Circus is Hard on the Body: Ways to Take Care of Your Body as a Circus Artist

By Chelsea McIntosh and Nathalie Morton

For circus artists, staying healthy can sometimes come as an afterthought or feel like too much of a hassle to stay on top of. Staying healthy, however, is critical to your overall performance in any sport. To protect your body, it is important to make sure to warm up and stretch daily, to eat a healthy and balanced diet, and to exercise and condition enough to keep your body strong enough to handle the intensity of aerial arts.

In order to protect your body from difficult skills that might overuse some muscles or parts of your body, it is important to always make sure to warm up all of your muscles with effective stretches and exercises to prevent pulling muscles during training. Your body won’t be able to handle jumping straight into strenuous activities without something to prepare it first. An effective warm up can consist of simple exercises, such as jumping jacks or a mountain climbers, followed by thorough stretching of all your muscles. It is very important to stretch and warm up areas such as your back, neck, wrists, shoulders, hamstrings, and hips so you can use those areas safely in training.

For aerial arts, a key part of taking care of your body is stretching before and after training. Stretching after you finish a day of training is just as important as stretching and warming up your muscles before training because it can reduce the soreness felt after a really hard workout, increase your flexibility (something every circus artist is after), help to elevate your most likely pretty low energy levels after a workout, and prevent injuries. All muscles are important and used when doing aerial arts, so make sure to cover all muscle groups when stretching in warm ups and in cool downs. For instance, when stretching your arms, be sure to cover all the muscle groups, such as your wrists, biceps, triceps and shoulders because neglecting any of them increases your chance of injury. Stretching well after a workout can eliminate lactic acid that builds up in your muscles during a workout, reducing the pain you feel after a long, hard training session. In addition, cooling down with stretching increases your energy levels because when your body finally cools down, your brain releases endorphins which make you feel energized and happy.

Although it is one of the most important things to do to keep your body healthy, stretching is not the only thing circus artists must do to stay healthy and in shape. Eating a healthy and balanced diet is paramount to being able to withstand the intensity of circus and allows you to advance in aerial arts. Eating healthy, however, does not necessarily mean that you must eliminate every single sweet thing you love or that you must go on restrictive and dangerous diets. Circus takes up a lot of energy so eating complete and hearty meals is necessary. Try to balance out your meals as evenly as possible with each of the three key macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Many diets these days will tell you that eliminating fats or carbs is eating “healthy”, but your body needs all three. Getting your fats from healthy and unprocessed foods, like avocados or nuts, is better for you than depriving yourself from these needed nutrients. Good sources of protein include white meat, tofu, eggs, quinoa and more. Red meat is a good source of protein, but can become unhealthy if overeaten, so try to stay to lean white meats, such as chicken and turkey. As for getting a balanced portion of healthy carbohydrates, whole wheat options are always a great choice. Eating healthy is all about balance and natural foods, not restriction and dieting. You will quickly see that eating full, fresh, and natural foods leaves you feeling more refreshed and energized than when eating fried and processed foods. While cutting back on most classic junk foods is part of eating a balanced diet, you don’t have to swear off them completely, as eating these foods in moderation doesn’t hurt. If you’re looking for a replacement for your favorite sweets and candy, try eating more berries and fruits, as they are nature’s candy!

The last component of keeping your body healthy for circus is exercise outside of what you do in the air. Although circus is a tough workout on its own, it is not a good source of cardio. Running is a great way to make up for this and can keep your heart healthy for all physically demanding events in your life, in addition to circus training. If running isn’t your thing, you can also get good cardio training in by doing a half hour or more on a stationary bike or jumping rope for twenty minutes. It is important to know your limits to avoid overworking your body or exhausting yourself too much, so spread out your workouts and give your body enough time to recover in between. Intensity levels of these workouts should not be as high as circus workouts. Calm and easy cardio training is an excellent complement to high intensity circus training because it takes some strain of your body while still keeping you in shape.

Circus is amazing when performed, but it can take a toll on the body when we don’t take the appropriate steps to protect ourselves. Warming up, stretching, exercising and eating healthy are just a few of the many ways you can protect your body. When done correctly, they can ensure that you are safe from preventable injuries and can perform to the best of your abilities.


Book Review: Juggling – From Antiquity to the Middle Ages by Thom Wall

Book Review by Julaine Hall

In essence, this book is an in-depth look at many ancient practices of juggling, how society saw jugglers, and other interesting cultural tid-bits! One thing that makes this book truly astounding is something Mr. Wall mentioned towards the beginning of his book, “As with dance, so with juggling—the moment that the performer finishes the routine, their act ceases to exist beyond the memory of the audience.  There is no permanent record of what transpired, so studying the ancient roots of juggling is fraught with difficulty.” His works cited section has over 20 pages of sources! Much like an act jam packed with difficult skills, this book is jam packed with interesting fact after interesting fact and must’ve took countless hours of preparation and hard work before it was ready to put in front of the audience. Countries and civilizations the book focuses on include; Ancient Egypt, Israel & Babylon, India, Turkey, China, Japan, Russia, The British Isles, Spain, The South Pacific, Mexico, the Vikings, and Indigenous and Nomadic Cultures. Countries appear as chapters and each chapter covers a new set of topics. I found much enlightening information such as, juggling appears to have been a mostly female dominated activity in ancient Egypt, the South Pacific, and other areas. Also, William the Conquerer established a position called Royal Juggler which lasted around 500 years! It is quite interesting to look back at each juggling culture and compare it to our own. I would recommend this book to anyone wishing for some background information on the craft of juggling and circus arts in general (because as I learned in the book, the word, “juggle,” defines a broad range of definitions)! Thom Wall’s “Juggling- From Antiquity to the Middle Ages” is not only an enjoyable and informative book, it is also quite an impressive one! I am astounded at Mr. Wall’s depth of research and love for the subject.

Click here to learn more about or purchase the book! 

Basic Rigging Knowledge for Every Aerialist Big and Small

By Ava Kapelczak

As a junior aerialist have you ever given a thought to the rigging that you are hanging on in your facility? What about when you visit a new facility to train? If you haven’t it is definitely time to start!

I have been an aerialist for about five years with my mom being my main coach. As you can imagine having a busy aerial circus instructor for a mom I spend a lot of time in the gym and get to visit new gyms and aerial facilities often and have had the opportunity to perform and train on many different aerial apparatuses and rigging setups. I myself am lucky to have a mom that is knowledgeable about the safety precautions, things to look for and questions to ask but for parents and guardians that have no idea and for aerialists that may be traveling without their coaches here are some key things to look for…

A general inspection every aerialist should make a habit of is inspecting your apparatus and rigging system. Depending on your setup this includes your apparatus, its welds, spansets, ropes, fabric, cables, clamps, carabiners, swivels, attachment to the beam, pulleys, and most importantly where it is all tied off. These should all look well maintained without imperfections and appear to be 100% safe. You should take the opportunity to ask your instructor or facility manager/owner to show you how they inspect, how their rigging system works and what is their tie off procedure is. As a junior aerialist because of liability most facilities won’t allow you to rig and tie off your own apparatus but you should take a moment to ask. They would be pleased to show and even more proud that you have asked and have an interest to learn.

But what if this is your first time at this facility or your first time trying your hand at aerial at all…

A visual assessment of the space when you first walk in is always a great first step.

Taking a look at what type of beams they are hanging on?

If the apparatuses are permanently affixed to the ceiling or on a pulley system?

Are they rigged from a cable or a rope?

If the cables look clean and without any imperfections or ropes are properly cared for, without any frays and have used the proper rigging rope?

The quality of the apparatuses and welds, if any, and how they are stored?

Having done your basic visual assessment, a great opportunity to ask about their safe rigging practices could be when you first inquire through email, over the phone, or better yet when signing the waiver.

I have done a bit of research and found some great as well as respectful questions to ask in no particular order:

Who is responsible for the maintenance of the space, rigging and apparatuses and how often? Do they keep a log of their daily apparatus checks? What is the load capacity of their beam or structure?

**This is how much weight and force the beam/structure can take and it also lets you know if they have had it inspected 😉

What is the Safety Factor Ratio they used in their rigging system?

This answer may stump them but the answer should be around 10:1 and absolutely no less than 8:1 (3-5:1 is the Safety Factor Ratio for stage lighting and industrial static rigging) and as aerialists we are definitely not static when training and performing!

***The Safety Factor Ratio is a literal safety net that factors in a general weight of an aerialist and all of the equipment they are flying on plus the potential force of a high impact drop, wear, tear and abuse of all the different pieces of equipment, anything that may have been improperly installed and anything unforeseen happening.

It all sounds complicated and nerve racking, I know, especially when all you want to do is fly and forget about all the daily complications of life, but by just taking the time to ask these basic questions and performing daily general inspections you and your loved ones will feel more at ease with how you are taking responsibility of your own safety.

How Performing Affects Other People

How does your act make a difference in other people’s lives?

By Tessa Wallington

The makeup. The hairspray. The lights. The cheering. The audience. The adrenaline.

Performing is something so many people love. It may increase confidence or act as a fun activity, but what does performing do for the audience? Art is often sold at auctions to be viewed in homes, music is sold to be listened to, and performing is done for the audience to feel emotion while watching a different kind of art. Circus arts can be used as more than a career, or a sport, but also as a gift. Youth troupes such as the Aerial Angels in Las Vegas, Nevada, are using their talent and craft to help make a difference in other people’s lives. Many people have never seen a circus show, and bringing the show to charitable events such as Run Away with Cirque du Soleil, Opportunity Village’s Magical Forest, and Construction Vs. Cancer can help change someone’s life — for a moment or forever.

Just over the past two years the Aerial Angels have performed for intellectually challenged adults at Opportunity Village, performed at a Trunk or Treat to benefit United Way, performed for families that are battling cancer, and helped at a major fundraiser that helps promote clean water all over the world.

Performing for charities can also make a difference in the performer’s life as well. There is no better satisfaction than seeing someone’s facial expression when you get off your apparatus and see people who are struggling with something personal have a huge smile on their face. It is an amazing feeling. It proves that circus can be used for more than entertainment. It can be used to help someone in need, introduce someone struggling to the amazing art of circus, or just let someone having a bad day feel pure joy.

Combining circus arts and charity work into one amazing thing is something the Aerial Angels have accomplished. The angels have achieved their goal of getting involved in their community by showing their talents, and assisting local charities like Opportunity Village. Overall, the feeling of knowing you have helped someone makes performing that much better.   

Aerial Angels showing off their Construction Vs. Cancer shirts after performing at the event.

Aerial Angel, Tally getting ready to perform at  Cirque du Soleil’s Run Away with Cirque du Soleil.

Circus Photography

By Carleigh Saberton

As a circus performer, I can say that most circus people love to post pictures of the awesome skills they learn on social media. But how can we get amazing photos? It can be difficult to capture the excitement of a circus trick into a single picture. I talked to photographers Jenna Lowery, Allen Ramsey and Matt Steffen for some tips and tricks for getting breathtaking photos.

Jenna Lowery is the official photographer for the American Youth Circus Organization’s AYCO festival. She helps coach aerials, acrobatics and more at My Nose Turns Red Youth Circus’ advanced summer camps. Many circus photographers photograph not only rehearsals and classes but live performances. Photographing live performances can be difficult because you have one shot to get the perfect photo. Jenna says that anticipation is very important when photographing live subjects, “I have always felt that my background in performance helps me anticipate what movement is next. When you give yourself the space to anticipate what is coming you can make choices about what you perceive to be the height of a particular movement.” Knowing what trick is coming next can be very helpful. So, think ahead and be prepared for what’s coming next. Jenna also says, “Don’t be afraid to fail! Go outside and shoot. Take your cameras to practice and shows and photograph everything.” Failure is necessary for success. In order to become a great photographer, you first must fail a couple times in order to learn from your mistakes.

Allen Ramsey is a sports action photographer for many high school and college sporting events throughout the Greater Cincinnati area. Although he does not specifically photograph circus performers, one of his favorite activities to photograph is competitive cheer. Competitive cheer can be similar to circus acrobatics. One major aspect of getting great photos is practice. Allen says, “Practice, practice, practice. Shoot whenever you can. Try different settings to get a better understanding of what you and your camera can do.” Practice applies to all activities from circus skills to playing an instrument. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. The more you work on skills, the better you will become. Going along with practice, he also says, “I would suggest talking to photographers that you see at events or games and ask if you can shoot with them. I learned a lot about being around others.” If you see an opportunity, whether that be taking a picture of a friend or shadowing a more experienced photographer, you should take it.

Matt Steffen is a performing arts photographer who shoots a lot of concerts for many media outlets and has worked with many performing arts associations with their digital design. He is the main photographer at the youth circus I attend, My Nose Turns Red. Matt says, “I absolutely believe that the best camera for the job is the one in your hand.” Very expensive cameras aren’t always necessary. “If you have a shoebox and some photo paper, you can still make an incredible image.” Matt also points out that emotion is important in photos, especially when the person being photographed is performing. “I think people relate more to a photo when they see human emotion.” So, he tries to focus more on the performer rather than the trick. He says, “I try to stay close enough to catch the facial expressions and worry less about the equipment and extraneous information.” To really make your picture stand out, Matt says, “Everyone sees the performance from the crown, the unique perspective of being right in the middle of the action sets the photo apart. Don’t be afraid to walk into the scene, stay close, have fun, and be ready to dodge a runaway unicycle.”

Overall, there are many different aspects of getting amazing circus action shots. Some of those being anticipation, failure, practice and capturing human emotion and facial expressions. By putting in the effort, all of the aspiring circus photographers out there can become amazing. Most importantly, when photographing circus performers, always be aware of flying objects! I would like to thank Jenna, Allen and Matt for letting me interview them, you guys are amazing, thank you for sharing your photography knowledge!

How dance has helped me with circus and vise versa


By Maia Castro-Santos


As someone without a lot of natural flexibility, dance and circus have both really helped me to push myself in this area and improve my splits and back flexibility. On my dance company, the dancers are usually expected to stretch on their own time, outside of rehearsal. Similarly, in my evening lyra class, we do a brief warm up and stretch before getting on the apparatus, but we generally don’t spend very much time in deep stretches. Ideally, I would find time to stretch every day at home, but with a busy academic schedule and dance rehearsal every evening, this isn’t always possible. I do most of my stretching on the weekend when I go in to open training at my circus studio. I used to not spend very much time on this, and would lump it in with a quick warm up, but over the past year or so I have changed my strategy. Now, I devote about a third of my training time to warm up and stretching (oversplits, middlesplits, back, etc.), and I have really noticed the difference. This progress in flexibility has helped me gain bendier skills on lyra, and it has helped with my lines in dance (leaps, arabesques, etc.).



2. Strength

While both circus and dance have helped my flexibility, strength is a bit more one sided for me. I feel that I have gained most of my strength (especially upper body and core strength) from my circus training; however, this strength from circus has really helped me grow as a dancer. My strength from circus improves my stamina, helps me feel comfortable in dance moves that require weight in my hands (like inversions), and allows me to be able to lift other dancers.

2018 NMH POWER/powerlessness Dance Concert


3. Lines/Grace/Fluidity of movement

Strength may come more from my circus training, but when it comes to lines and gracefulness, dance has really helped me grow as a performer. I have seen circus acts in the past where the performer is incredibly strong and flexible, but is lacking the fluidity of movement through transitions that comes from a background in dance. Ballet especially has helped me to discover certain things about my own body, that I might not have realized without dance. For example, I have a natural micro bend in my knees, so to keep my legs straight in both circus and in dance, I have to focus especially hard on engaging my leg muscles to improve my lines. Additionally, dance has helped me to work on my toe point, extensions, and connections between movements. These are all things that I am continuing to work on, and I know that they will help me grow as both a dancer and circus artist.

4. Balance

I have found balance to be an important factor in both dance and hula hooping. I’m sure that a wire walker or any other circus artist whose discipline requires balance would agree that a background in dance is very helpful in improving bodily awareness, and that their work in circus has helped them in this area as well. I have always been fairly right dominant, meaning that the right side of my body is stronger, more flexible, and better able to accomplish most tasks; however, when I first started working on my 4 hoop box, I was forced to maintain a position balanced on my left leg (while having a hoop on my left knee, my right foot, and one on each hand). Practicing just this one skill helped me to improve my balance on my left side in both circus and dance, and other hooping skills have helped me in similar ways.



5. Performance energy and stage presence

Performance energy and stage presence are so important in both dance and circus arts! A large part of why I (and many other dancers/circus artists) choose to perform is to form a connection with the audience. I think that this connection is at the core of the term ‘stage presence.’ The performers that have most captivated my attention are the ones who I have felt a personal connection with just by watching them perform. The ability to effectively convey emotion is a critical skill for any type of performance artist. Learning how to use body language and facial expressions to convincingly show different emotions to an audience is as important as all of the technical skill that goes into being a circus artist. Both circus and dance have helped me grow as a performer and find ways to more effectively communicate my emotions with my audience.

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