The circus isn’t just for freaks

The circus isn't just for freaks

Senior Kirsten Terry agrees with the stereotype of circus performers being weird and freaky. “I don’t mind the stereotypes. I love the attention,” she said.

Her elbows are placed on the ground as both legs flex and twist into a position above her head. Her back is arched only using her forearms for support. As her chest rests on the floor, she places her shins flat on the ground. Her eyes look at the back of her thighs, making her body fold around itself. She is able to bend, stretch and twist into extraordinary positions and abnormal shapes without pain.

Senior Kirsten Terry has taken an alternate route to the common life after high school. Her passion for contortion has led her down a path where she’ll be able to embark on a nine-month program and eventually a three year program to perfect her contortion skills to potentially become a circus performer.

Terry’s unexpected discovery of her body’s flexibility led her to stumble upon her infatuation for contortion.

“It started in yoga when I realized my natural flexibility,” Terry said. It wasn’t until Terry saw a contortion performance at a talent show that she began teaching herself from YouTube videos.

Thula Martin and Leilani Franco are both circus performers who inspired Terry. They took from teaching herself contortion to making it a potential career.

“Thula was the first contortion performance I saw and the person who inspired me to start it,” Terry said. “I also love the creepiness [Franco] brings to her performances.”

This career path has had a major impact in the way Terry views school. “I know most of the things I do throughout the school day don’t help me toward my goal, and I feel they are a waste of time,” Terry said. “However, in order to get into the circus school I want to go to, I have to have finished my secondary studies.”

Terry plans on attending the New England Center of Circus Arts in Vermont and then auditioning for the National Circus School at then headquarters of Cirque du Soleil in Montreal, Canada.

“My passion is for circus arts. I have no interest in pursuing a ‘normal’ career,” Terry said.

For someone training in the circus with a specific circus act, such as a contortionist or a trapeze artist, training usually begins when they are eight to nine years old. Depending on the act, the training might include some dance, weightlifting and gymnastics.

“We trained every day four to five hours for three weeks to learn the choreography for the four dance numbers that I was in,” former circus performer Jerilynn Bedingfield said.

Terry was self taught from age 13 to 15. When she moved to Atlanta, she was finally
able to get professional training.

“Normally I do a minimum of seven hours a week, but it has gone up to 30 hours a week for performances,” Terry said.

Specializing in contortion, Terry uses an aerial hoop and the trapeze. To be successful in these areas, Terry must be flexible. Terry Screen shot 2013-02-06 at 11.57.41 AM (2)also has to have a lot strength, because without it she would injure herself.

“You have strength training, stretching, working on tricks, and endurance,” Terry said. “You end up with bruises internal and external scar tissue. It’s tough but I love it.”

Chest rolls are Terry’s favorite move. To achieve this move along with others, Terry must stretch daily to prevent injuries.

“You get sore and have to keep going.The bruising and bleeding is just a part if it. You have to have dedication,” Terry said.

Although Terry’s friends don’t always take her seriously, it doesn’t bother her because her family supports her decision to join the circus.

“My parents have supported me the whole way and pushed me to do the things I need to to achieve my dreams,” Terry said.

“They think I should have a backup outside of circus which I have looked into slightly but they thought it was great because they saw that it was my passion.”

“My wife and I are 100 percent behind Kirsten in her pursuit of her dreams and goals,” Kirsten’s father Mark Terry said. “As long as she is maintaining a productive and forward progressing life in all aspects, that’s what counts.”

Terry’s parents aren’t the only supportive people in her life. Her counselor was surprised but was more than open to helping her achieve her goal.

“I support my students in creating a plan for success after high school, and as such I have been very supportive of Kirsten’s postsecondary plan. Have you seen her perform? She is amazing,” Terry’s counselor Kimberly Jones said. “I think it would be crazy for me to try to persuade her to do anything else when she is gifted and talented in that area and has such a love for it.”

The blood, sweat and tears of training that comes with being a contortionist have manifested themselves into something magical for Terry’s life. Terry’s love is for contortion. It’s my own kind of high,” Terry said. “The adrenaline is amazing and it just takes over and makes everything painless. It gives you confidence and power.

Terry performs to a variety of different music,  anything from classical to dubstep. She performs in many places such as Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina.
Terry performs to a variety of different music, anything from classical to dubstep. She performs in many places such as Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina.