Faces of Long Island celebrates the uniqueness of everyday Long Islanders. In their own words, they tell us about their life experiences, challenges and triumphs. Newsday launched this social media journey into the human experience to shine a light on the diverse people of this wonderful place we call home.

‘Joining the circus at all was just chance.’

Glen Head

“I went on to college — and joined the circus. I grew up in Glen Head, was an honors student in high school, sang in the chorus, studied ballet, performed in the plays. Ordinary, really.

“Other than climbing trees long past childhood, there wasn’t much to suggest I’d have a future working in the air. Joining the circus at all was just chance. My sophomore year at college, an actor friend spotted an audition notice for dancers for Ringling Brothers circus. He jokingly dared me to do it. The morning of the tryouts, I cut my classes — and made the cut.

“I started out just dancing in the big production numbers. Three years later, I was performing high off the ground in a ‘Spanish web’ display and had fallen in love with a Romanian acrobat. Together, we created our own aerial acts, bought a truck and a trailer home, and crisscrossed the country with smaller circuses.

Was I scared? The answer is — no, but I should have been!

“I hung only by my heels from a trapeze, wearing a homemade sequined bikini costume. I learned to spin very fast by my neck in a swivel loop, going faster when I pulled in my arms, just like an ice skater. Later, I did the same spin hanging by my teeth — the ‘iron jaw,’ it’s called. Yes, it hurt.

“I spent a year being the ‘elephant girl’ for the marvelous Woodcock performing elephants, riding them and doing tricks like standing on top of their head. The biggest applause came as I was carried around upside down by my knee wedged into the elephant’s mouth. It was heady and exciting and very poorly paid.

“Was I scared? The answer is — no, but I should have been! That level of risk became my new normal in the circus. And I was young and confident enough that I didn’t have a sense of my own mortality. I’m very lucky I was never seriously injured because — this horrifies me now — all those years I was 20 feet in the air, I didn’t have any health insurance.

“After 10 years of performing, I knew I wanted more security than that life could provide. I got a desk job, married a software developer and raised a family. Ordinary, really. Except that when my husband suggested moving us all to East Africa, guess who thought that sounded like a cool adventure? Well, at least, when I got malaria, we had health insurance!”

‘Doing community theater, I always know there are people who I can go back to. With them, it’s OK to be too much.’

Glen Head

“I’ve been on a stage since I was 3 years old. I was never the most talented person in the room, but I was always the one who worked the hardest. I realized how much I wanted to be on a stage because you couldn’t take me off. And I think that has a lot to do with being an only child.

“My parents lost their first baby, and they hoped and prayed, and then I showed up. So, I was always showered with attention because, by their definition, I wasn’t supposed to be here. I think that made me want to be in the center of things all the time. And as my personality developed, I was always told that I was too much, that I needed to calm down and was too intense. But one thing that it did lead to was in fourth grade, when we did our first real full-length play at school.

“It was Cinderella. And I wanted to be Cinderella … because what 8-year-old doesn’t want to be the ingenue? But my drama teacher, who I love dearly, had me play one of the stepsisters. That’s when I kind of discovered that being too much was the thing that was going to get me different parts, because not everybody could do that.

And there I was in my wheelchair with my friend pushing me across the stage!

“As time went on, I did children’s theater at the JCC. Even though I wasn’t Jewish, they welcomed everybody. I found friends there when I was bullied at school. Middle school sucks for everybody, but through my whole high school experience, I was bullied.

“The summer before my senior year, I played Rizzo in ‘Grease.’ I kept my Pink Ladies jacket because I just never wanted it to end. And I know everyone makes fun of ‘Grease,’ but it’s still one of my favorite shows because of what embodying Rizzo gave me. There was no feeling like it.

“In 2015, I broke my leg in two places and have metal rods and screws in my left leg. Everyone said, ‘It’s all right if you skip the show this summer.’ And I said, ‘No, I am gonna make it work.’ And there I was in my wheelchair with my friend pushing me across the stage!

“We figured out a way for me to be in the show because I didn’t want to not be part of it. Doing community theater, I always know there are people who I can go back to. With them, it’s OK to be too much. I credit them with giving me the power to be more of myself.”