I first heard the name Elizabeth Herring from my trapeze instructor when I asked about her oldest client. She talked about an energetic woman in her 80’s taking trapeze lessons. A few days later while determining whether or not to go back to school, the academic adviser I spoke with mentioned the same name. She knew Elizabeth Herring from back in the 1980’s when, in her 60’s, she had decided to go back to school. Intrigued, it became imperative I meet her. My initial intent was to interview Elizabeth “Bunny” Herring for my blog, to find out about her fitness routine, how she has maintained her youth and vitality and stayed in shape for so long. Her story, like the best movies, is filled with layers of intrigue and plotlines. Here is a condensed, skim…
Bunny was born into a life of privilege, in one of the bluest blood neighborhoods by the Mississippi and St. Louis. After boarding school, Bunny was studying at The American Ballet in New York when she was approached to audition for Ringling Brothers’ Circus. She and a friend did just that and of all the hundreds of showgirls trying out, they were chosen. Bunny signed a contract, and only after did she call her parents in St. Louis to tell them the “good news”. Eventually, after certain trials and tribulations, her parents conceded and Bunny traveled by steam engine with the circus for several years. One thing she did promise her parents was that she would never do the aerial acrobats and arts. Bunny ended up doing tricks and performing as a horse rider, with the elephants, and as one of the “dancing broads”, as she says they were called.
She recently broke the promise to her parents, performing in her trapeze debut for her 80th birthday in 2006, in order to raise money for her favorite charities, the prison arts and the circus day foundation.
In her early years, Bunny mentions on her blog a few dates with Marlon Brando, though after the circus, she ran off and married a cowboy, Skylar Herring, in Wyoming, where they had four amazing children. None of her children joined the circus, though farm life and horses seem to be prevalent. Eventually, Bunny and her family moved back to the Saint Louis area, where Bunny was a nurse. She went back to school at Washington University and got her degree in English. Bunny now teaches theater to prisoners ( see my post: sinners and saints). And although she lives in a condo in the city, the family still has a big farm and horses, just outside Saint Louis. She and Skylar were married for over 50 years before he past away in 2005.
Bunny’s condo is an array of all things artistic and fun. Her dining room has a circus theme, with a big-top like tent of material draped from the center of the room where the chandelier falls. The dining walls are lined with the various pictures and paintings of a younger bunny performing in the circus. There’s an opera bedroom, and a ballerina bedroom, but not to be out done by the burlesque bathroom, with pink feather boas bordering the ceiling.
Bunny has about four tattoos, with three of them only haven been acquired in the past few years. Apparently, she says with a unapologetic shrug, they get addictive. Her oldest tattoo circles her right ankle with her boarding school motto: Esse Quam Videre – translated means “to be rather than to seem”. Bunny likens this to the classic Shakespearean line “To thine own self be true”.
As I walked away from my afternoon talking with Bunny, my head was dancing with so many colorful stories and impressions, I didn’t know where to start. What I did know was being in Bunny’s presence and hearing her adventures filled me with a sense of wonder at life and all it has to offer us. The feeling of wonder, especially as an adult, is one of the best and rarest feelings I know. The answer to my initial question was simple, all her life, to keep in shape Bunny does about five minutes of ballet in the morning and at night. She goes to the gym now as well. But, there’s more to it than that. Youth is definitely more than a gym and a few movements. It’s the indomitable spirit of embracing life and not allowing the thirst for knowledge and living to be quenched. In this quest, Bunny has joined the ranks of my heroes, and I feel lucky to have spent an afternoon with her.
To learn more about Elizabeth Herring, please check out her own blog.