Sadie Hawkins: Atlanta's Shapeshifting, Fire Breathing Gem In the Sky

The first time I saw Sadie Hawkins was in the green room of the Big Bang Ball at The Goat Farm Arts Center. Surrounding Hawkins there was a slew of musicians, photographers, promoters, bookers, actors and pretty much every other staple in the trade you could shake a stick at. I noted a quiet respect for her, exuded by everyone in the room, which was met equally by a hum of adoration. It was not until I saw her take to the air with her lyra, reacting to Flight of Swallows' improvisational peaks and drones, that I understood why all these people pretty much thought Sadie Hawkins was the bee's knees. A force within herself, this petite woman commanded all eyes of Goodson Yard, all the while complementing the event's overall candor and celebration of creators in Atlanta. Whether she's taking to the stage as a mermaid or breathing fire, she transforms experiences everywhere she goes. This week Bang! talked to Sadie about what got her started on this path, where's she's at right now and where she wants to take it.

BANG! So which came first:  burlesque, aerialist or fire performer?

Sadie Hawkins Burlesque came first. I was part of a troupe of incredibly talented performers, with diverse talents. I felt like my talent was smiling big and enthusiastically covering when things went awry in my act. That may or may not be accurate, but I was motivated to try something new… and I hated going to the gym. So, after maybe two years of driving past Circus Arts Institute, occasionally Googling circus arts and thinking how fun it must be, I tried it. It was hard. I was hooked.

Fire came later, after I’d been working in nightclubs as an aerial gogo dancer of sorts. There was a famous DJ coming to town and the club really wanted fire. I got a crash course and did it. It worked for me. So, now I do aerial and fire work in a burlesque realm, at corporate events, in clubs, and in a performance art context.

BANG! Do the different genres of your performance art inspire or inform one another?


Sadie Hawkins Definitely. I think I’ve got a very burlesque attitude to both the fire and the aerial performance. I like to do it in little sparkly costumes, with corsets and stockings. I make eye contact and utilize the tease factor. I have many acts that involve striptease, when done for the appropriate audience.

BANG! In reference to Flight of Swallows, what’s the process of reacting and contributing to the performance?

Sadie Hawkins Flight of Swallows is incredibly collaborative. We take in others’ contributions and respond… it’s a dance. It’s kind of hard to explain how it works, really. It’s very much in the moment.

BANG! While there is definitely an exhibitionist facet to your work, is there a catharsis that takes place as well? How do those two transfers interact, if at all?

Sadie Hawkins Yes, there is. Performance is an outlet for me. A way to express myself, and to escape myself.  I’ve had conversations with people recently about the personalities who are drawn to performance and to art, and to performance art. Many of us feel more like who we want to be… more like our true selves… while performing. This is definitely the case for me. It’s like this liberated/liberating drag, meta-me.

And there’s a physical catharsis of sorts, too. Aerial work is painful. Fire can, shockingly, burn. Burlesque often involves a lot of cumbersome or restrictive costuming that may be shed down to pasties (not always). Pasties are stuck on, you know… that means adhesive. Uh huh.

The physical pain, danger, awkwardness or whatever discomfort is a part of the performance - maybe not on stage, and definitely not transparent to the audience. But it makes me present and aware; this is reality, and I’m here to do a job that I truly love and enjoy.

BANG! Do you think of the human body as more of an apparatus for your work or the space the human body occupies as a canvas?

Sadie Hawkins Some of both. Really, I don’t see how they can be independent from one another. The body is making the movement, but its movement in space is what makes it performance.

BANG! When teaching, what kind of mindset do you require of your students to be able to execute the lessons well?

Sadie Hawkins Hm. Everyone takes classes for their own reasons, and people have good days and down days. So, I can’t really require a particular mindset, because it’s hard to dictate one’s headspace. I do like it when people are there to enjoy and to better himself or herself in one way or another. Sometimes it’s the challenge that my students want, sometimes it’s the workout, sometimes it’s a way for them to dance.

BANG! Also, do you sharpen or broaden your skills through teaching?

Sadie Hawkins Definitely. Teaching has opened me to new and unexpected ways of doing things. The way that I was taught or discovered something isn’t always what’s intuitive for all of my students. Creative problem solving has led to neat new (to me) ways of executing a move several times.

BANG! Who are your predecessors? Who helped you achieve what you have and who do you continue to learn from?

Sadie Hawkins There are so many people – legends – who paved the way in burlesque and the aerial dance world. I couldn’t begin to name them all. I feel like I’m learning from everyone I encounter – my colleagues/peers, my collaborators, my students, performers in other disciplines who inspire, and so forth.

I got my start in burlesque with Barb Hays, Calu and the other women in Doll Squad. Barb was the one who encouraged me to get into it, and she’s incredibly talented and creative – we started Blast-Off Burlesque together in 2006. The years we collaborated were absolutely invaluable. I also think Torchy Taboo was the first to book me outside of a troupe, and she is one of the forces who brought neo-burlesque to Atlanta.

My aerial mentors were Carrie Heller of Circus Arts Institute and Nancy Neyhart, who introduced me to lyra. Melissa Coffey offered me the first opportunities to develop myself as a professional aerialist and she’s the one who got me into fire. I continue to collaborate with her and with the ladies of Hot Toddies Cabaret, and also Deisha Oliver and the Flight of Swallows team.

BANG! When asked to perform at a function, what is the process for deciding what exactly you’re going to do? How do you shape your act?

Sadie Hawkins It’s a blend of client/booker request, venue specifications and, frankly, what I feel like doing. Many times, people specify an act, an apparatus, a theme or costuming that determines what I’ll be doing. Often, venues don’t allow fire or they aren’t riggable, or maybe they’re riggable, but the ceiling is low so many aerial apparatus won’t work (or not safely).

It seems like people who book me are either really specific in what they want (just the mermaid act), or they give me total artistic freedom (fill two hours, do whatever you want). I really enjoy the ebb and flow there.

BANG! What do you think Atlanta is slated to gain or has already gained from this sector of the performance art community?

Sadie Hawkins Atlanta has long faced an exodus of talent. Many performers, in particular artists, would leave because they’d be frustrated that Atlanta offered limited opportunity. And that’s unfortunate for such a populous and thriving metropolitan area. That’s starting to change. We’re even beginning to draw new blood who have moved here from other communities.

To learn more about Sadie, the classes she offers and the events she participates in, you can go to her website here. Or you could check out her Facebook page.

-Miles Jenson