Review: 2017 October Wheel Weekend Yields New Friends, New Skills, New Dreams

October Wheel Weekend. My teacher, Mickey Dupont, had hyped up this event so much that I couldn’t be any more excited. Wheel Weekend in Chicago was an event for Cyr and German wheelers to attend and learn skills from coaches, showcase routines, and experience the wheel gymnastics community. Although Mickey told me in depth about the event, I had absolutely no idea what to expect.

I drove down to Chicago the night before and planned to stay with Rachel, a good friend from high school, for the weekend. As stoked as I was, the drive felt like it took no time at all. Going to sleep that night, I was looking forward to three days of progress, inspiration, and perhaps some frightening new skills with my wheel.

Day One
I drove to Willye White Park, where we were supposed to meet. After getting the smallest peek inside the gym full of German wheelers, a tall, direct man—who I’d later find our was Wolfgang Bientzle—let me know that the Cyr wheelers were meeting a couple miles away at Chase Park. No problem. Off I went.

Finally, I arrived. Just in time. To my surprise, there were just fiver of us there. Silver Minekawa, a beginner like me; Joe Yonek, a Cyr wheeler and acro-balancer; Isaac Hou, my inspiration for starting Cyr wheel; and our coach, Eric Deschênes. I was shocked. Isaac Hou?! The one from the videos? And, though I had no idea at the time, Eric was the Cyr wheel coach for Cirque do Soleil’s school ENC (École National de Cirque). It was quite a day—and it hadn’t even begun!

After we were all warmed up and stretched, Eric took his time cycling around to each one of us and teaching or helping us with moves as the morning went on. I worked on flags, proper basic coin form, corner variations, spindle waltz, and spindle coins. These were eight-hour days of nothing but spinning. It was exhausting and hard on the hands. But each callous, blood blister, or bruise meant that much more progress.

We broke for lunch at some point. Isaac suggested we eat at Co Co Vietnamese Sandwiches & Pho— not far from the park. The walk, break, and food were especially welcome! Lunches and dinners out with wheelers and cirque performers would later make up many of my fondest memories of places around the world. So, after a quick chat and getting to know one another more, we headed back to the gym.

The rest of the day was filled with myriad low-intensity drills that were easier on our fatigued bodies. Eric had us waltz in a straight line, in a straight line with one hand, and—if we could—waltz in a circle opposite the direction of our spin. This was done to build a commanding control over where we travel with the wheel, as it is beneficial to all spinners. We worked on uneven waltz as well. This let us explore new movement sensations and weight-transfers in the wheel. This drill in particular encourages a rider to find unorthodox movement styles and shapes.

I had finally achiever spindle coins, and both Eric and Issac were impressed with my quickness. I spent the remainder of my work time that day drilling other possibilities from spindle. This led to my pursuit of spindle full-twists and the like. By the end of the first day, I was beat.

Before we left, there was talk of going out to a bar— Eric loves quality beer. So after stopping by Rachel’s to shower and change, I took Chicago’s train—the L—to Hopleaf, the bar where we were meeting. The temperature was perfect, the atmosphere was chill, and I was in a city I enjoyed with friends who shared my passion. I entered the bar to find Joe and Eric chatting and quickly joined them. I ordered a sausage appetizer and joined the conversation. Wolrgang and another German wheel coach arrived shortly after. We spoke about Eric and Wolfgang’s plans for Cyr and German wheel competition, the USA Wheel Gymnastics Federation and the IRV (International wheel gymnastics). We spoke about the move list, as well as competition requirements such as scoring. Nationals would be in Chicago in March, while the World Championships would be help in Switzerland in May. I had my hopes set high.

Day Two
Another eight hours of intense training! I wrapped my hands so I could train through the blood blisters. I explored many new shapes and waltz variations. I also worked on cleaning up hanging full-turns, front handsprings, and trailing corners. We ate at Co Co’s again for lunch. In the afternoon, we spotted one another with bombs and back pull-overs. We did more drills and a lot of stretching the second day.

We did end early, as there was an event scheduled for the early evening. Parents and children came to watch us perform. The gym wheel children performed group routines. There was an aerialist, a unicycle routine, and the each of us Cyr wheelers performed a number we had prepared. I used my showcase routine from the month prior, as that was all I had. The gym wheelers took a liking to me right away. Many of us were fast friends. Those who were old enough decided to join the adults (which was really just the Cyr wheelers and coaches) out for dinner and drinks later that night.

We ate at yet another Vietnamese place for dinner. I think the nights out after a long day of spinning are unforgettable. No matter where in the world you are, cirque people are like a family. We all know our passion so intimately, and it’s great to bond and chat lightheartedly about it over food and share ideas, inspiration, and plans. We spoke about how Eric has trained with all the best Cyr wheelers in the world. Chris Thomas, Angelica Bongiovonni, Charlie Wheeller, Shena Tschofen, Justin Dale, and Bobby Cookson are just a few. We talked about some of the crazy moves Charlie was up to, or where other wheelers were going and performing. Eric even encouraged me to audition for ENC. After a warm evening of excellent food and conversation, we retired to our hotels and hosts.

Day Three
Our final day: back handsprings, blisters, short goodbyes . . .

The final morning was rough. But we had only a half-day. I spent that time working on the beginnings of back handsprings, and I had some new combinations from spindle and uneven waltz to explore on my own. Not to mention spindle coins. While the shorter day was very welcome, it also meant that I’d be returning to training without some of my newly-made family members. We finished the third day and said our goodbyes. But that was okay—Id see them again in a while. . . .

I made the long drive back to Minnesota. Sad to leave, but so excited to see what the next step in my adventure would turn out to be.

Review: And the Crowd Goes Wild - 2017 Expertease Fitness September Student Showcase

Moving into the fall of 2017, I was making more and more progress with Cyr wheel. It had been about four months since I started out, and I had a few tricks under my belt. Mickey Dupont, my teacher at the time, started encouraging me to perform. He introduced me to one of the main entertainment companies in town, and I was excited to take the next step. But I had yet to actually perform a routine. Over the next month or so, the idea was increasingly appealing. After all, the Expertease Fitness Student Showcase was coming up and Minnsky Theatre hadn’t seen a Cyr wheel act in a while.

Leading up to the performance, I was both excited and nervous. Though I’d performed other things before, I was diving into entirely new territory. I didn’t have a realistic benchmark of how good I was, or of how the act would be received. It was my own work; I had total artistic freedom—for the audience, theatre owner, and everyone else to criticize.

And I was ready.

September 23, 3017, was the date I performed my first full Cyr wheel routine. The song I chose featured Justin Beiber—no shame—”2U” by David Guetta. At three minutes, with some choreography, my first routine included the following moves: basic waltz, one-leg handsprings, a hanging full-turn, cartwheels, spindle waltz, half-turns, corners, fuetes, breaking plane, one-arm waltz, flower-pickers, and basic coins.

Minnsky Theatre and Expertease Fitness performers and the audience had no idea what to expect. And, though I was quite an amateur, I blew them away. Both nights’ performances went about as well as they could have, and I was happy the routine turned out well.

After the show, I was introduced to the owner of Minnsky, Jac Fatale! A woman with a lot of personality, a quality work ethic, and a big heart. That was also when I was introduced to many new friends. Some would remain at Minnsky, while others left, but each of them contributing to my journey in one way or another. And those who stayed make up much of the community I so appreciate.

Everything was beyond exciting. And I was ready for my next step!

Review: Spontaneity at the Office - Researching Circus School

Do you ever get curious? Really curious? I certainly do. I was sitting at my desk a day in early May 2017, excited about my newfound skill—juggling on a tight-wire—when I considered creating a character for the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. After a bit of research, I said to myself, “Forget that. I should join the circus!”

That led to numerous hours of looking up circus schools, opportunities, and options—not only in the United States, but around the world as well. During this time, I stumbled upon a video of Isaac Hou performing Cyr wheel. I had seen it before, and now I thought it would be a perfect fit for me! I factored Cyr wheel research into my time as well.

Eager to apply to schools, I trained as much as I could. I already had experience in beginner acrobatics, juggling, magic, tight-wire, and dance. I just needed to brush up on particular skills for audition videos. After spending a couple of weeks editing the videos and applying, I excitedly sent them off and applied to SANCA (School of Acrobatics & New Circus Arts) in Seattle, WA, and Actor's Gym in Chicago, IL. Two weeks later, I decided to take a trip to Chicago and see the students at Actor's Gym perform their annual showcase.

Shortly after returning home, I found I was rejected by SANCA, but accepted at Actor's Gym. The only obstacles were cost and relocation by summer's end. But I was hopeful! After speaking with the admissions counselor from Actor's Gym, I decided it would be a good idea to get a breadth of experience on aerials (as I had none prior). I enrolled for Xelias Aerial Arts Bootcamp to get familiar with the various apparatus. I tackled a fire course that taught me juggling, spinning, and safety.  I also discovered—after a lot of research—Mickey Dupont, a Cyr wheel instructor in Minneapolis, MN. I enrolled in his course at Expertease Fitness right away.

From day one, I was hooked on Cyr wheel. I took to it naturally, and Mickey was a good teacher. I spent most of the time I was not in class studying, watching, and waiting for class to come around again. As Actor's Gym didn't offer Cyr wheel—and because of the financial and timeframe obstacles—I decided that circus school was not for me at the time.

However, I was on a mission. I wanted to be one of the best Cyr wheel spinners. And, by the end of the summer, I had my own wheel to practice with three to four hours per day. I had toned down studies in the other circus arts to achieve this goal. By September, I had my first Cyr wheel performance. At four months, I crushed it. I was encouraged to speak with one of the performance agencies in town, as well as visit Chicago for October Wheel Weekend. With that, I was well on the way to accomplishing my dreams.