After months of intense physical training, a 15-hour flight from Vancouver to Australia and hours of hair and makeup, it wasn’t until Caitlin Mckenzie and Gabrielle Payn were suspended from a trapeze under the big top at the Australian Circus Festival that they really felt like part of a carnival.
It was the first time the 13-year-old trapeze artists from Langley’s Circus Lab performed inside a real circus tent, and the show-like atmosphere really paid off.
Both took home gold medals for their sky-high trapeze routines in their age category, and Payn also won bronze for hand-balancing —a huge feat for such a prestigious event.
“I was just really surprised and thrilled for them, I know how many hours they’ve put in,” said coach Svetlana Delous, who is also co-owner of the Circus Lab.
“We’re here at the gym every single day in the weeks prior to (competition). Every time they get a chance, they practice their skills, they film it to see how it looks (and) how they can improve it.”
The competition, which features a professional jury including the director of the National Institute of Circus Arts and competitors from around the world, is not only an opportunity for Mckenzie and Payn to show their skills internationally, but also to meet other professionals in the industry.
“They don’t really go for the competition aspect,” Delous said.
“It’s really rare to see other kids doing circus. It’s not like dance or soccer or gymnastics where so many other kids are into it. It’s so rare, especially to find someone who also does trapeze, or also does hand-balancing. Even when you bring circus people together, they do so many different things. So a big part of why we try to get our students to go, is so they meet people that do the same thing and they have awesome friends overseas that are just as motivated and passionate as they are.”
Both Mckenzie, who is from Langley, and Payn, who is from Surrey, have been training with the Circus Lab since it opened its doors three years ago. They have put in a huge commitment to excel at the level they do, including being home schooled to allow more time for training.
Both hope one day to tour with Cirque du Soleil or other performing groups.
“It’s kind of just like my happy place,” Mckenzie said of being on the trapeze.
“It’s really awesome. It feels like you’re — its hard to explain actually — it just feels really cool.”
Payne said the experience in Australia was “breathtaking,” especially when seeing others perform.
“It’s just really awesome watching that,” she said.
“All the acts are really good. When I see the trapeze acts it’s really exciting.”
Beyond the physical benefits of circus performing, Delous says learning the skills has helped kids improve their grades at school and their self-confidence.
“Even if a student isn’t going to keep going and get a career going into circus arts, what they are learning here are tons of skills that are going to help them work with any other sport,” she said.
“Being able to use your muscles, being coordinated, all of that is going to help you for a soccer team, for a basketball team, for being a little bit more graceful.
“We’re getting parent feedback that they (the students) are more confident in school and their grades are getting better, and that’s actually because they started circus and they’re feeling more comfortable with who they are.”
For more on the Circus Lab and their programs, visit www.thecircuslab.ca.
Photos by Miranda GATHERCOLE/Langley Times