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    Updated on Oct 31, 2019. Posted on Oct 27, 2019

    I Trained Like A Cirque Du Soleil Performer And Here's What Happened

    This was one of the hardest things I've ever done.

    Hey! I'm Spencer, and I recently got the chance to live out my dream and train with Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas.

    I wasn't particularly flexible, strong, or coordinated as a kid, so I was always fascinated by stunt performers and gymnasts. Since then, I've tried to become more in tune with my body.

    Instagram: @spenceralthouse

    I started my fitness journey about four years ago as a way to help me feel more comfortable and confident. Over the years, I've done a bunch of different workout challenges for BuzzFeed (everything from training like a professional gymnast to doing 100 pull-ups a day for 30 days). These projects were a great way to help me push myself, test my limits, and learn more about my body.

    So, when I had the opportunity to actually train with Cirque du Soleil, I knew I couldn't turn it down (even though I was scared that I'd break a bone and embarrass myself in front of everyone).

    Instagram: @spenceralthouse

    My fitness challenges are normally 30 days long – just enough time to hopefully see a visible transformation in my before-and-after pictures – but this was going to be a totally different experience. Instead, I'd only have a few hours to train with each Cirque show, and my progress would be judged solely on how well I could master their routines. I'm extremely competitive, so this time-crunch made me extra nervous.

    I trained with two different shows (Mystère and R.U.N.) and got a hands-on, behind-the-scenes look into each production. Think of this as your own secret preview at what it's actually like to be a Cirque performer.

    instagram.com, instagram.com

    Mystère is Cirque's first and longest-running show in Vegas. It's probably what most people think of when they see the words "Cirque du Soleil." The show is full of acrobats and trapeze artists and gymnasts, and my jaw honestly dropped in amazement every 15 seconds when I saw it.

    R.U.N. is their newest show, which opened in October. It's also their first live-action thriller. It's basically your ultimate stunt show with fight sequences, motorcycles, fire, and anything else that can seriously injure a regular person like me (please remind me again why I signed up for this).

    BuzzFeed

    First up was Mystère, the quintessential Cirque show. The stage was massive, and just standing in front of 1,500 empty seats was enough to intimidate me.

    Instagram: @spenceralthouse

    The stage was one giant set that continuously changed throughout the show. There were trap doors, extensions on the sides, and the floor was even made of recycled tires and sneakers.

    The rubbery stage made it a little bouncy and gave the performers (and now me!) some extra grip during shows. I used this knowledge as a way to alleviate some of my nerves, because now if I fell at least my landing would be cushioned a little.

    Before learning my first routine, I went backstage to the green room and got fitted for the Spermato costume, one of the show's most iconic characters.

    Instagram: @spenceralthouse

    The green room was full of every costume from the show. It also had a pool table, a 20-person couch, and a bunch of training equipment so the actors could stay limber and in tip-top shape between performances. My favorite part was the massage chair, which I did not want to get up from.

    I changed out of my costume and went back to the stage where I was introduced to Dima, my trainer for the aerial straps.

    Instagram: @spenceralthouse

    I had the opportunity to see Mystère the night before I trained with everyone, so I knew exactly what was in store for me with the aerial straps. I saw the performers fly through the audience, do unlimited flips and spins (all without throwing up, which seemed like the ultimate feat to me), and effortlessly hold poses while suspended 15 feet in the air. Aerial straps seemed like a true test of strength and flexibility.

    My trainer, Dima, looked like a Greek god who was carved from stone. He was as chiseled as could be, and I had never felt more inferior in my life.

    After a quick warmup, Dima showed me some beginner moves. My first goal was to pull my body off the ground and gracefully twirl, but it was much harder than he made it look.

    Instagram: @spenceralthouse

    Dima is in Cirque du Soleil for a very good reason: he's a professional. He made everything look simple and fluid, which convinced me that all the moves would be possible (and, dare I say it, easy) to replicate. I was so wrong.

    After my first attempt at the aerial straps, I immediately understood how Dima was so fit. These straps were no joke. They hung from 70 feet in the air, which made it extra difficult to hold up my body weight, especially without shaking or losing my balance. Now I know that if I ever want to get into incredible shape, all I have to do is install some aerial straps in my apartment.

    The aerial straps definitely took some time getting used to, but after a while my brain and body started to learn what worked best and how to properly move.

    Instagram: @spenceralthouse

    This was just as much of a mental workout as it was a physical one. Like, there were a million tiny things going on in my head at the same time. The most important thing was to remember how to properly wrap the straps around my hands and arms – one wrong move and I could have injured my wrists or fallen to the ground.

    There was also a huge learning curve with figuring out how to actually move my body in the air. I had to pull myself up with a certain amount of force (not too much, but not too little) and keep every part of my body tight in order to get the right amount of height, spin, and speed. It was incredibly difficult to do.

    Spinning was the hardest thing for me to learn (but the easiest for me to feel dizzy and nauseated).

    Instagram: @spenceralthouse

    I remembered thinking that I was doing so well while training. I was so proud of myself and was 100% convinced that my form was perfect and that I spun even faster than Dima. When I looked back at the footage, I saw just how wrong I was.

    It was as if all of my senses had stopped working while I was in the air. I couldn't figure out where my body was in relation to everything else, so I didn't even know when I was facing the front of the stage. I genuinely don't know how the performers do it. They spin so incredibly fast during the shows, and they hit their marks every single time.

    It was also a really intense workout, and I knew my body was going to be sore the next day (especially since I was already feeling it, and I had only been practicing for a half hour).

    Instagram: @spenceralthouse

    Look, I'm already a pretty fit guy. I've worked very hard over the last few years to get to where I am now, and it's probably safe to assume that my body is stronger and more able than the average person's. I don't say this to brag or sound full of myself. I say it so you can understand just how difficult and intense these Cirque trainings are when I tell you that I really, really struggled with some of them.

    Just look at the GIFs above. Dima was elegantly floating in the sky as he somehow managed to add a full ab workout into his routine. I, on the other hand, was shaking so much that it looked like I was flapping my wings like a bird to stay in the air. It just goes to show how physically and mentally strong Cirque performers are.

    After another costume change, I was ready to try my hand at the Chinese pole act. This one was especially intimidating because there was no safety net to catch me if I fell.

    Matt Beard / Cirque du Soleil / cirquedusoleil.com

    I changed into the Double Face costume, which had a mask that attached to the back of my head. This made everything especially trippy during the live show because there were moments when I couldn't tell which way the performers were actually facing. They moved around so quickly and did unbelievable twists and flips, so it was kind of mesmerizing.

    I wore a special pair of pants and a long-sleeve shirt, both of which had padding around the biceps and thighs. This padding was especially necessary because it helped to release tension between my body and the metal poles. I also wore an elastic onesie on top of everything, along with some extra-rubbery shoes. I was ready for my close-up.

    This act involved four metal poles that performers would majestically jump, flip, and slide down. Help.

    Instagram: @spenceralthouse

    It was absolutely wild to watch the Cirque actors perform on the Chinese poles. At one point, they literally leaped from one pole, did backflips mid-air, and then landed on another pole. It became very clear to me that my success was going to be based on how much I trusted my body and my strength.

    Last year I did a BuzzFeed project where I trained like an Olympic gymnast for an entire month. I finished the challenge feeling stronger and more flexible, and I had much more control over my body. Now I was ready to put all of that training to the test and see how comfortable and victorious I'd be on the Chinese poles.

    My first task was simple: just climb the pole. How hard could that be?

    Instagram: @spenceralthouse

    All of these Cirque stunts involved special techniques, but it surprised me that even something as simple as climbing a pole had a bunch of steps to it. The most efficient way to climb was by pushing and pulling with alternating legs and arms. It was also important to keep everything tight, my back straight, and my body close to the pole.

    I knew that my ability to climb the pole would set the tone for how well I'd be able to perform the rest of the stunts, so there was a lot of pressure riding on this simple task. Fortunately my new trainer, Kent, was really impressed with my form, and we were ready to move on to the more dangerous parts of his routine.

    Each move was broken down into separate steps where we paused and posed on the poles. It was a true balancing act that tested my flexibility.

    Instagram: @spenceralthouse

    While watching Mystère, I kept thinking that one of the performers was going to slip and fall, but every time I climbed the pole I was surprised at its rubbery outer layer, which gave it a really strong grip.

    The beginning steps for a lot of the moves involved getting into a frog-like position. My hips and knees were stretched out as far as possible, and I'd grip the pole between my hands and feet. Then I had to swing my arm around the pole. It was important to put a lot of pressure between that arm and the pole (basically squeezing the pole with my armpit), because that was what would hold me up. Then I was ready to release my leg, then one arm, and then the other arm, so I was essentially hanging from the pole with only one foot (Step Four above).

    Getting into each move was a little strenuous and uncomfortable at first, but then things suddenly clicked for me. Now I was up for anything.

    Instagram: @spenceralthouse

    Kent started showing me more and more moves, and I was somehow able to mimic him every single time. Normally I'd feel really stressed and uneasy about learning some type of routine, but with this I didn't have time to get inside my head; the moves were solely based on strength and flexibility, so I understood that I was either going to be able to do them successfully or I wouldn't be able to do them at all. Realizing that was actually kind of freeing, and it relieved me of my performance anxiety.

    With that said, the absolute hardest part of the routine was trying to hang upside down.

    Instagram: @spenceralthouse

    I've never had a fear of heights, so it wasn't scary for me to attempt any of these moves. The one thing that did give me a little pause, though, was having to hang upside down. With my clumsiness, there was just too much room for error, and I really, really didn't want to fall on my head in front of everyone.

    Kent made sure to spot me for this particular move. The key (Step One above) was to put most of my pressure on my bottom hand and push from there while I pulled with my top arm. Then I had to kick off from the ground, twist with my hips, turn my body, and scoop up so I'd be parallel to the pole. It was so incredibly hard. I tried holding myself up with my left hand on the bottom first, and Kent had to hold me in position while spotting. Then I switched sides and was somehow able to do it on my own. I felt invincible and was ready to train with the next Cirque show.

    To watch the full Mystère routine and to get a behind-the-scenes look, you can watch our full BuzzFeed video here.

    BuzzFeed

    The next show I trained with was R.U.N., basically an on-stage action movie with stunts, fight sequences, and special effects.

    instagram.com

    R.U.N. was still a few months away from its premiere date when I got to Vegas, so I genuinely didn't know what my training was going to consist of. In fact, the show's performers were still in training too.

    We met at a secret location instead of on the show's actual stage. I had no idea if I was going to be performing some kind of stunt involving fire and motorcycles or if I'd be attempting death-defying parkour tricks or if I'd be involved in a fight sequence with the show's cast. Just in case, I re-watched John Wick 3 on the plane to prepare myself.

    I met my two new coaches in the makeup room. They were trying to follow and memorize a 26-page guide to help achieve their character's final looks.

    Instagram: @spenceralthouse

    The costumes and makeup for R.U.N. were really, really intricate. Each actor had their own packet that included specific instructions and step-by-step pictures on how to apply their makeup and tattoos. Even though they worked with a professional makeup artist behind the scenes, each performer would be in charge of doing it themselves for the live shows.

    I needed to get into character before learning my first routine, so they handed me the makeup packet and a brush, and I was basically on my own.

    Instagram: @spenceralthouse

    It took me a long time to apply the makeup, and I only followed a few steps from the 26-page guide. I hadn't even started my physical training yet, but this was a huge reminder that there's so much going on behind the scenes that audience members don't even think about. Like, there's hours of time, effort, and preparation that go into each performance, whether they're spent on the makeup chair or practicing stunts or just warming up.

    I also spoke with the makeup designer, Nathalie, who was in charge of it all. She's worked with Cirque for 25 years and has created every look for the last 25 shows.

    Instagram: @spenceralthouse

    Nathalie's makeup room had hundreds of sketches and outlines that carefully detailed each character's appearance, all of which she designed from scratch.

    I got to wear one of the masks for the show, and it was surprisingly easy to put on. With TV and movies, actors are often in the makeup chair for hours at a time to get their makeup and prosthetics just right, but Nathalie created something that was so functional and practical that it only took us a few seconds put on.

    I re-grouped with my new trainers, Audrey and Gaetan, who were going to teach me one of the show's fight sequences.

    instagram.com, instagram.com

    My identical twin and I spent most of our childhoods play-fighting in the living room, pretending to be Power Rangers, so learning a proper routine with professionals got me super excited.

    We did a little warmup – some jogging, boxing moves, and ab exercises – to loosen up our bodies, and then we were ready to train like real-life action stars.

    Audrey and Gaetan demonstrated the routine for me, and then we partnered off to go through each step. I immediately realized how bad I was at stage combat. Here's a 30-second compilation of me messing up.

    Eric, my coworker, also trained with us. He's a legit actor, so he was totally in his element. I was so envious of him.

    Instagram: @spenceralthouse

    Eric has acted in popular plays, TV shows, and movies. He's a real performer and understands how to let go and get out of his own head. This made learning the routines and performing them in front of everyone super easy for him. I was genuinely proud of him, but the competitive side of me was a little jealous.

    My anxiety was through the roof. I kept thinking that I was wasting everyone's time because of how much I struggled to learn and perform the stunts. I had to keep reminding myself that I was working with professionals who've trained for years to master these skills, and I had only been doing it for an hour.

    After we had the basics down, we performed the fight sequences for R.U.N.'s stunt coordinator, Jean Frenette, so he could give us some last-minute tips.

    Instagram: @spenceralthouse

    Jean was a stunt coordinator and performer on hundreds of movies and TV shows, like Deadpool, 300, and Jack Ryan. Learning that info made my anxiety even worse (you'd think I'd be used to embarrassing myself in public by now).

    He watched me perform the routine with Audrey and then critiqued us. We talked about how the best actors were those who ~reacted~ to what was going on, something that's especially true for stunt performers. For instance, during the fight sequence I had to get punched in the stomach, and I originally reacted by spreading my arms out and flying back. In reality, I should've hunched over and grabbed my stomach. I really appreciated his feedback because I genuinely wanted to get better.

    Jean also talked about the importance of keeping enough distance between my partner and me, as well as always making eye contact. Actually, the only positive thing he said about my performance was that I was "a good-looking guy." Note to self: If someone critiques your work by complimenting you on something totally unrelated, that means you didn't do a good job.

    We were ready for our final battle. For this one, Eric and I had to fight each other. I was 100% stressed.

    Instagram: @spenceralthouse

    Jean had all of the R.U.N. actors circle around Eric and me to watch us fight. This was literally my worst nightmare. I had to take a breather and remind myself of the situation I was in, in hopes of calming myself down. Like, I was in Vegas and training with Cirque du Soleil. Who else can say they've done that? I didn't want my anxiety to ruin this experience, so I tried to get out of my head as much as possible. Somehow it kind of worked.

    I was so proud of Eric – he did so well that I was surprised Cirque didn't offer him a job on the spot – and I was also proud of myself.

    To watch the full R.U.N. routine and to get a behind-the-scenes look, you can watch our full BuzzFeed video here.

    BuzzFeed

    My behind-the-scenes look into these Cirque du Soleil shows was a great reminder that the performers are professionals. Even though they make everything look easy on stage that doesn't mean it's actually easy to do. They practice these skills for several hours every day, and then they perform the live shows on top of that, so comparing myself to them (or anyone else, for that matter), is kind of nonsensical.

    Also, it was really cool to see my progress in these challenges being represented as something other than a strict before-and-after photo. For my normal BuzzFeed fitness projects, I focus so much on gaining muscle or losing body fat, but celebrating my progress in other forms (like learning a new skill or routine) was super refreshing and gave me a new perspective on my fitness journey.

    If you want to keep up with the rest of my fitness journey and BuzzFeed challenges, you can follow me on Instagram @SpencerAlthouse.

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