Wheel Weekend!

The German wheel was invented by Otto Feick in 1925, and originally named Rhönrad from the city it was created in. Later, in 1936, the German wheel was featured in the Olympic games in Berlin.


Chelsea McIntosh practicing a piece of a compulsory routine

On the second weekend in October, I was able to attend Wheel Weekend in Chicago, IL with 8 fellow students from my Cincinnati, OH circus group, My Nose Turns Red, for a 3-day level 1 coaching certification.


Day One

The moment we arrived, everyone walked into the massive gym where all students gathered and collected their folders with all of the information they would need throughout the week (whether they were there for coaching level one, coaching level two, or workshops). We stood in a circle and were introduced to all of the coaches that would be helping us over the next three days. Right after we left the group it was time to get started on the training.

Our first coaching lesson focused on central elements in two bindings. Central elements are pieces of a routine where the center of body mass remains in the center of the wheel. Bindings are the foot straps that allow for cartwheels when set to the straight-line position. We not only learned how to perfect these elements, but also learned how to spot others in these positions. We learned basic partner elements and how to spot them (primarily various forms of Ferris wheel, such as straddle off), and worked on some balancing skills.

Lacy Gragg spotting a student in ‘sit rock’.

Later that day we worked on vault one and spiral one. In these lessons, we learned how to vault safely and efficiently and how to spot. We also learned how to complete a spiral – including how to fall out safely, which does come in handy!

Vaulting practice

After a break, we began working on dismounts from straight-line tricks. Then we continued onto free fly. The most important aspect of this training was learning how to spot the skill. We went onto basic theory after training. This was our first taste of the content that would be on our test that would determine if we were certified as level one coaches.

We then moved on to decentral elements, which are elements in which the gymnast is mainly at the edge of the wheel. Near the end of the day we learned about a very important element of coaching, keeping children busy and safely involving them in wheel activities. To finish up the day we practiced our own straight-line skills.


Chelsea McIntosh, Wolfgang Bienztle, and Carleigh Saberton take a picture after the last day of wheel weekend)

Though the first day of wheel weekend was very busy, we had the opportunity to meet Wolfgang Bienztle, who has coached at wheel weekend for 10 years. Wolfgang is a well-known coach and has won many championships competing in wheel gymnastics, including many World and European championships. He was the youngest national champion.

When I asked Wolfgang about his passion for coaching he replied, “It’s the fun and passion I have to bring wheel around the globe.” He first became interested in wheel when he was young. He told me, “I was 6 years old when my brothers and I were asked if we would like to join soccer, jujitsu or wheel in our sports club. We decided for competitive wheel.”

When I asked Wolfgang how this weekend was going to compare to years past, he said, “This is one of the most fun weekends with all extra activities – circus variety show, Oktoberfest show, special kid’s day, more than 50 kids in beginner wheel competition – and so much more fun!”


Day Two

On the second day of wheel weekend it was little less busy, but still very productive. In the beginning of the day we worked on setting up routines and learning combinations. We split into groups and were asked to come up with a routine, then performed those routines. We were scored on our routines as if we were competing in a wheel competition. We later worked on learning more decentral elements, followed by a meeting for leaders about safety, security, and insurance. Later we learned about first aid and how to treat various wounds in the gym. After first aid, we learned more about spiral. We then had a posture and moving workshop that allowed some of our built-up pain to fade away. Eventually we learned about how competitions work and what to expect when competing.


Day Three

The last day of wheel weekend was a half day. We practiced a short compulsory routine. We then learned how to create a try-out and host a wheel class. We learned about what to expect in a try-out and how to judge one. We also learned how wheel classes traditionally work. We then listened to a closing by Wolfgang. Finally, we had a written exam which determined if we were going to be certified as level one wheel coaches. All the students I was with from My Nose Turns Red passed!

The My Nose Turns Red circus group that attended wheel weekend


Wheel weekend was a mind-blowing experience. We got to work with so many talented coaches and learned so much about the history of the Gymnastic wheel. We also learned so much about how competitions work and how to participate in them. Wheel weekend was a thrilling experience that everyone interested in wheel should participate in, it is worth it!

– Chelsea


Starting Out ‘Late’ in Circus: Paths for Success and Motivation

The circus arts are amazing – any circus person will tell you so. Part of the reason that circus arts are so amazing is because circus is performing strange feats of strength, flexibility, character, and stage presence. However, many circus students start out younger, and for an older student it can be hard to to catch up to their years of training. Here are some essential tips for starting out late and paths for success.
Start with small, achievable goals
Cirus is grand, that is for sure, and when you start out you may want to fly through the sky right away. That can happen, but you need to remember to be realistic with your goals. It takes a lot of strength and practice to fly, base, ride, and juggle with ease and grace. It’s more common for beginners to grunt and wobble their way through. Trying to push yourself too hard without experience can lead to mishaps and injury. Start with small goals and work up from there. Having smaller, more achievable goals will make your experience more rewarding as you can accomplish them and then move to the next one, instead of struggling and never quite getting it.
Ask for help
Never be ashamed to ask for help! No one is amazing at first. Silently suffering doesn’t help you improve and it doesn’t help your trainer understand where you are struggling. Communication is always key, in life and especially in circus. Your spotter and trainer need to know how you are feeling. Plus, if you ask, you can be rewarded with the change of learning something that will make it all click.
Learn from others
Really take time to observe your peers, watch them to find minute movements and tips. Watch for form and timing really visually, to see what your goals are. When someone gives you advice, really listen and hear what they are saying and try to apply it to yourself. Some advice will be good and other advice will be less helpful. You are the one who will inevitable know what is good for you – but it is important to try everything.
Keep a positive attitude
It is really hard to accomplish something if you have a bad attitude. There are people who have the “Whatever” attitude: if they get frustrated, they act like it doesn’t bother them. This will only shut you off from really working towards improvement. Others have the “I JUST SUCK” attitude: as soon as something gets hard, they take it as a personal stab to all that they are. This will only make you feel bad about yourself and hold you back. The best attitude to have is the “I can, and I will” attitude. Support yourself with kind words and thoughts. Everything takes practice and you will eventually succeed. Have confidence in your abilities and push yourself to greater things.
Your circus community is here to support you and lift you up, literally! Try and fly!
– Hannah

Circus Friendships

It’s easy to take on different roles in different kinds of circus relationships. Some friends are more like mentors, some are like apprentices, and others are just sorta friends you hang out with. It all the depends on the circumstances where you meet.

Recently, Julaine Hall and Jordan Rempel-White, both Hup Squad members and students at the School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts (SANCA), sat down together to talk about circus friendships – with each other and other people.  Julaine and Jordan both took a straps class at SANCA not long ago and became closer through it. They also both performed solo straps acts at SANCA‘s annual spring showcase. How do circus relationships differ and how are they similar? Every circus relationship has a story.

Jordan Rempel-White (JR) – Hey, it’s great to see you!

Julaine Hall (JH)  – You too!

JR – How’s training been? I see you have pole face all over your neck. (Pole face is when the rubber coating of a Chinese pole rubs on the skin near or on the face making you look like a chimney sweep.)

*We both start laughing and the conversation totally derails, a few minutes later we continue*

JH – Yeah! I’ve been trying to train pole more recently since I came back from the big top tour. I did a rope act there, so I didn’t get a lot of time to train pole. But now that I’m back I’ve been training it more to get ready for an audition.

JR – That’s awesome! Good luck!! How did your relationships with your friends at Smirkus differ from the ones you have at SANCA?

JH – My friendships at Smirkus were very durable. Because we spent so much time together traveling and working together we all had to get along really well. But since we were all striving for a common goal it made it really easy. I’d call every trooper a close friend. They’re like a second family!  I think my friendships at SANCA are much more varied.

JR – Really? How so?

JH – Well I befriend lot of people in the younger performance groups and in other classes, but with Cirrus, the performance group I’m in, it feels like a little more business-like than at Smirkus. (Cirrus is the oldest performance group at SANCA (ages 12-18) Nimbus (ages 9 to 12) and Stratus (ages 5 to 9) are two younger performance groups also at SANCA. Julaine has been a member of all three and is a member currently of Cirrus.) But now it’s my turn to ask you! How the tables have turned!

*We collapse into giggles as Julaine accidentally throws a pencil across the room. Conversation continues several minutes later*

JH – Who do you think your first circus friend was?

JR –  Yikes, that’s a tough one. I think my first close circus friend was in a couple aerial classes with me, and then a tumbling class, so we really were able to bond over all of our miraculous failings together.

JH – That’s definitely a good way to bond. It takes 1,000 tries to get a skill, and boy, do we know that. Training is a great way to get close with someone.

JR – Very true. That reminds me of our straps class.

JH – And all the bruises too, from all the failed star roll ups we did.

JR – Yeah, I remember after accidentally bending my arm one too many times during a roll up in class, I went home with massive bruises on my upper arms, but unfortunately forgot about them the next day when I went to go see a play with my school.

JH – Ooch, what happened?

JR – I was in a rush leaving the house and forgot to wear long sleeves, so when I was using the bathroom during intermission, like 3 people came up to make and asked me if I was doing okay and my home life was safe for me. They then told me I could borrow their phones if I needed to call a hotline.

JH – Oh, no! What did you say to them?

JR – I tried explaining that it was all from circus, however I think the idea that I willingly let it happen to me via circus worried them more.

JH – Ack, I can feel their disapproving stares from here.

JR – *shivers*

JH – Straps are really nothing to worry about though. They just hurt.

JR – And give wicked bruises.

JH – True true. Well I have to get back to training, but it was awesome talking to you!

JR – You too! It was really fun to catch up. See you around!

JH- You too!

Circus Everywhere

Going to the circus is an amazing experience. Audiences are always blown away by all the talent. However, when you buy tickets and plan out your night at the circus, you are expecting to be impressed by the spectacle. Running across circus when you aren’t expecting it can be a completely different experience.

The circus used to be somewhere you’d go to see strange and amazing things, and usually wasn’t as common in everyday life. However, circus artists don’t have to just “run away with the circus” anymore, and live on the road. Although that’s still an option, many performers are finding new ways to make a living with what they can do. Circus artists can be found touring with singers and appearing in their music videos, in advertisements, and even as internet memes.

Music Industry

Circus in the music industry is becoming more popular. For example, the famous singer Pink is known for performing aerials while singing. She was inspired to learn circus arts at a Cher concert, where there were backup dancers performing aerial silks. She met with one and asked her to teach her how to perform while singing. The aerialist had Pink first learn how to sing while being punched in the stomach, to show how difficult performing while singing would be. Now, Pink performs aerial arts while singing quite regularly when performing.

Pink performing aerial sling in concert,Image from Popsugar.com fitness, ‘How to Get High Like Pink’


Another unusual place to find circus is in advertisements and music videos. For example, there’s a juggler in an advertisement for the Apple Watch. Many other advertisements include circus disciplines – I’ve also seen acrobatics, tightwire, and teeterboard!

Music Videos

Many music videos also include circus, such as the new Jason Mraz song, Have It All.

Moment from Jason Mraz’s Have It All music video


Some circus videos have been shared with a funny caption and shared on the internet. Although it’s common for amazing circus skills to be shared through social media, it’s usually only on circus accounts that you’ll find it. However, this image from a teeterboard video can be found on several relatable comedy accounts that have nothing to do with circus.

Image from Me.me, https://goo.gl/images/fxgLss

Museums and art events

Contemporary circus can be super popular as a visual art experience, not just through the skills but through the creativity of the apparatus and performance put together. For example, Yoann Bourgeois’s tramp wall performance called The Mechanics of History at the Pantheon in Paris includes an interesting mechanical apparatus that rotates.

Using technology to share skills and creations is easier than ever, which allows circus artists more and more opportunities for performing – and not always in the ring. It’s incredible how technology has been able to make the circus community even more inclusive and rewarding than it already was.

– Annika

The Art of Flying: What It’s Like To Be On The Flying Trapeze

“Gliders, sailplanes, they are wonderful flying machines. It’s the closest you can come to being a bird.” – Neil Armstrong

Flying is one of the few things humans aren’t able to do by ourselves. We have figured out how to create machines that will carry thousands of pounds and hundreds of people across the sky, and we’ve even learned how to jump from those machines. But unlike a bird, we still can’t fly on our own. However, in the mid-1800s a young French man named Jules Léotard created a miraculous invention. He created the flying trapeze. (His name didn’t stick to the trapeze art he invented –  instead it attached itself to the costume he flew in – the leotard.)

The flying trapeze has evolved since the day of Jules Léotard. It no longer swings over a pool, like when it was first invented, but instead over a net.

Jordan swinging out of lines for the first time. Video by Jordan’s mom, Melanie White

To get up to the board you jump off of to start swinging, you first have to climb up a long ladder. This always feels as though it takes longer than the actual flying, but that’s just your imagination! The board on many flying trapeze rigs tends to be pretty small, but some boards are much bigger, almost double in width – closer to the size of a park bench.

Then comes the trapeze bar, which is bolted into an overhead beam via cables, somewhere in the front third of the rig. The trapeze bar is hooked from where it hangs straight down and is swung up to the board by a thin PVC pipe with a hook on the end called a ‘noodle’. The distance from the board to the trapeze varies from rig to rig, but generally, an adult-sized person should be able to reach the bar by standing on the edge of the board and reaching out. At the far end of the rig is the catcher’s bar. This is what the catcher will climb up to and then swing from in order to catch you.

The flying trapeze rig I fly on at SANCA looks like this:

 A flyer doing a ‘heels off’ trick to the catcher. Photo by Kevin Ruddell

After you’ve flown your trick a couple times without fail, you get to the most exhilarating part: catching. This is where your catcher will climb up a rope to reach the catcher’s bar, hang upside down, and swing toward the board (although they’re still pretty far away). At the top of their arc, they’ll say, “Ready… hup!” You then do your trick, and at the end of the trick, right when the arcs of the two swinging trapezes line up, you’ll let go of the bar, and get caught by your catcher. It’s one of the most magical moments in flying trapeze. It was that moment of the catch when I realized I could fly forever and never get bored.

Jordan doing a ‘pullover shoot’ to catch. Video by Jordan’s sister.

I’ve been flying for a little under a year now and I love the freedom you feel when you’re in the air. It’s something that you can’t really understand until you’ve felt it yourself. The feeling of coming down after a successful catch and the world flaring back into life when you come back down to earth. Flying is something that empties your mind and fills your soul with all that it could possibly need. Flight.

– Jordan

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” – Leonardo da Vinci

Character Creation

Lyra in character. Photo by Doug Hara

You might have an act that’s beautifully choreographed, but sometimes you want a charismatic personality to go with it! However, character creation can be hard – I face this challenge often when creating acts. Here are the steps that I go through to bring my character to life, and the questions I ask myself:

Music & mood

How does your character feel? My inspiration for acts usually comes from a song. Some music just feels like you need to perform to it. Once I choose a song, I think about the mood of the music. Is it a happy song, or a sad song? Angry, or hopeful? That gives me insight on how I want my character to feel and act.

Goals & purpose

What does your character want? Are they trying to get somewhere or do something? What are they doing here? Your character’s goal could be part of your act, and communicated to the audience using actions or props. The story could be centered all around this goal. Or, you could ignore the goal. It does not have to be important or conveyed to the audience in any way during your act. It is still good for you to know what your character’s goal is because it will help you act their personality.


How does your character move? What will they be doing? You should know how they walk, talk, and carry themself. How will they carry out their actions during your act? Perhaps they walk slowly, with long strides, or maybe they leap lightly on their toes. What do they do when they feel exited, or scared? What expressions do they make? You want the audience to know how the character is feeling so act, act, act!

I hope this helped you in developing your character. I find these steps very helpful and I hope you do too. Good luck!

– Lyra

10 Steps to Creating a Great Circus Act!

Photo by MAKO Photography

For many of us in circus arts, the majority of our time is spent training and building strength, so when it’s time to create an act it can be difficult to know where to start. Here is my ten step process for piece creation. It’s made up from my perspective as an aerialist, tips from my favorite coaches, and lessons I’ve learned through trial and error. While it works for me, it might not be just right for you, so feel free to blend it with your own creativity and experiences, and advice from your favorite coaches and mentors.

  1. Document Your Training: This step comes before you know even know you need to create an act! Building skill sets and strength is important, but spend some training time just messing around with your apparatus or props. Try to just flow for a few minutes and MAKE SURE TO FILM IT! Filming this creative time will allow you to look back on it and keep skills or pathways that you think are pretty or pleasing. Filming also helps you see how fluid your transitions are and where you can improve. You may also want to purchase a training notebook and write down these sequences, so you can delete some footage from your camera.

  2. Evaluate the Mood and Character of the Event: When you are asked to perform, think about the purpose and tone of the event. Is it a party? A fundraiser? Is there a theme? Who will be in the audience? What is the venue like? Write down any information and thoughts you have about the event in your training notebook.

  3. Pick Music to Set a Mood: Look back at your event evaluation. If there is a theme, such as Halloween, then pick something spooky or foreboding, and not a feel good pop tune. If there is no particular theme but you know the event is an elementary school fundraiser, there are probably going to be a lot of kids, so choose a song with family friendly lyrics. Finally think about what you want to do. Do you want to do a fast-paced piece or something slower? How do you want the audience to feel during your piece? Taking all these things into consideration will help you choose music that fits your goals, as well as the mood and character of the event.

  4. String Together Sequences: Using sequences you saved from training documentation, and your music, start stringing together sections you like. Use the music to help you find out what goes where. If there is a speed up in the music, maybe choose an easier sequence and save more difficult moves for a slower section. Remember to think about your personal strengths and what you can do safely and beautifully. Also consider the space you will be working in before you add large moves like swinging, orbiting, or spinning.

  5. Do It Through a Few Times: Look for timing weirdness, awkward moments, and places that are difficult, or things that you just plain don’t like. If possible film it and mark these moments in your notes so you can remember them.

  6. Revise and Polish: Use your film and notes to find the parts of your act that are the most rough, unpolished or difficult. Make your revisions and do the piece again. Film it so that you can look at it later, and repeat Step 6 as needed!! I usually do separate “revise and polishes” for tricks, any music cues, and cleaning up transitions.

  7. Make It Shine: Film the last iteration of your piece and pay attention to small details such as facial expressions, hands, toes, or any frilly fancy bits. Go back to Step 3 and ask yourself, “Does this fit my character/ mood? Is there something I should change so this more accurately transmits the mood or theme?”

  8. Pick a Costume: Although it’s not the most important part of a piece, a costume that makes you feel super secure and confident is a real benefit. When considering a costume also consider lighting, the color of your background, the mood of your piece, and the event. Once you have it, do the piece a few more times to make sure the costume fits well, and helps you feel confident on stage.

  9. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat: In the days leading up to your performance try to do your piece a few extra times in full costume and with music if possible, this can help reassure you that you know what you are doing and that you look great!

  10. Mark Through the Final Minutes: Before you go on stage, mark through your piece at least twice on the ground. “Marking through” means to move as though you are on your apparatus, this helps jog your memory of the act. Right before you go on stage, take a few deep breaths and stand confidently. Then, get out there and show ’em what you got!

– Zoe