FOR most people, the bathroom would be an unlikely place to start a career but for sword-swallower Aeriel Manx, it was the obvious choice.
“I started with a toothbrush down my throat,” says the 28-year-old. “I remember it clearly. I was 17, in my bathroom and I vomited everywhere. But I tried it again when I was 18 and then I moved on to a drum stick. When I was comfortable with the drum stick I moved onto a pool cue. Once I was safe with a pool cue I did the sword.”
Manx is in Cork this week as part of the Laya Healthcare City Spectacular which takes place on July 19. The Melbourne-born acrobat has been plying his trade for 10 years.
“When I was 18, I had an accident in circus school where I damaged my spine,” he recalls. “I was told there was a good chance that I’d end up in a corset later on in life and that I wouldn’t be a physical entertainer. I had studied and read about sword swallowing and I knew that posture was really important and that even if I was in a corset I could still do it. So it came along as something to fall back on really. Then I just became really good at it and it’s now my main shtick.”
Manx explains that he has “a naturally high level of hyper-mobility” which means that his body is more flexible than it should be.
“So for instance, I don’t need to warm up to do the splits,” he says. “And that flexibility extends to my oesophagus; it stretches further than it should. Doctors will tell you that it can’t stretch but they’re lying, it can. I’ve also got an incredibly flexible spine but I bend primarily from my lower back. So when I swallow a sword I have to keep my upper body absolutely straight but I’ve got free movement from my belly-button down.”
These physical traits allowed Aerial Manx to develop tricks that hadn’t been seen before, including back flips, backward somersaults and forward somersaults all performed while swallowing a sword. He has several entries in the Guinness Book of Records.
Though on the face of it, his trade is all about the physical, Manx says it is as much about the power of the mind.
“I have to be able to consciously control my gag, my wretch reflex along with my epiglottis, my oesophagus and gastric sphincter,” he says. “That in and of itself took quite a few years to develop. I had to practice; meditate while sticking strange things down my throat.”
Until 2008, the most movement a sword swallower had done was to bow their body in half from the waist. Nobody imagined it was possible to perform more elaborate tricks while swallowing a sword. When Manx announced that he would do a handstand while swallowing a sword he was met with disbelief.
“Everyone was convinced I was going to kill myself,” he says. “The same thing happened with the front flip. People in the circus industry were curious, lots of circus directors came to see my shows, but they were wary. They didn’t want to see someone get hurt on their patch.”
In this instance, he had the full support of his family. Early on in his career that had not always been the case.
“The first few years they were a bit worried,” he says. “My mother panicked and kind of freaked out. Now I’ve got to a point that I’ve done so much they trust me.”
There have been accidents; the worst occurred in a Melbourne nightclub called The Red Bunny when Manx attempted to swallow a neon tube while doing a cartwheel. It did not quite come off. The tube ended up breaking and he was badly injured. It could have been worse.
“They rushed me to hospital,” he recalls. “I knew that the glass had cut the back of my throat and I wanted to clean it out with a toothbrush which I asked them for. They thought I was insane because for the average person that would make them vomit. They wanted to do surgery but I knew that might end my career. So I just went home and did the toothbrush for several hours. It took me a month to properly recover but I was fine.”
Manx says that accident made him realise he’d be “leaving [his] dog and [his] partner Alyssa all on their own” if something happened to him and he says he is a little more careful than before. People who see his show find that hard to believe.
Manx performs at Cork’s Fitzgerald Park on July 19 and 20.
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