In conversation with Lisandra Austin

Lisandra Austin on silks by Gem Hall

Lisandra Austin on silks by Gem Hall

Lisandra Austin is a circus aerialist that has been performing for over 16 years in circus around the world. Born in Havana, Cuba, Lisandra is married to seventh-generation circus owner and artist Patrick Austin, who is this year’s Giffords Circus tent master and they have a one-year old son Logan. Here we talk to Lisandra about how she became a circus artist and what life is like on the road with a young family…

Lisandra, how did you become a circus artist?

I am from Havana, Cuba and started circus training when I was 14 in a circus school, I wanted to be a dancer, but I couldn’t as I’m not tall enough. So, I decided to go to circus school 16 years ago now. When I first went I started on unicycle but after a while I started to learn silks too.

What was your childhood like?

I went to a normal primary school and high school and then my mum would take me to additional dance classes after school, classes like Spanish dance, contemporary and ballet. I’m an only child – my dad is a colonel in the military and my mum worked in the arts industry.

Where was the first circus that you joined?

I was 18 when I graduated from the circus school, it was a natural progression to move onto the Cuban National Circus, which can lead to opportunities with touring circuses within Cuba and even contracts with circuses abroad.

When I first moved abroad I was 20/21, it was to work in a restaurant in the Cayman Islands. They came to Cuba to select three acts and my silk act was one of the chosen acts. It was just a four-day gala show and the restaurant was over the sea but unfortunately a storm was coming, so the gala was cancelled! As soon as we arrived they took us to dinner and told us we would be going back home again!

I had previously met a man from the Cayman Islands I remembered from working in nightclubs in Havana who ran a show, so I contacted him, and he came and met us the next day. One of his performers was pregnant and needed to return to Cuba so he invited me to stay. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out at that time and after only 24 hours we were sent back to Cuba. It was nice to be able to get out of the country, especially as it was still such hard times in Cuba.

I didn’t have to wait long as less than a month later everything was sorted, and I returned to the Cayman Islands where I stayed for three years working for the cabaret!

When did you first travel to Europe?

In 2011 I started work for the state circus in Belarus – it’s in the most amazing ornate building, there are different rings that move, there’s even a water one! It was a real privilege to be such a big place.

You are married seventh-generation circus owner Patrick Austin, how did you meet?

I was working in Gandy’s here in the UK where I was working for their summer season in Butlins. Patrick came to see the show with his mum Jounita, who is a circus agent and from a long line of circus owners. I spoke to her and gave her my number as I was looking for work after I finished my summer contract.

A few months later Jounita called as Patrick was looking for acts for his circus, Circus Ginnett. Circus Ginnett, is based in Norfolk, and was formed in the 1800s by French Calvary who were captured during the Napoleonic war by British troops. 

I moved to England to work for Patrick and he provided me with a caravan, but I hadn’t even towed a caravan before, so he gave me towing lessons and the rest is history! We’ve been together for four years now and have a one-year-old son, Logan. Patrick also has an 11-year-old son Luke, who stays with us on weekends.

What’s life like with a young family in the circus?

To be honest it can be hard. Just before my act I need at least 20 minutes to stretch and run through my act, time to focus. I visualise my full act and relax.

So, you have to switch off from your role as a mother?

It’s hard for Logan as he’s young so he doesn’t understand that I must disappear, if he starts crying I find it hard to focus if I can hear him cry. But that’s the same for every mum.  

My friends that aren’t in the circus used to say I’m crazy to travel alone from one country to another, that I don’t know where I’m going and am I not scared? I’d say to them “No, it’s the best life!”  

How does Giffords differ from other circuses that you’ve worked on?

It’s a lot of hard work, usually in a circus you do your act and that’s it, sometimes you do a finale or a parade at the end which is usually just a walk and wave. Here we spend three weeks doing rehearsals and put together a professional show and finale, with professional dancing. The performers are not just circus performers, they are dancers, presenters, actors too. That gives a lot to the artists as when they finish the season they will have gained so much more experience.