When Wei-Wei Weintraub was deciding on how to best channel her artistic energy, she didn’t follow her parents’ wishes and join the circus.
“You never want to do what your parents want you to do,” Weintraub said.
But that didn’t mean she didn’t love the circus arts. Now, the 25-year-old painter / professional hula-hooper /fire dancer / aerialist has found a way to do it all — while living (and performing) above Fishtown recording studio The Boom Room.
Weintraub was born in Sarasota, Florida, into a circus family. Originally from Philadelphia, her father, Mitchell Weintraub, worked as part of the flying trapeze act for Ringling Brothers. Her grandfather, Alfred Weintraub, was a national flying rings champion for the Temple University gymnastics team in the late 1930s.
“Wei-Wei was a very cool child, gifted both athletically and artistically and smart too,” her father said. “I’m not surprised she became an aerial artist.”
Despite the bend that’s in her blood, the young woman chose to move to Philadelphia to attend college at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where she graduated with a degree in painting in 2013.
However, there was a lure in Florida she couldn’t resist.
“I saw a friend performing fire dancing in Florida, and I was obsessed,” she said. “I needed to learn how to do it.”
A year later, Weintraub was fire dancing and incorporating it with her hula hooping. But the artist grew restless. So she, along with best friend and circus artist Rachael Mae Lancaster, bought a pair of aerial silks.
Knowing The Boom Room had the desired high ceilings, the two convinced recording studio owner Gary Dann (and Weintraub’s boyfriend) to have an aerial rig installed.
“I thought it was an awesome idea,” Dann said. “I said, ‘People hanging from the ceilings? Duh, of course!’”
After Weintraub got the silks and the rig, she quickly learned this wasn’t an easy task.
“I was being really silly when I got my silks and tried teach myself,” she said. “I couldn’t even hold my weight up on the silk at all.”
So she learned the basics of aerial with instructors at the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts in Germantown. Gradually, she began to build her arm strength. After a few sessions, she took it from there.
“I was really excited when I learned how to climb,” she said.
Since learning aerial arts four years ago, Weintraub has grown from doing aerial art for herself in a private setting to becoming a professional aerial performer. She has entertained at corporate events, fundraisers and a book release party in Brooklyn. Most recently, Weintraub performed with Lancaster, who goes by the name Rae Mae, at The Boom Room’s fifth birthday party.
“[Performing with Wei-Wei] is always a blast,” Lancaster said. “She is very fun to be around and always has an excitement about her, especially when performing.”
Once Weintraub was performing in Philadelphia, she immersed into the city’s circus community. 7textures, a creative entertainment group, scouted Weintraub for events with other aerialists, jugglers, stilt-walkers and circus arts performers. She also became involved with Kensington-based Cotton Candy Circus Arts, co-founded by friend Erin Flanigan, a static trapeze artist.
The two met while each was performing during halftime of a roller derby meet.
“I remember being in awe of her,” Flanigan said. “She was amazing…still is. I continue to enjoy every opportunity I get to share the stage with her.”
But just because Weintraub is now a professional aerial performer doesn’t mean she isn’t met with fear.
“I get really nervous every time I’m about to perform,” she said. “I get butterflies like crazy. But when I get on the silks, I feel way more comfortable.”
While Weintraub has taught aerial arts before and plans to continue teaching, her future goals are focused on practicing her aerial arts. She hopes to build endurance for longer sets, she said. Plans to collaborate with drummer Dann for a live performance are in the works too.
She also wants to try a different apparatus — perhaps an aerial cube — to incorporate into her performance.
“There’s still so much more to learn,” she said.
And while improvement is important, what she also focuses on is her audience.
“You can tell if people are really into it, [and] that it makes me perform better. It’s a way to connect with people through my performance.”
-Text, images, and video by Shealyn Kilroy and Julia Jablonowski