05/02/1983 at 01:00 AM EDT
Pa-mela Hernandez, 25, and her cousin Denise Aubrey, 27, have more than circus fans looking up to them. They're the first blacks in Ringling Bros, and Barnum & Bailey's 113-year history to be aerialists—long a preserve of Europeans and Latins from circus families. Los Angeles-reared Pa-mela (as in Car-MELa) and Denise are daughters of Jamaican immigrant sisters. Star-struck, they danced on USO tours after high school. In 1979 Denise became a Ringling showgirl, and Pa-mela followed. Then they decided to train on the side as aerialists and went $15,000 in debt for nine months of coaching by ex-Ringling trapeze artist Armando Farfan. The circus bought their act, called Satin. "We didn't want to do just single trapeze, or ropes, or rings—those are done all the time," says Denise. "We also didn't want our act to just be two black chicks up in the air." So they work from a fancy cradle 25 feet above Ring One and do dazzlers like the "helicopter spin." The message in their moves? Says Pa-mela: "The kids who see us can say to themselves, 'Oh yeah, there's something possible for me to do.' "