Q&A: An aerialist with a burning passion

Name: Madamn Burnz
Age: 33
City: Oakland
Position: Founder, SkyHigh Odditorium

J.: What is aerial performance?

Madamn Burnz: Aerial is a relatively new discipline. It’s only been around for less than 50 years. There are many kinds of props, which are attached to the ceiling. The rope is older, but the main prop is silks, which has been around since the ’80s. There’s a lot of growth in the aerial field. My main prop is a 30-foot-long aerial rope. You do a series of climbs, wraps, trips and drops. It’s all about dynamics and motion.

You directed and wrote your own show, “TAROTales.” What’s it about?

This is the biggest aerial show I’ve done. It tells the story of the Major Arcana, the first 22 cards in the tarot deck. The show tells the story of transformation from the fool to the wise.

The fool meets a series of characters who give her powers. A lot of things happen to her, involving the devil, the angel of hope, the joker, the genie and others. I want people to walk away from it inspired to do something beyond what they’ve imagined.

Madamn Burnz at the How Weird Street Faire in San Francisco photo/rozanne ardeneshi

How did you get interested in tarot?

I’ve been reading tarot cards since I was young as a form of alternative spirituality. My parents grew up without religion, but when they got together they reconnected with Judaism. Growing up [in New York], it was very prominent. But as a young, skeptical human I had a lot of questions about it, and I began to explore other things. I’ve studied tarot for many years. I see it as a mystical tool for transformation.

You founded the SkyHigh Odditorium in 2012 — what happens in that space?

SkyHigh Odditorium is a 4,000-square-foot creative laboratory in West Oakland. The main thing is an aerial school. I have about 30 students that come to me every week. We are also home to the Aireal Alchemists, and “TAROTales” was our second full-length aerial show. We also run a little shop at the Odditorium where we sell crystals and give mystical consultations.

What kinds of problems would someone bring to a mystical consultation?

You could bring anything to me, really. The consultation can be about spiritual, social, mental or emotional issues. A lot of times people have conflicts with their job or partner or their family or themselves and they need advice. I like to work on a natural basis. It’s a conversation. I just listen to what they have to say. Often we’ll go to a tarot deck. We’ll see what the universe has to say.

We’re doing a lot of crystal healing these days. They’re a tool for energy that can help you get grounded. People are getting psychically attacked or some energy is trying to invade their lives, and we’ll give them stones or rituals for protection.

You created a practice you call Promethean healing. What is that?

Six years ago, I fell off a trapeze and broke my spine. I was about to go on tour, and I was unwilling to sacrifice my dream. I wouldn’t be able to do the things that I wanted to on tour. So I created a new form that took on a life of its own. We do it now in our mystical consultations. The idea behind it is that people are afraid of fire, and when you bring physical fire in, people are scared mentally and in the flesh. By taking that element and bringing it into a massage or healing setting, a relaxing environment, it brings the person into a transformative state, because they have to be in a relaxed environment with something scary. It allows them to transfer energy and eject from their lives things that they don’t want.

Is that where the name Madamn Burnz came from?

I used to be a fire-eater. I was a fire-eating queen, but now I get burns, like rope burns, from aerial as well. I’ve just been going with the name for like 10 years now, so we’re united and one.

What is your family and Jewish background like?

I was born and raised in New York. My mother’s family is from Berlin; they escaped the Holocaust. But my dad’s family has been in the Bronx since the beginning of the 1900s. He grew up in poverty in the South Bronx. He got out of it through education. Both of my parents grew up with little and were inspired to make a lot for themselves.

My father had a bar mitzvah, but his parents weren’t religious at all. My mother’s mother, who escaped Germany in the ’30s, is still alive, but she’s not very open about her Judaism, like a lot of Jews from that time and place.

Judaism to my parents was a form of culture and community, but I went to a Solomon Schechter [Conservative day school] until ninth grade. I had a lot of cool classmates there, but to me the whole space was out of line. I was pretty resistant to hearing things without explanation. I went through a long period of time through my early 20s where I did not identify as Jewish at all.

What changed?

After I graduated from college I decided to move to Taiwan. I was studying yoga and I wanted to try living in a country that was not overrun with Christianity. I was clearly the minority, and that was an amazing experience. When I was over there I met this one guy … it was like I found the one Jew on the island, and I felt this immediate tribal, familial connection with this person that I didn’t know. That turned things around for me, what it is to be Jewish.

I don’t go to synagogue or anything, but I’ve been to Israel four times. I feel more comfortable now saying I’m a Jew, and that’s my religion and heritage and culture. When I meet another Jew I know they have the same struggle culturally, the same karma as me.

“Talking with …” focuses on local Jews who are doing things we find interesting. Send suggestions to sueb@jweekly.com.

David A.M. Wilensky
David A.M. Wilensky

David A.M. Wilensky is the online editor of J. and "Jew in the Pew" columnist. He can be reached at david@jweekly.com.