Most pregnant women stick to running, gym workouts or pregnancy exercise classes. Meet Mimbre, an all-female acrobatic theatre company based in Hackney, London who celebrated their pregnancies with a beautiful and unusual acrobatic performance.
Mimbre have been challenging stereotypes with their acro-balance performances since 1998, creating a positive female image of strength and agility. In contrast to the more usual acrobatic performance, with a big man lifting a tiny woman, the performers in Mimbre are all women of a similar size, working together in impressive choreographed performance.
Co-founder Silvia Fratelli says: ‘As an all-female company we have to deal with women’s bodies all the time ….with all its issues and marvels. As part of this we also had to sometimes deal with pregnancies. We have learnt a lot in the last few years and we all had different experiences as pregnant performers: extreme sickness, aches and pains, tiredness as well as lots of renewed energy. We wanted to explore how to treat the very delicate and powerful time of pregnancy as physical performers
The idea of creating a short film started during the pregnancy of my second child. I felt that as a professional acrobat this was an important and rare moment to capture. I wanted to celebrate this and get other circus performers involved to share their experiences too.
I was continuing to train during my pregnancy and thought that a film capturing the bump in motion would send a positive message to all women who feel confident about moving during pregnancy but get subjected to criticism and judgement. Remarkably a call out amongst the circus community produced a cast of five willing pregnant acrobats.’
Silvia and her pregnant colleague Rebecka had previously worked together so were very familiar with each other and the moves they felt they could perform safely. Silvia continued ‘In general we spend lots of hours together training (especially with the acro-balance technique, which is about creating human pyramids with two or more bodies), so the level of trust is built gradually and steadily. Even though I was heavily pregnant I was very comfortable about being on Rebecka’s shoulders as I had done it many times in the past.’
Silvia makes handstands during pregnancy sound perfectly straightforward, saying ‘It’s about re-adjusting your balance with the added weight and change of centre of gravity’.* Nevertheless she admits there were some moves they thought they could do but felt they were being too optimistic….so simply didn’t film them and kept to the safe ones.
Most of the performers were well into their third trimester when the film was made and had experienced very differing pregnancies. They executed a series of solo skills (aerial silks, handstands and hip hop dance), so they were in control of what they thought was safe for them to perform.
Despite the fact that they are clearly fit, strong and exceptionally well-tuned into their own bodies and capabilities as performers, their training elicited a lot of comment and judgement, varying from sideways glances in the gym and expressions of concern for their safety to people openly telling them that acrobatics and physical activity was unsafe or not the best choice for their unborn baby.
Silvia says, ‘In a way I understand that it might be uncomfortable for some to watch pregnant women doing acrobatics, but I just think that happens because it doesn’t get seen enough, so social expectations and ‘rules’ start to kick in…as acrobats we’re used to training regularly and I do completely trust that during pregnancy we’re totally capable to make a call for what’s safe.
I also feel that not enough doctors, physios and body practitioners know and understand enough about pregnancies and physical activity (especially when the physical activity is quite unusual). More research and training on that would be great for the future!
Whilst we understand and respect that sometimes some people might not feel like or they might not be able to move during pregnancy, we also want to acknowledge that we know our bodies very well and we’re able to decide if and when we feel happy and safe about moving and doing what we love – it’s actually very beneficial to both mother and baby!’
It was a great day filming BUMP, surrounded by mostly heavily pregnant women and sharing a lot of experiences about how our bodies felt, how tired we were but also excited at the thought of soon meeting our babies! And of course talking a lot about social expectations…very empowering indeed!’
The film captures the beauty of the pregnant body and the bump in motion and shows that fragility and strength can happily coexist.
*FittaMamma Tip: We would only recommend handstands during pregnancy if they are part of your everyday routine pre-pregnancy – and then only with caution!
Silvia, who was a competitive gymnast when she was growing up in Italy co-founded Mimbre with Lina Johansson and Emma Norin in 1998. They trained at what is now called the National Centre for Circus Arts, supported by their Cuban coach Vicente Moreno. The trio spend 3 months training on Havana, Cuba after finishing their course in London. They now work with a wide pool of female performers.
Check out their tour dates at http://mimbre.co.uk/portfolio_page/tour-2019/
Photos by Anna Strickland