How Hair Hanging Works

Hair Hanging Preparation

Seeing a hair-hanging performance for the first time, you almost hope it's fake. The steel cable must attach to a body harness hidden beneath their clothing, right? Otherwise, wouldn't it hurt like crazy?

To answer the question – yes, it absolutely hurts, at least at first. Marguerite Ayala of the famous Ayala family told the New York Times that when she was learning hair hanging, she felt like boiling water had been poured on top of her head. The pain is worst, her daughter added, when the performer is first lifted in the air, when the scalp stretches with the weight of supporting more than a 100 pounds (45 kilograms).

Anastasia IV, who performs with the U.K.-based Circus of Horrors, told the BBC that the pain initially drove her to tears. "It feels just like you might imagine hanging from your hair would feel – a very immediate pulling sensation at the top of the head" [source: Cawley]. Eventually, she became used to it and now she just feels a dull ache. However, she often suffers from headaches and gets a bump at the top of her scalp by the end of a three-month tour.

Even worse than the pain of hanging from your head is the prospect of plummeting to the ground, which is why hair hangers take great care to build up the strength of their lengthy tresses. The key is keeping the hair from getting brittle or split.

Anastasia IV detailed her hair care regimen in 2014 [source: Cawley]:

  • Conditioner is applied to her waist-length hair five times a day while touring.
  • No hair coloring or blow-drying is allowed.
  • Conditioner is applied directly before a performance and the hair is fully wetted down to provide extra strength.
  • "Hair vitamins" are taken as a supplement.

But the real secret to hair hanging, according to its small cadre of practitioners, is in the intricate braiding of the hair. More on that next.