Skye Broberg doesn’t need to ask anyone that age-old question, “Does my bum look big in this?” She can answer it herself.
Among other things, Aussie-born, Lyttelton-based Skye is a world record-holding contortionist. She can, as she so hilariously puts it, “look around at my own butt”. Handy skill or not, it’s just one of the many talents that this circus/fetish/burlesque performer has.
The 44-year-old’s love affair with all things spectacular began 12 years ago, when she ran away to join the circus. She was 32 and working an unfulfilling office job at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.
“I wanted out of the sedentary job I was doing,” Skye recalls, cuddling her 15-month-old son Taiga close.
“I realised that if I didn’t make any changes, then it might be something I’d regret later.”
Taking a leap of faith, Skye packed up and flew to New Zealand, where she’d been accepted into a Circo-Arts programme in Christchurch. Starting with aerial work, she went on to train in hula hoop, adagio (balance), aerial silks and contortion.
She’s since folded her lithe limbs into a tiny glass box and squeezed herself through unstrung tennis rackets over the world, including the Glastonbury and Edinburgh Fringe festivals.
“My body’s not so crash hot on the back bends,” she grins. “I’m what’s called a front bender. Some of it comes naturally, some of it you have to work at.”
Skye holds three Guinness World Records for her efforts. One is for the fastest time getting into a contortion box, cramming her 1.7m-tall body into a 52x45x45cm box in just 4.78 seconds.
She also holds the records for the longest time spent in a contortion box – six minutes and 13 seconds – pressed in with her friends, acrobat twin sisters Nele and Jola Siezen, and for squeezing through a tennis racket in a variety of ways over three minutes.
“For a female getting through the tennis racket is about the hips because hips are a very fixed structure on your body!” she explains. “For men, it’s the shoulders or chest that can be a problem, but they are a bit more mobile. You can expel air from your chest.
“I go through in the splits or maybe bum first, or with my leg up vertically by my head – there are a few different ways you can squeeze through.”
Skye currently tutors at Circotica, a Christchurch-based circus school that caters to all ages and all abilities. More provocatively, the mum-of-one has also performed in risqué burlesque shows and fetish balls, and appeared as Kinky the Inappropriate Clown in adults-only gigs she says are “very cheeky with some nudity”.
Yet, while Skye’s life may be the envy of many, she has also had some tough times – not least the deportation of her former partner Andy just weeks after their son Taiga was born.
Builder Andy had come to NZ from Jamaica just after the 2011 Christchurch earthquake. The couple were living in Wellington when Andy’s visa expired. “There were issues about the renewal not going through on time,” she explains. “Two days before Taiga was born, he was locked up and told he was being deported.”Andy was allowed to attend his son’s birth, but three weeks later was slapped with a five-year ban and forced to fly back to Jamaica. At the time, a friend set up a Givealittle page to help the family with around $20,000 worth of deportation and lawyer’s fees, describing the tearing apart of “a family that pays its own way in life” as a social injustice.
“Taiga and I did go over for a while, but it’s tough there,” says Skye. “The daily wages are about the equivalent of $20, so it was an uphill battle. I had to come home.”
Now she’s focused on giving Taiga the best childhood possible, supported by her circus family. “He comes with me everywhere,” she tells.
“He’s kind of like the assistant tutor in the classes. When I’m doing a show, the acts are usually less than 10 minutes long, so there’s always some kind soul around who will look after him. And he always comes on stage for the curtain call afterwards.
“I feel extremely lucky that I have a job that I love that ultimately puts a smile on people’s faces. Trying to juggle a small human as well means it’s a little more hand-to-mouth these days, but it’s like anything – if you work hard and put the effort in, then you can survive.”
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