Meet Cirque Le Soir Dubai's sword swallowing siblings
We catch up with Ray Valenz and Betty Bloomerz, Cirque Le Soir Dubai’s sword-swallowing siblings to talk dangerous stunts and life in Dubai….
Where are you from?
Betty: The United States. We’re from Brooklyn, New York.
When did you come to Dubai?
Betty: Three months ago.
What do you do here?
Ray: We’re sword-swallowers and fire-eaters, and dress up as characters at Cirque le Soir. We get assigned different characters every night, so we could be clowns or something darker – our favourites have been Alice and the Mad Hatter or Clockwork Orange characters.
How long have you been performers?
Betty: I’ve been performing since 2008.
Ray: About ten years. This is the first time I’ve left the United States to perform, so hopefully it’s a launch pad towards doing a lot more travelling.
What inspired you to start?
Ray: Same here. I’ve always wanted to be on a stage, performing in front of people.
How did you start out?
Ray: It was a hobby, and then I found I was really good at it, and decided to make it my full-time job. It took several years, but now I’m in Dubai doing it. I’ve come pretty far from just doing it as a hobby.
Betty: At first it was a hobby – I couldn’t have made a living doing it. But as time went on, I had to choose between performing and teaching yoga, and it was difficult to perform and travel while still doing classes.
When did you realise you could do these crazy stunts?
Ray: I was always attracted to freak shows but it’s only within the last year and a half that I started swallowing swords. Betty taught me how to do it, and now we’re two of the best in the world.
Betty: I didn’t think in the beginning it would even be possible. But as I practised more and more, luckily, I could do it.
Their signature trick – sword swallowing.
What’s the most dangerous stunt you perform?
Betty: I feel the double sword-swallowing stunts we do together are the most dangerous, and the most spectacular. You have to be in sync with yourself and listen to your body, but you also have to trust that the other person’s the same, and aware of what you’re doing. Sometimes Ray picks me up and I’ll swallow a sword while upside down, and I have to know that he’s got me. It takes a lot of trust to put our lives in each other’s hands, but the pay-off’s phenomenal.
Do you have a favourite stunt?
Ray: I have a passion for everything we do, but fire-eating, and my presentation of it, resonates with me personally.
Betty: Sword-swallowing. It’s the one I feel most comfortable in – comfort’s the wrong word to use. I have a certain amount of self-confidence and self-awareness that I don’t have with any other act. It was the first stunt I fell in love with so it’s very meaningful to me.
How often do you practise?
Betty: Since performing professionally, I started practising more frequently. With fire eating, you need to consistently practise, but with sword swallowing, I don’t feel the need to practise daily in order to maintain a certain level of comfort.
Ray: Since it’s become a full-time job, work keeps us in practice. We do it every day and stay sharp so we don’t have to do it in our spare time.
Have you ever injured yourself?
Ray: Injury is a relative thing. I’m always going to be in some level of discomfort – I might have a little burn or something – but I’ve never had any life-threatening injuries.
Betty: In the beginning there were times that I was a bit careless, but I definitely learned a lot from them. I’ve been able to continue performing and I feel I’ve learned some invaluable lessons.
What’s the first thing people say when you tell them what you do for a living?
Betty: “How do you do it?”
Ray: Or, “No, really – what’s your actual job?” People find it unbelievable that someone could be a sword-swallower or a fire-eater. It seems a bit incredible that this is how I make a living.
First impressions of Dubai?
Ray: I love the weather – it’s summer all the time.
Betty: It’s very safe. Very clean and very safe. I came from New York, which has a different energy to it. I feel at ease walking around, getting from place to place.
Favourite place to eat in Dubai?
Ray: Ravi’s in Satwa. I love that place. Everything’s delicious.
Betty: I have to agree.
Favourite club or music event in Dubai?
Betty: I spend most of my evenings at Cirque so it feels comfortable there. I’m not big on the club scene because on other nights I’m just happy that I get the chance to relax.
Favourite Dubai-based DJ or band?
Ray: DJ Pepelz. He’s really good. Definitely my favourite DJ I’ve heard in Dubai.
Betty: He’s awesome.
What do you do when you need some ‘me’ time?
Ray: I spend a lot of time at the gym. That lets me get out all the aggression that’s built up over the week.
Betty: I’ll eat his cooking, go to the gym and catch up on Netflix.
How would you sell Dubai to someone who has never visited the city?
Ray: If you don’t like snowy New York winters, you’ll love Dubai. Then I’d say – it’s tax-free, the people are really lovely and it’s such a different cultural experience to what you get in the States.
Betty: It’s a breath of fresh air, but it still offers plenty of things to do. The world’s biggest everything is here.
What’s the secret to success here?
Ray: Pacing yourself. Whether it’s partying or shopping, take it easy. It’s easy to get caught up in the pace and speed of life here.
Betty: Keep your eyes open and enjoy everything because there’s so much. Even if I stayed for a year, I don’t know if I could see everything.
Top tip for getting the most out of Dubai?
Betty: Don’t forget to sleep. I feel like Dubai doesn’t really sleep. There’s never a time when you can’t go out and get whatever you want.
What’s next for you?
Betty: I’m touring the US with the Demented Dolls Sideshow, and then we kick off the season at Coney Island.
Ray: I’m staying throughout Ramadan, and when I get back I’ll have a couple of days rest before starting the season at Coney Island Sideshow as well. That’s what I’m doing for the entire summer. Then I’ve got some stuff lined up for the fall, and who knows? Maybe I’ll be back in Dubai next year.