Believe it or not, Chandler Bearden is a shy sort of guy. Never mind that the 33-year-old gay Atlanta man bares his hairy chest on stage, stitches his arms together during a fetish show and now, breathes fire and swings from a trapeze.
His latest efforts at wowing crowds came Aug. 16 when he worked a static trapeze at the Jungle during the Atlanta Cotillion Cabaret. We caught a portion of his routine on video (watch above) and later checked in with Bearden to ask how he’s gone from winning the Mr. Atlanta Eagle title to hosting hunk-filled Man Hot and Men of Leather contests, snagging a Best Gay Bachelor honor and corralling Family Feud teams during the Big Gay Game Show. All that while working as Outreach Team Lead for the MISTER program of Positive Impact.
We’ve been calling your latest adventure acrobatics. But tell us exactly what it was that you were doing during your performance at the Atlanta Cotillion cabaret?
The overall genre of this type of performance is considered aerial arts. Aerial arts includes a variety of apparatuses (silks, hammock, lyra, straps, Spanish web) however I was performing on a static trapeze. Not to be confused with more well known, flying trapeze arts commonly seen in circus shows.
You’ve been breathing fire in public and now aerial arts. How did you get your start in this and how long has it been happening?
Aerial arts actually began for me last year, when I visiting a local aerial gym called Kinetic Hive to drop off something with a friend. I was intrigued and decided to try it. After one climb and some goofing off, I didn’t return for almost six to nine months. It was around my birthday (in February) that I decided to go back and give it another try. I was pretty much instantly hooked.
I started training on trapeze with Melissa Coffey and it has just taken off. It’s become a passion very quickly. It’s also a great way to stay in shape outside of lifting weights at the gym, which I’ve been slacking on lately. It’s also a great way to work off stress, disengage from the other activities in my life and keep my mind focused while connecting with my body. It’s pretty therapeutic in its own way.
Learning double acts has been truly amazing. Melissa Coffey is amazing to learn from and work with. There’s always something new, funny or entertaining happening when we’re working or performing together. As far as fire goes, it was pretty simple. I was dancing around at a Beltane festival while Melissa was performing with fire torches. There was some discussion of putting something in my mouth and the next thing I knew, I was eating fire. And I was in love with something hotter than any leather gear.
I started learning techniques and other ways to bring fire to an audience, from spinning with fans and poi, to fiery bullwhips, eating fire and now breathing it. I’m still eager to learn new things both in the air and with fire. I still practice and take classes at Kinetic Hive and also have started assisting with Melissa’s classes at Sky Gym in Sandy Springs.
The danger in breathing fire is pretty apparent. What sort of precautions do you take to stay safe? In other words, how do keep from setting that sexy chest hair on fire?
Respect, awareness and caution. Luckily I have taken some fire safety courses in the past and I’m also certified in First Aid. I don’t use any retardant sprays that are available. It’s all about understanding the nature of fire, what it’s capable of and knowing limitations. Sometimes, there is a little hair singed. It’s kind of unavoidable. But, it grows back. I don’t plan on being any less furry so I do my best to keep it cool.
Any sort of gymnastics and acrobatics requires some pretty immense upper body strength, as we recently saw in the Olympics. How’d you build your strength to work your swing magic?
It definitely takes a great amount of strength throughout the entire body. It’s not just upper body, there’s a lot of core and even leg strength too, especially when doing doubles acts. I can only guess that hitting the gym for the last five years contributed to the ability to transition into aerial arts. I definitely don’t have as much flexibility, yet, as I would like to have. There’s still that goal I am trying to achieve.
In 2010, you won the Mr. Atlanta Eagle contest. Did that really launch this new chapter of your life? It seems like you went from that to hosting public events and now a fire breather and acrobat. Almost like the Mr. Eagle title helped propel you out of any shell and into very public things. Is that the case?
I definitely think that being Mr. Atlanta Eagle brought me out of my shell. I am actually a very shy person by nature, believe it or not. Having a little bit of attention was from that title actually put me in a position where I could bring a little of myself out to the public with no shame attached. I have since spoken openly about my own bullying experience as a child, recovering from a period of intense drug abuse, homelessness and then discovering that I am HIV positive. All of these experiences have developed strength and hope that I am now able to offer to others who are experiencing or overcoming the same obstacles. My life has become an adventure and I am grateful for my entire past, for without it, I wouldn’t be who I am and have the drive to reach higher and further for ways to entertain myself, continue to grow and to be of service to those who I can.