Hair Suspension Artist Deanna Papineau
Story by Michael Seguin
According to Deanna Papineau, it’s easy to reach for the stars when your feet barely touch the ground.
Deanna, better known as Aerialist Deanna, a professional, internationally acclaimed multi-discipline aerial performer, hair suspension artist, artistic director, choreographer, aerial coach and registered yoga teacher. She has been performing most of her entire life, beginning as a competitive figure skater at the age of 5.
“I trained six times a week,” Deanna recalls. “Before school and after school. And then, I competed on weekends.”
After years of competing, Deanna decided to leave the ice behind right before high school. After graduating, she spent some time studying nutrition before obtaining a four-year Nursing degree from the University of Windsor.
However, it was around this time that she rediscovered the limelight.
“My Uncle Romano Formiccucia owns a Yoga studio here in Windsor,” Deanna explains. “Ten years ago, he had aerial coaches come by with their aerial apparatuses and do a demonstration. It was love at first sight. It looked like so much fun. Something about it reminded me of figure skating. It felt like my childhood all over again.”
Deanna started travelling to the Toronto School of Circus Arts to train with her first coaches.
“This was all before Windsor even had a circus school,” Deanna recalls. “There was no one teaching in this area.”
Deanna began performing in the region, while managing a health food store.
“I decided I want to pursue something in the arts. I tried studying makeup. All the while, aerial performing was more of a hobby for me. I was just doing it for fun. I never thought I could build a career out of it. But, before COVID I was performing at a lot of different places. Galas. Weddings. Banquet halls. Festivals. Music videos. Art exhibits. Anywhere from Windsor to Toronto. Wherever they needed an aerial performer. I even did a bit of international work before the pandemic.”
In addition, Deanna spent some time at the Norwegian Creative Studio in Tampa Bay to learn how to coach different disciplines, including aerial bungee and Spanish Web. Since then, she has taught at various different circus schools, including the Windsor Circus School and the Toronto School of Circus Arts.
And now, Deanna has added a new type of performance to her resume: Hair Suspension—an aerial circus act where performers are suspended by their hair while performing acrobatic poses and contortions.
“I came across hair suspension online early in my circus career and I fell in love with it,” Deanna states. “I said to myself, ‘What is this? How are they hanging by their hair? It’s so beautiful!’ There was such a wow factor in such a beauty about it. I knew I wanted to learn how to do it.”
Unfortunately, Deanna discovered that the secrets of hair suspension were well kept ones.
“There’s not many people who do it in the world,” Deanna admits. “Hair suspension is an old, traditional circus art that was handed down generation to generation. If you were born into a family that practiced hair suspension, then you were taught the secrets. There weren’t many people willing to teach me. There might only be five Hair Suspension Artists in Canada.”
Deanna eventually found someone in Europe willing to take her on.
“I picked it up pretty fast,” Deanna states. “The whole art of it. How to prepare my body. And it’s a whole process! It takes me an hour just to bind my hair into the right knot. After that I have to prep my spine and my head just to make sure I’m fully warmed up before I hang there. You can easily get injured if you’re not doing it correctly.”
But for Deanna, the risks are well worth it. Hair suspension, she explains, allows her an unparalleled sense of self-expression.
“My arms and my legs are completely free,” Deanna explains. “With all the other disciplines, I’m holding onto something. With this, only my head is suspended. So, I’m free to float. I’m up there, I’m in the zone. It’s a very meditative experience. I can get into a state of pure creativity. My performances can be elegant, edgier or more Broadway. My style is always evolving.”
And thus far, reactions to Deanna’s work have been enthusiastic ones.
“I have a lot of people saying to me, ‘Is that real? Are you really hanging by your hair?’” Deanna laughs. “And I really am! I also get a lot of people cringing while I’m performing—because their head is hurting in sympathy. Mostly though I’m able to generate an intense, visceral reaction from the crowd.”
Aside from performing, Deanna has also started taking students.
“I love sharing what I know,” Deanna explains. “It’s great sharing what I do with others. And I love choreographing students that want to perform. It’s a great way for me to keep busy during the lockdown.”
And aerial arts, Deanna stresses, are truly an all-inclusive sport.
“Anyone can do it,” Deanna states. “You don’t have to be flexible. You don’t have to be strong. You can get strong doing it. It’s an amazing workout. Before getting into aerial, I was very bottom-strong. My legs are very muscular from my years of figure skating. But my upper body has really developed because of doing poses and twists. And it’s great fun! If you’re looking to get into the more creative side and start performing, I also teach that as well.”
More information about Aerialist Deanna is available at aerialistdeanna.com.
“I love entertaining,” Deanna states. “I love entertaining people. Giving them something they’ve never seen before is truly incredible.”