Posted on

Hill on lookout for next adventure

NATANGA SMITH, [email protected]

Hill on lookout for next adventure

Social Share

A DEGREE IN CIRCUS ARTS. Yes, you read that right. When I saw that someone had pursued a degree in circus arts I figured the person was clowning around. This was an interview I had to do myself as my mind was trying to juggle what exactly is a degree in circus arts and what questions I was going to ask.

The subject agreed to meet me on an overcast Saturday morning at Barbados Blue dive shop. Her name is Nicole Hill, and she is 27 years old and in Barbados on holiday.

As we sat down to talk, a boat was loading up with tourists all wearing their dive gear, heading out to the marine park to dive the wrecks.

“I went earlier today and I have been going diving every day since I have been here. Only Thursday I just passed my rescue diver exam,” she said while checking her dive gear for the photoshoot.

Wait. What? Here I was thinking the interview was about being in the circus.

“Oh no, I am also a cheerleader and a gymnast,” she said as nonchalantly as if asking me if I wanted vanilla or rum and raisin ice-cream.

If Nicole’s parents thought she would have gone the route of traditional degrees like them and her older brother Francis (she says he is the complete opposite of her – works in administration, very academic and loves books), they were very surprised to hear their baby girl wanted to join the circus.

Nicole’s grandparents moved to England over 60 years ago (her mum’s parents are from Barbados while her dad’s mum is from Barbados and his dad from Dominica).

With her parents being born in England, Nicole was raised there. Ten years ago she made her first visit to Barbados.

“I grew up in Coventry, going to a secondary school with a handful of blacks but it didn’t bother me. I was raised in a Bajan household.”

Nicole was a tomboy, always into sports and although she has never competed, she holds a black belt in taekwondo.

Nicole had been a gymnast from the age of five and started competing at the age of eight.  Gymnastics opened up many opportunities for her such as such as competing up to national level, placing fourth in Britian, representing the Midlands, going to Los Angeles as part of the England Dance team, doing modelling and acting support roles in TV shows and commercials, becoming a part of the Pineapple Performing Arts School’s street dance troupe [email protected] to even teaching at the world famous Pineapple Dance Studios.

The sport has also seen her qualify as one of the highest ranked coaches in that region as she had undertaken courses and qualifications as she progressed through the grades.

“I competed until age 22 when they changed the age rules and I was unable to compete. So I had ten GCSEs so I went to college and did my diploma, gaining a distinction in my BTEC National in Performing Arts. I was looking for something to do and saw a foundation course in circus arts.”

Her parents were horrified.

“Yes, horrified but supportive,” she said, laughing. “They didn’t try to change my mind . . . . My dad took longer to come around than my mum.”

So off to circus school Nicole went, finishing a three-year degree in two.

“It was the only degree course being offered in London for circus arts and you specialise in an equipment. I wanted to do Chinese pole but I was told I wasn’t strong enough to do that. So because of my gymnastics skills I tried the tightwire.”

Nicole wasn’t contented to just do normal tightwire routines.

“I change it up a bit adding in somersaults, cartwheels, twists and turns, jumping and running along it. Even lying down on it and getting back up – without falling.”

And with no safety harness or net, she partially tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) during one practice session, falling off the wire but “the circus physio dealt with it. I was out for three months but that is part and parcel of the job”.

Soon after Nicole saw an advertisement in The Stage (a newspaper for professional actors) looking for artistes who could teach circus arts, tightwire, street dance and acrobatics on a cruise ship so she applied and was lucky enough to be recruited to work on the MV Ventura as one of  a team of guest entertainers. 

This job not only gave Nicole the opportunity to travel extensively to the Mediterranean, Baltics, Caribbean and the United States, but Barbados was her home port for the Caribbean season, giving her plenty of opportunity to explore the island. 

“I spent three years on the ship, teaching children mainly. It was so much fun.”

After the tenure on the ship was over, Nicole decided to go back to university in 2012 and received her Bachelor of Arts degree in adventure tourism management, with first class honours this May, during that time becoming part of a cheerleading squad, Gemini.

“It was purely by accident. They approached my gymnastic group asking for a tumbling coach. I took the chance since I am a Level 4 senior acrobatics coach, a Level 3 tumbling coach and a Level 2 trampolining coach, and while watching them train I decided to join the squad.”

At the age of 26, she started competing with Gemini, although remaining the squad’s tumbling coach, and they have won and placed and qualified for various competitions.

“When I go back home I want to try out for Team England, see how far I can get with that.”

The year 2012 seemed to be the big year for Nicole, learning to dive with the team at Barbados Blue, and taking the advanced course in that same year.

In 2013 she put those skills into practice on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.  In 2014, she was selected to represent her university in the Study China Programme which provided an opportunity to study at the Beijing Normal University. This year she travelled around India for a month as team leader of her travel group from the university. 

Twenty-four hours before flying out to Barbados, the Gemini Cheerleaders G-Force Troupe took silver in the Future Cheer International competition, winning a free place in the 2016 competition. 

Nicole is now taking a well-earned break in Barbados and passed her rescue diving exam last Thursday.

“I was a bit nervous to learn how to dive but you do basic stuff in pool. I learnt stuff from the booklet and do three dives and perform certain tasks under water. For the emergency rescue exam as first response team you have ten rescue scenarios, you learn how to do CPR, how to give oxygen, bandage wounds and so on. It is recognised worldwide as we are certified by PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors).”

Nicole says she feels at home in Barbados as soon as she steps off the plane.

“I love the food, the culture, the people. I even prefer diving here. I love the wrecks. The underwater world is so peaceful. I feel one day I want to get a job in tourism in the Caribbean.”

But it isn’t all play as Nicole has taken upon herself the task of teaching tumbling to a cheerleading squad here.

“It is nothing hard to do. I like giving back. So when I am not diving I have days I work with them.”

When the holiday is over, Nicole says she isn’t sure what the future holds, and she is looking for the next sport she can tackle, and continue her love of travelling.