From travelling around Australia in a van with her parents to performing in one of the most renowned shows in Vegas, dive in with us into the wonderful life of Lucia Carbines.
We sat down with Lucia Carbines, who has a very unique and incredible job as an aerial contortionist in a circus in Las Vegas. We chatted to Lucia to get to know more about how she got to where she is today, and how someone gets to be that bendy!
Welcome Lucia, tell us a little bit about you.
I’m Lucia Carbines, I was born in Christchurch and grew up in Australia. I’m 25 and I’ve been living in Las Vegas for 2 and a half years now performing shows on the strip as a contortionist.
Can you quickly explain what a contortionist is?
A contortionist is basically someone who is really bendy. There are different types of contortionists in the industry. We have the main one which people might think of, the sideshow kinda freaks – people who can bend themselves into crazy positions or dislocate. I would describe myself more as a contemporary contortionist – or an aerial contortionist. So even though I have extreme flexibility, I put it into routines that are choreographed into dance and often is part of a variety circus act. It’s not supposed to be creepy. Although some people do find it to be. It’s more like an extreme yoga with extreme poses, handstands and hand balancing to music.
When did this all start and how did you then say, okay ‘I’m going to make this my job’?
Ever since I was a little girl, I was very social and wanted to be doing everything that I could. So I started ballet when I was 2 and then the ballet classes moved into tap, jazz and musical theatre when I was 7. I was basically singing, dancing, doing everything you could name. I found acrobatics, so I used to do acrobatic classes and then when I was 9 and a half or 10, I ended up actually finding something called horse vaulting. This is where the horse is running in a circle and you mount onto the horse, you do tricks, you do handstands and even stand on the horse.
I absolutely loved it so I started competing and I ended up winning Nationals for my age when I was 11. Then I unfortunately got into a serious accident. I got thrown off the horse in competition and I fractured a vertebrae in my neck. My mum was pretty determined to find something that I would love just as much and keep me entertained, but wasn’t as dangerous as horse vaulting. We happened to have this little Circus Academy open up down the road from our house. I think I had just turned 14, I walked through the door and absolutely loved it. The woman approached my mum and said we’re creating an elite team and would really like your daughter to join if that’s something she’s interested in. So I joined and from there it was just game over.
I stopped doing everything else so that I had more time to do Circus. I only focused on Circus, that’s it. And through Circus I started out on aerial. This meant silks, trapeze, hoop, and apparatuses. We were all doing the same sort of stretching regime, I was always naturally flexible but I didn’t realise to what extent my possibility was. We had coaches training us and it became very apparent quickly that I was just getting more bendy. I was doing a backbend and my old coach was pulling my bridge and she said tell me when it hurts, and I was just going and going and going and she kept saying are you sure you are okay and then my head was sitting on my butt. My back was folded completely in half and I couldn’t go any further but it still didn’t hurt.
So they sat me down and told me that I should be a contortionist. Most of my training was done in this little academy on the Gold Coast called Aerial Angels in Burleigh Heads. That was where I did all my aerial training but through that I did a lot of contortion training on my own such as watching YouTube videos. Sometimes I would have a random private lesson if someone came through town. I was working on contortion tricks and getting more and more flexible and after that I was off, I was working.
Is it a true story that your mum told you that you were allowed to go away with the circus only if you do your last classes by combining the last 2 years?
I was homeschooled. We travelled between New Zealand and Australia a lot growing up, we had family in New Zealand. My parents are pretty alternative, they sold a handmade clothing brand called Healing Colours at festivals. So we would spend a couple months a year driving around in a van. I was homeschooled for those purposes, the plan was that I would go to high school but once I fell in love with Circus, we realised I would have more time to train if I was homeschooled.
So then my parents said to me if you want to tour and do all these things, you have to graduate first. In Queensland, if you are homeschooled you have to prove that you have graduated school, so you can either do distance education or go to TAFE. When I was 15 I enrolled in a Dual Advanced Diploma which was the equivalent to grade 12 and before that I had done a fast tracked grade 11. So essentially from the age of 14 to 16 I did year 10, 11 and 12. I did year 10 in six months and year 11 and 12 in the one year at TAFE. So I completely graduated before I turned 16 and was able to go off and work with the circus.
So now fast forward to you living in Las Vegas for a long time. Tell us what you still love so much about what you are doing. What is it that gives you the energy to do that day in and day out?
It’s a pretty incredible profession, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else in my life. There’s something really special about going on stage, giving joy, making people happy, lifting a room of people up and seeing people smile. I’ve always loved performing and it’s just a lifestyle for me.
Usually on tour you only do 8 shows and you get breaks but Vegas is the first time in life I’ve experienced it feeling a little more like a job, rather than something you do because you love it. It has both aspects but you’re doing 10 shows here a week, you are doing it every night, just week in and week out but there’s nothing really quite like it that I couldn’t imagine myself doing. Your job is going on stage, seeing people’s reactions and making people forget about the rest of the world for an hour whilst they come and watch your show. It’s an escape.
Before Las Vegas, you left home travelling the world, where have you been? Where have you performed?
I got picked up on tour when I was 17, before that I was performing on the Gold Coast and we would do some gigs around Asia. So it was one-offs and little casino shows. But then a big American circus came to town when I was 17 and their contortionist had appendicitis and they were looking for someone. There’s not that many contortionists in Australia so they got directed to me. I auditioned, I got the job and jumped ship, I was off.
We did Australia for 18 months first then Japan which was by far my favourite place to tour that was absolutely amazing! Then we did New Zealand, Canada and America. It’s pretty amazing. I would describe the tour that I was on as glamping versus camping. There’s a traditional circus and then there’s a modern circus. We were flown from city to city and we would get a week off in between and put up in accommodation.
When we got to the new city we had an apartment in some beautiful spot. You don’t have to work generally there until 6pm so you have the whole day to explore this city, then you do shows and then you sleep. Then you move to another city and you get there a week early to rest and it all starts over again. Tour was amazing, I absolutely loved touring and going to new countries and exploring new places.
So now obviously you are in Las Vegas which is sort of the Mecca for circus people and performers – all the big names come here to play. Tell us about the act that you are doing now.
When I first arrived in Vegas, I was performing in Absinthe at Caesar’s Palace and I was doing an aerial act and a ground contortion act. The same company started up a new show at the Cosmopolitan called Opium and I was transferred over there to help out at that stage. Now Opium is well and truly thriving, and killing it as a show on the strip which we are very proud of. Opium is a space show, my character is Leeloo from the 5th Element and my act in the show is a strange and new one for me, it’s a weather balloon.
I’ll explain this one. Imagine a giant balloon, I’m dancing around, spinning it and eventually I get inside it using contortion. My head disappears, which makes this act a huge challenge because you can’t see through it. You put your head in and it’s like trying to do contortion with your eyes shut and having a balloon smash you in the face every 2 minutes. Now it’s just second nature, I really love this act, it’s really fun and it seems like the audience is really into seeing someone disappear inside a giant balloon whilst contorting.
There’s a lot of famous people in Las Vegas, have you met any celebrities come watch you perform?
We’ve met heaps, but I’m also the worst at forgetting celebrity names and knowing who certain celebrities are. We’ve had Celine Dion, Sporty Spice, Neil Patrick Harris and Elon Musk.
Las Vegas is known for its party lifestyle, tell us what it’s like to live in such a place.
Surprisingly, it’s very different to what you expect as an Australian moving over there. I thought I would hate it. When I got offered this job, as a circus performer you can’t turn it down. You can’t turn down going to work for Spiegelworld in Vegas. It’s sort of a pinnacle of a career. If you just didn’t want to go to the desert you would be an idiot to turn down an opportunity like that. So I thought I would just do it for a year and see how I go. I was surprised, it’s actually really awesome there.
It’s the biggest circus community city I’ve ever been in. It’s resident shows and because of that you have families, you have people here with houses, with dogs – it’s more so a community then anywhere I have lived in my adult life. You feel sort of grounded whilst doing your profession which you can’t do anywhere else in the world, it’s either touring or corporate. So to be able to live in one place and perform every night as a circus performer is pretty incredible. And on top of that, Vegas isn’t really just a patch of desert sand as I imagined it.
There’s so much nature around, the red rocks is great for rock-climbing. I’m a rock climber myself. I see Alex Honnold all the time, we climb at the same gym. We’re on name bases now, I was very star struck. It’s just a hub for climbing so depending on the season most days I’m out rock-climbing with my pup and going to work after that. An hour away in Winter you can go snowboarding during the day and then go to work. You can get out into nature and then go back and drive into the strip. Most locals don’t go into the strip other than work so there’s awesome local restaurants, there’s a community, there’s all these nature things you do and then you just drive into the strip to perform so you’re not getting caught in the tourist trap.
So you’re well connected in the circus world, you’ve seen more shows than the average human being. For our readers who are probably mainly living in Australia, is there any show that comes regularly that they should see?
My favourites would be a few of my absolute, all-time inspirations like my favourite circus company Briefs. They have an all-male show called Briefs, they have a few different versions but it’ll say Briefs a second coming or Briefs at the beginning. And they also have an all-female show called Hot Round Honey. Both of these shows are absolutely incredible. Make sure you don’t miss it. They are amazing. Other cabaret shows would be La Soiree and La Clique, they often do The Fringe scene as well, they’re really awesome. Then on the other scale of more contemporary circus, sort of smaller more Australian based companies would be Casus.