'It's like flying - an incredible feeling'

Pauliina Rasanen, 28, is a trapeze artist with Cirque du Soleil.

What's a day at work like?

I perform at night, so I like to sleep in, then practise on stage for 45 minutes. I perform my trapeze act once or twice a day, nine or 10 times every week. Before each show, I put on my make-up and sparkly costume, and warm up for half an hour, doing handstands and abdominal push-ups. I have to do a lot of strength and flexibility exercises. After the show, I practise again for at least another half an hour. That's when my muscles are warmest, so I can push my body even harder.

Why do you love your job?

It's like a dream of flying. When you do a great performance on the trapeze and everything goes well, it's such an incredible feeling - and you try to project that feeling to the audience. So it's a physical challenge, but it's also an art. You're expressing yourself through the way you move.

What's tough about it?

Working at such a high level every day. Sometimes you wake up with a tummy ache, but you still have to perform. I have calloused hands from holding on to the trapeze bar, but they don't bother me as much as my sore muscles. I like to have a massage once a week.

What skills do you need to be a trapeze artist?

You've got to be talented, but also have the mental strength to cope with the intense physical training. Physically, you need to keep a light body weight, so if you're performing with a partner, they can catch you easily. You can't be at all nervous - when there are 5,000 people watching you, you need to keep your cool. And you've got to be adaptable, because we change cities about once every six weeks.

What would you say to someone who wanted to become a trapeze artist?

I'd say first of all that it's not magic - it's work. You have to work extremely hard, but if you have the physical capacity and talent, you should follow your dreams. I'm originally from Finland, where I did gymnastics and ballet as a child, before joining a youth circus at 14. Then I moved to Canada to study at the National Circus School of Montreal for three years. Cirque du Soleil saw my final performance at circus school, but they also recruit acrobats from gymnastic competitions.

What's the salary and career path like?

We get paid per show, and the amount depends on how you've negotiated your contract. In terms of career progression, I've only met two trapeze artists in their late thirties or early forties, so you need to think ahead. If you've done a range of theatrical, dance and acrobatic training, it'll be easier to redirect your career. You could choreograph your own show, or teach. I plan to set up my own act in Finland with my boyfriend, a Russian acrobat.

www.cirquedusoleil.com

For information on training in circus skills, go to the National Association of Youth Circuses at www.skylight-circus-arts.org.uk; the Academy of Circus Arts at www.zipposcircus.co.uk/aca/aca.htm; or The Circus Space at www.thecircusspace.co.uk.

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