Meet Dickon Savage: Circus Pole Performer
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a circus performer? Wonder no more! We asked professional ‘flag-monster’ aerial acrobat, actor and pole performer Dickon Savage to shed some light on what lies beneath the life of an acrobatic act.
Dickon has performed in theatres, cabarets, festivals and television in the UK and abroad. He also appeared on ITV with Paul o Grady and also with taking That. You can view some of his stunts on his Youtube channel.
Hi Dickon, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Can you tell us more about the circus discipline you practise and what it entails?
Well hello, I am known in the circus as a “Chinese-pole” practitioner. As a piece of equipment, Chinese-pole is simply a vertical pole. In the modern understanding of performance, a vertical pole is short, shiny, slippy and has a near-naked lady sliding around it. In the classic circus understanding of performance a vertical pole is tall, matt, sticky and has a clothed male demonstrating positions of seemingly impossible strength. “Flag” is the signature trick of this discipline, a horizontal handstand on a vertical pole.
How and when did you become a flag-monster, as you are known? Is there anyone who inspired and encouraged you to take on this sport?
In 2002, I was working as a flying trapeze catcher (fixed cradle) and was involved in a big circus-theatre production, “The Birds”, at the National Theatre. There were ropes, silks, trapeze, flying trapeze; all the usual aerial accoutrement and the director, “Kathryn Hunter” decided we should have some poles as well. So, several 10m, bare metal, steel poles were set on the stage as perches for us and we had a very quick introduction in classic Chinese-pole with “Henry Hoo” our Chinese pole teacher. In 2003, as a result of spending too much time catching people while hanging upside down from my knees, I clinically ruptured my patella tendon and displaced my patella. This was very bad. That is an understatement. For the foreseeable future, I now had 2 good arms and 1 good leg. I still had the desire to show-off, the passion to achieve something improbable. Chinese pole now seemed like the perfect form for me. Rather than viewing “flag” as a single trick, I started to view it as its own discipline, as I developed my personal style.
I set a pole up in one of the quiet studios in the circus-space, limped in every day on crutches and set about a bloody-minded “we have the power to re-build you” process. It worked for me. Initially working with just 3 basic “planche” or “flag” holds, (holding a straight body). By changing the angle (from perpendicular) you change the intensity of the exercise. I am over 6 foot, the length of my levers makes it harder for me to hold a flag than someone half my size but it looks twice as impressive. Every Chinese-pole practitioner knows of Dominic Lacasse, holder of the official human-flag world record at 38 seconds. Dominic is a 5 footman. Un-officially there is a 4 foot Romanian child with a 2-minute flag.
Describe your typical working day for us…
A typical working day doesn’t exist.
What are your favorite and least favorite parts of your job?
See the answer above.
How do you train for such a physically strenuous role?
Strenuously. Quality over quantity. High intensity is of more benefit, to me, than long hours. Some days I train technique, repetition of the same trick or combinations so that it drills into my muscle memory. Some days it’s just conditioning, holding one position for as long as I can or till a point of failure. Pole fits into a category of “strength-acrobatics”, I consider it to be power-lifting with pointed toes, I train accordingly.
You are obviously in great shape, what are your top tips on being fit and leading a healthy lifestyle that you can share with our readers?
I take my rest seriously. I rest like a log, so my body can fix what my training has broken. I like swimming, cycling and yoga as complimentary training.
Do you have any top tips on eating healthy?
Don’t be too pious. Do your own cooking. Firm fruit is the best fruit. Quality meat in small portions. Power to body-weight is what it’s all about. I like to feel light because I have to pick myself up, literally. Listen to your body, if it’s hungry let it eat.
Can you offer any advice on anyone who would want to take on your sport or a circus-related discipline as a recreational activity? Is there anyone who shouldn’t be encouraged to take part?
Slowly does it. Enjoy the pain.` You must be able to differentiate between “pain” which will be constant and “damage” which is to be avoided but frankly is inevitable. Working at this level is extremely beneficial but it hurts. What I consider to be basic moves are fairly advanced forms of physicality. Unless you have a very strong physical grounding you will find everything impossible and may be tempted to quit before you have begun. In circus every trick is impossible, only when you can make it look easy are you ready to perform. It all takes time. It hurts. If you haven’t got a masochistic sensibility, if you like things to come easy to you, if you can’t support your own body-weight and aren’t prepared to try, then perhaps you shouldn’t be encouraged to take part.
Do you have a motto that you live by?
Why wallow when you can fly.
How do you like to unwind from your busy lifestyle?
Probably shouldn’t say…