Circus News

Why Some Athletes Take Talents to Disney on Ice, Cirque Du Soleil

Alexandra Young has been skating since she was just 2 years old. She competed for years on a pairs team with her older brother, Matthew, winning a silver medal in the novice division of the 2010 Canadian national championships. A goal was to skate in the Olympics one day.

“Of course,” she said. “It’s every athlete’s dream to go to the Olympics.”

Young never achieved that goal and retired from competition three years ago. She is still skating though, and with a partner, Eric Palin. Rather than being picked apart by stern judges looking for every tiny mistake, the two are costumed as Barbie and Ken and performing wonderful spins, twists, jumps and lifts in front of joyful, adoring fans in a traveling Disney on Ice production.

Young and Palin are among many competitive skaters from all over the world — ranging from the U.S. and Canada to Russia, Ukraine and Spain — who have used their well-honed athletic skills to transition into the entertainment field. And it isn’t only skaters who make such a move.

“We do lots of fun tricks out there,” Young said. “Ken picks me up a couple times. We have so much fun together. Coming from a pairs skating background in my competitive life, it was a dream to me to transition from competition skating right to the show. … I loved Barbie dolls as a little girl, and I was so excited that I was going to get the opportunity to play the role of Barbie.”

Young and Palin are among many competitive skaters from all over the world — ranging from the U.S. and Canada to Russia, Ukraine and Spain — who have used their well-honed athletic skills to transition into the entertainment field. And it isn’t only skaters who make such a move.

Competitive gymnasts, synchronized swimmers and divers have been finding second careers in Cirque du Soleil’s extravagant international circus shows. There are 20 former Olympians currently performing in Cirque du Soleil productions — eight in the Las Vegas production of “O” alone — and many more have done so over the years. The company recruits the athletes via the Internet and by scouting at competitive events.

“The Olympic level in gymnastics is the best because your technique has to be perfect, your execution has to be perfect, your mental strategy has to be perfect, your physicality must be perfect,” said American Elise Ray, an Olympic bronze medalist and former Cirque du Soleil performer. “And Cirque is the best of the best in the performing world.”

Learn more about the challenges of the transition from competitive sport to the entertainment industry in ESPN’s article

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