Jamie Russell pulled her shirt up and looked in the mirror at the red marks on her back. She said she had the same burns on her legs, where the rope rubbed against her bare skin as she climbed, swung and spiraled during a recent performance.
"Circus hurts," she said. "If you don't hurt, then you are not doing it right."
Most days, Russell, 31, works in a cubicle as a senior service specialist in the retail account management department of a national investment firm in Tampa. But at night, she trains or performs as an aerialist.
"I kind of like to think of myself a little bit like a superhero," she said while dangling, her body wrapped in two long strips of purple fabric — called silks — rigged from the ceiling of a warehouse in historic East Ybor. "During the day, I am business casual, blazers and suit jackets, but at night, I get to turn into this sparkling creature."
Russell was drawn in after seeing an aerialist perform at a club where she used to work as a dancer.
She became an Aerial Dragon about two years ago. The local circus troupe performs on apparatuses like the trapeze, the silks and the lyra — a metal hoop. Regardless of the equipment, she said, it's all about having the right grip in the right spot.
"If you grip too hard, you are going to be in more pain that you need to be, and you are not going to be able to relax and actually flow with the music," she said.
The Aerial Dragons typically perform at fundraisers and festivals, with aerialists sometimes doing several routines, each lasting a few minutes. To Russell, performing before a crowd is a magical experience.
If she had to choose, Russell would pick circus life over the corporate world. But her day job comes with benefits, and she's proud of that work, too.
Russell's next adventure is to teach the circus arts, as she has recently become an assistant at the Keep Yoga and Circus Arts studio, the place where she first learned midair tricks.