There’s something to be said about the nostalgia brought upon spectators when they step foot inside the circus. Children are amazed by trapeze artists flying high in the air, while adults wonder how it’s even possible.
From the tightrope walkers to the acrobats, it’s hard to believe that the human body is capable of such feats. And just when we think we’ve seen it all, someone proves us wrong with yet another daring act. “Someone” is Amadeus Lopez, and his act is The Iron Jaw.
Silks, Straps, and The Iron Jaw
Amadeus Lopez discovered his love for the circus as a young adult. His university offered a course in the art of silks where he learned the technicalities and discipline of this suspended skill. And as his precision grew, so did his curiosity. He continued discovering new ways to improve his craft and eventually moved to the aerial straps.
Once he felt comfortable on this acrobatic apparatus, he was constantly looking for ways to improve and other classic acts to try his hand (foot? mouth?) at performing. Amadeus learned of the historical circus act known as “The Human Butterfly,” or “The Iron Jaw.”
A Soaring Start Above the Circus
This nail-biter of an act involves gripping a piece of leather between the teeth and being lifted by rope high up into the air. A notable performer of the Iron Jaw, and perhaps one of the very first, was the “Queen of the Antilles,” AKA Leona Dare. Dare was famous for her stunts on the trapeze and hanging from balloons mid-air! In 1872 , she was a member of the Joel E. Warner circus where she debuted the Iron Jaw.
Not only was she lifted into the air hanging from her teeth, but oftentimes, she was responsible for holding on to other performers in this fashion, as well! During a show that same year, she was suspended under a hot-air balloon for the first time where she simultaneously lifted her husband off the ground, holding him by the waist using only her teeth. The daring acts of Miss Leona Dare certainly paved the way for other aerialists to follow.
Newspaper advertisement for Leona Dare’s ascents from Crystal Palace in London
Back in 1926, 16-year-old Guy Blackburn joined the Christy Bros. traveling circus. While on the road with this group, he performed intricate acts high above the crowd in the peaks of the tent. From the trapeze to the cloud swing to swinging ladders, he truly knew how to take his acts to new heights with great strength and showmanship. But perhaps the greatest spectacle, and possibly most physically taxing, of all was the Iron Jaw.
And, as if the static portion of the act wasn’t enough to make one’s heart skip a beat, Blackburn added a spin variation known as the “whirl of death.” This involved attaching an electric motor to the bit, causing it to spin up to 500 times per minute !
Amadeus and The Iron Jaw
Today, very few aerialists have perfected and chosen to perform the dangerous mouth-hanging act, but Amadeus is focused on the extraordinary. Not only does he perform the Iron Jaw in its “simplest” – we use that term loosely – form, but he tacks on the addition of combination tricks.
Using his feet and hands, he holds three rubber balls while suspended below a basketball hoop. Two of the balls are spinning, balanced atop his fingers. He secures the third ball between his foot and shin before hoisting it through the air and into the hoop above his head – and don’t forget, he does it all while hanging from his teeth!
Like those who came before him – the iconic Leona Dare – Amadeus brings other performers into his aerial acts. Doubling down on the daring and extraordinary, Amadeus holds others using his Iron Jaw (though it looks more like a jaw of steel) mid-act, as well! Shown below, you’ll find him alongside hair-hanging aerialist, Erin Blaire .
What’s most admirable about Amadeus is his persistence and drive to improve. While many would opt to stop at the act of the Iron Jaw alone, Amadeus is constantly looking for ways to evolve his act, making each performance even more nerve-racking and exhilarating than the last.
At Ripley’s, we’re always in search of the unbelievable – maybe it’s you! Show us your talents. Tell us a strange story or a weird fact. Share your unbelievable art with us. Maybe even sell us something that could become a part of Ripley’s collection!