quite often feel ‘mum guilt’ about going to a class, but I’m reminded it’s important to take some time for me, plus I feel so refreshed and energised afterwards.”
She added: “If you’re worried about going to a class alone, there will be others who have gone alone too and it’s a great opportunity to make friends.
“I was terrified, but it’s the best decision I made. The circus community is so friendly and accepting.”
Sara Hartel, 33, from Barry, is a freelance theatre maker and parent to three-year-old Ronya. Sara is non-binary and uses “they” pronouns and “Parepare”, rather than mum or dad.
They started classes at Up Side Down Circus not long after the training space opened in 2017. Sara took time out from training during pregnancy and lockdown.
Sara and Ronya performed together at the Halloween community show in October 2019. Sara was one of the Three Little Pigs, while nine-month-old Ronya was the Big Bad Wolf.
They took part in a photoshoot with Broken Doll Images last year. Photographer Kim Partridge took some striking images of Sara wearing a chest binder and holding Ronya. They are always close to the ground when Ronya is on silks.
Sara said: “I love circus because it’s a lot of fun. Up Side Down is great because it's a place where I can bring Ronya. She can swing about and I can do my thing on the silks.”
Tammi Brown and Chris Moore co-founded Up Side Down Circus in 2017. For Tammi, creating an “inclusive environment” is a priority when it comes to community circus.
She was determined to incorporate child-friendly classes into the timetable, allowing parents - like Sara - to bring their children along to the training space.
Tammi said other classes are for adults only, “so all community members can achieve and have their needs met”.
Tammi started maternity leave in September and is now proud mum to Willow.
Acknowledging the challenges of returning to physical exercise following pregnancy and childbirth, Tammi said: “New mums need not worry about having any strength, flexibility or even any physical background, as circus classes cater for this.
“At Up Side Down, we have classes for complete beginners and our trainers understand that all bodies are different and we are all on our own physical journey.”
She added: “We know core strength is used a lot in circus, but there are so many fun, creative and gentle ways we can help you learn to engage your core that are safe for where your body is at.
“Even as an experienced circus artist who has always been into fitness, my journey back to my previous strength and body is a new chapter for me.”
Tammi has taught circus all over the world, including America, Australia, Italy and Spain. She has performed at castles in Milan and manors in Scotland.
She added: “I’m really proud of what my body achieved during pregnancy and childbirth and I am taking my time to get to know my new body and its current limits. I’m embracing the changes and challenges.
“There’s no point in comparing myself to other new mums because all of our circumstances are different. To be honest, I don’t have a flat stomach anymore, I have my little mama belly and I love it. I have no desire to get rid of it in a hurry and it’s an excuse to buy more leggings that fit me!”
Tammi said she is more determined than ever to create classes for parents, where children can come along too - removing the barrier of childcare.
She said: “It’s a great way to get moving again, but also to be in a supportive environment where we all understand that kids are kids and we are all there to support each other, no judgement.”
Tammi added: “It’s easy to compare ourselves to others we know or see on social media who have had a different journey to getting their bodies ‘back in shape’ after childbirth.
“I know of mums who have babies the same age as my little one who are stronger than they were before having given birth and yet here I am with my belly, tired body and no strength!
“Wherever you are on your fitness journey, be proud of it, own it and know that in time you can achieve wonderful things. Be brave and take that first step, the rest will come.”
By Liz Day