chapter  1
28 Pages

Graceful manliness, unfeminine maidens and erotic gods

Male aerial gymnasts were doing flying acts by 1860 and several female performers are identifiable by 1868, imitating the flying action of males. As early as 1862, 10-year-old Natalie Foucart on fixed trapeze, with muscles like ‘a big boy’s’, aspired to copy and outdo Léotard, the first flyer (Munby 1972: 122). The aerialists performing on the new trapeze apparatus were quick to explore the greater possibility of appearing to fly by executing strenuous physical leaps, dives and turns between combinations of trapeze bars and hanging ropes from suspended platforms. They embodied long-standing cultural aspirations for flight.