Why this Gateshead Teacher Made a Midlife Career Change to Become an Aerialist at Dance City
Midlife can be a time when women feel overlooked, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Some women take the plunge and rethink their careers in midlife – including teacher turned aerialist Lynn Campbell. Elizabeth Joseph finds out more
Midlife can be a time when many feel that they rarely see a mature woman applauded or even represented in a positive light. That once we are past our reproductive years we are expected to slip silently into the background.
This, however, is not a narrative that we have to follow.
Midlife can also be a time when women choose to put themselves first. To follow that dream they maybe once abandoned. To move from being invisible to becoming invincible. A time where many women can find themselves stepping out of their everyday lives, stepping away from a job or a path they have been on for years, and into their power. Suddenly more open to new opportunities and challenges. Stronger. Ready to say ‘yes’ to a whole host of things they never thought possible.
There are many, many women doing just that. There are many, many women changing the narrative.
One such woman is Lynn Campbell. Lynn is an aerialist: a person who performs acrobatics high above the ground on a trapeze.
I first met Lynn when I braved an over 55’s Hang Aerial class at Newcastle’s Dance City. I was more than a little nervous about taking part as I am the least flexible 50 year old I know.
I also lack a head for heights. I got a most unpleasant head rush merely standing up too quickly – after putting my phone in my handbag – before the class had even started!
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When the class did start I spent the majority of it with my mouth and eyes wide open in shock – watching women hanging upside down from silks and hoops and one lady, easily 20 years my senior, doing headstands with ease.
When I wasn’t staring in shock, I was fighting back tears. It was overwhelming to see these amazing members of the ‘older generation’ completely defying both gravity and any attempt to pin them down into a stereotype of middle or old age.
I failed completely to hold back the tears when Lynn helped me to haul myself onto the trapeze. It was such a feeling of pure, exhilarating joy that I ugly cried. Which no one seemed to find even the least bit strange, least of all Lynn.
Lynn Campbell is anything but invisible. Everything about her demands your attention. Not because she is loud. Quite the opposite in fact, she is very softly spoken, very quiet, very calm and very measured.
However, she could not possibly slip silently into the background. This is because she glows. She is six years my senior and looks 15 years my junior. Her clothes are bright and bold. So comfortable is she in her own body that she moves effortlessly; so much so that rather than walk she truly appears to glide.
She sits upright and graceful on a huge yoga ball, in a cupboard corner of Dance City, surrounded by hoops and ropes and swings and silks and straps and poles and hammocks and old posters and flyers and programmes and takes the time to tell me her story.
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Lynn’s second act started the day she stood in a queue, behind a bunch of kids, to have a go on a trapeze, at a festival. She got up on that trapeze, and: ‘That was it. It just, like, moved my bones, got in my guts you know? And I thought, can I do that? And then I just thought, I need to do more of this,’ she explains.
She was 40 and had recently moved back to the North East. ‘It’s where I’d grown up, in Gateshead. So I moved back up, with two children,’ says Lynn. The move was a big one, as she had been living, and teaching in primary schools, in London, for 12 years.
Teaching was her first love. ‘I didn’t leave teaching because I didn’t like teaching, I really liked it,’ she says. ‘I liked the family, young people, special needs work. I guess I could see it getting more and more data- and paperwork-driven.
I could just feel the pressure that I felt that I was looking more and more at paperwork and the computer rather than the children. So, I was just not sure I could do that anymore,’ she continues.
Presumably she didn’t ugly cry when she got up on that trapeze but the positive gut feeling was enough that before long she had teamed up with a small group of women, only one of whom had any experience as an aerialist, and decided to get their own trapeze.
‘It took us a while, but we found and bought a trapeze and The Buddle, in Wallsend, which was an arts centre at the time, let us hang it there,’ she says.
Within months they were being inundated with offers of work – to both teach and perform – as at the time no one else was doing it. And when I ask Lynn what drove her to have the confidence to just go with it all, she pauses and modestly tells me: ‘With two kids, life was just busy and I just had that feeling of okay I’ll say ‘yes’ to this and then we’ll work it out.’
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Nearly two decades on, Lynn is still teaching people to fly high above the ground. Many, many of whom would never have considered giving aerial a try and certainly never have realised just how strong and free they could be and feel. Lynn feels especially passionate about teaching the over 55s. ‘It’s become a treasure and a passion and a commitment because it’s my cohort,’ she confides.
As is helping children with disabilities and their carers, refugee families and women who have experienced domestic violence. ‘Let’s be creative, let’s be problem solving, let’s be supportive and let’s see how all sorts of bodies, all sorts of people can fly,’ says Lynn. ‘Getting up there – it’s such a different point of view. It’s such an exciting thing to do. Let’s look at the world upside down, let’s be strong, let’s hold on.’
More than anything she urges others not to question whether they can or whether they should try something new but to trust themselves, to believe that there will be some things they can do and some things they can’t yet, but to give it a go. To try something different.
And for those who maybe feel invisible in midlife and worry that maybe there is no second act for them, she feels the key is to not shut down those whisperings, those thoughts that are often so fleeting. ‘You have a thought, but you don’t quite let it in. Watch out for those! Listen to your gut, listen to your instinct – what is it trying to tell you. What is it that you might like to try? What might your second act be?
‘When I felt like teaching was done, it was done, and when it came to trying trapeze for the first time, after queuing with all the other excited kids, when I felt that feeling of “this is amazing”, I could say “yes” and go with that,’ Lynn says.
But as she counsels, saying ‘yes’ to everything doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stick with all those choices. Some of those ‘yeses’ will turn out to be the right path and some of them won’t, but you won’t know until you try.
What will your second act be? Maybe you could trust your gut. You won’t know until you try. How will you go from invisible to invincible?