• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

What it feels like to: be in the circus

Denys "Hercules" Ilchenko

Photograph: Martin Shields
Photograph: Martin Shields

Denys "Hercules" Ilchenko

I have been with the circus for almost all my life, since I was a child growing up in Ukraine. When I was a little boy, my father performed in the circus as a strongman and I always wished I could join the circus too. I used to watch his show and want to be strong like him.

Loading article content

Later, I would try to lift weights and circus dumb bells. From this, I slowly started to become stronger. I got bigger and bigger and, years later, I became part of the strongman act with my father. My father still lives and travels with the circus but he cannot be a strongman. He was injured during a trick where a car would run over his body. He has a problem with his back and he finds it hard to walk.

I worry a little that something like that may happen to me but I try not to think about it. I have never broken any bones but it is a big problem when I pull a muscle and I am in pain. In sport, when you have some problem with your health or you are injured, you can normally take time to rest and fix it, but in the circus you cannot. You must work. Even if you're injured, if you have a problem, you come in and you go to work.

My hardest trick is the Human Carousel, where I lift a big telegraph pole with two people hanging on to each end of it, and then I spin them round and round like a carousel. It is not so hard to lift a person up but when I try to spin with this heavy weight on me, it is a lot of pressure. Even though it's my hardest trick, the Human Carousel is my favourite because not many people can repeat it. I also have the Guinness World Record for juggling three heavy tyres and can bend a metal bar with my teeth.

To keep strong I have to warm up every morning and then begin my training. I also walk a lot, in circles, like I have to in the show. Every day - warm up, training, walking. I don't have to eat much more than normal people. I won't eat McDonald's or anything sugary. I try not to eat too much bread but I eat lots of chicken, lots of meat - good protein foods.

My wife Luliia and my son Illia travel as part of the circus with me. My wife is a professional dancer and she is trying to make it as a fly [aerial] artist.

She went home to Ukraine when Illia was born. It was hard for me but after a few months they came back so we could bond. He is one year and eight months old. While he's small I'll try to put him in my act but when he starts to grow up he will be able to choose for himself. Maybe he will make his own act or maybe he won't want to stay in the circus.

It's not easy raising a child in a circus but I'm already used to this kind of life and all of my family like it here. We're able to see many new places and new people. It's hard work but it's very interesting. The best thing about the circus? Every day is like a party.

The situation back home in Ukraine is hard to think about. I don't know what will happen - I'm not a politician. I'm glad that all of my family are here with me. We are worried, but all we can do is hope and trust everything will be OK.

Zippos Circus is currently at Queen's Park, Glasgow and tours Scotland until August 10. Visit scotlandsfavouritecircus.co.uk.

Contextual targeting label: 
Arts and Entertainment

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

238594