LOOKBACK | The Ringling Circus Girls of 1949

Last Sunday, I took my first aerial dance class at Blue Lapis Light in Austin. I'd been thinking about trying it for a while, but for some reason only took action recently, perhaps out of sheer boredom or the need to take on other hobbies now that my main pastime has become a full-time gig. I'm not sure what pushed me to go for it, but I did, and I fell hard. No, not literally, thankfully! I fell hard in love and can't wait to sign up for my first series of classes. 

While aerial dance didn't become popular in the United States until the 1970s, it has strong roots in the circus world, trapeze performance specifically. As I always google my interests with the added tags vintage or history of, I was led to an amazing series of Life Magazine photographs of circus performers taken by noted fashion photographer Nina Leen

In 1949, Leen chronicled the behind-the-scenes lives of circus performers for the Ringling Brothers Circus. While she photographed the lives of all the acts, I've chosen to highlight the photos of the trapeze artists here. Aren't they wonderful? I'm not quite sure how one smokes and works out simultaneously, but the gal below makes it look pretty easy. Enjoy!  

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, 1949. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, 1949. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images 
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, 1949. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images 
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, 1949. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images 
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, 1949. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images 
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, 1949. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images 
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, 1949. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images 
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, 1949. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images 
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, 1949. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images 
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, 1949. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images 
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, 1949. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images 
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, 1949. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images