Big top ripples to the magic of gay muscle

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MOST of us are phobic about going to the theatre and getting hauled on stage for audience participation. But nothing can equal the mortification I suffered last week at the Roseland Ballroom off Times Square.

This was not your ordinary Broadway show, but rather the first of a three- night run of a brand new circus. To be precise, Circus Diva, the world's first-ever performed by, and aimed at, gays - and not an event you might feel entirely comfortable at if you are straight.

It was not hard to guess at the tenor of what I was about to witness at Circus Diva, which hopes to establish itself as a permanent troupe. Under-21s were not admitted and there were free condoms at my table.

"For the next two hours, thrill to the magic of carved muscle", intoned our "hostess", the majestic Shequida, New York drag queen and occasional soap star. And, torso-gazing aside, thrills there were. The 35 gay and lesbian performers have been drawn from famous circuses worldwide. It was a night of feats, from aerial stunts to gymnastic tumblings to sword-swallowing, that will amaze anyone, regardless of sexuality.

But this was also meant as an evening of overt sensuality, according to producer Mitch Weiss, after which "everyone should go home and have sex with each other". (Note: I went alone.)

My moment of misery came near the start. I was one of four men escorted on stage by the circus clowns and seated on four stools arranged in a square. We were instructed to lie back onto the lap of the man behind us then, one by one, to raise our buttocks as the stools were removed. Thus entwined, staying aloft through the power of our thighs, we were invited to wave little gay pride rainbow flags...

The circus is due to appear next at the Amsterdam Gay Games in August. It will flourish, says Mr Weiss, if it can set itself apart from all other troupes around the world. If that is all it will take, Diva will do fine.