Chicago Week 9 : Emotional Endurance

Week 9 was our second lab week, during which the guest instructor, George Orange, took over all our afternoon classes.

George is a clown.

If you know me, you know I’m pretty much a clown in daily life. But you may not know that I aspire to bring that element into my circus persona. Clowny Silks. It’s a thing. Or rather, I’m making it a thing.

Our week started by George explaining that while we have many other coaches working on our physical endurance and skillset, he would be working on our emotional endurance. We practiced being vulnerable a LOT.

Each afternoon started with some movement and games followed by a little bit of miming. Then we moved on to dancing with a partner as if we were totally in love and in sync. But then George would have us check in with ourselves. Were we getting bored with our dance partner? Was the style working? Did someone else’s style seem more appealing?

And then we would switch around partners. I found it interesting to see how my own dance style changed depending on my partners, as well as watching other people adjust to different partners.

Literally the only picture I took last week. But hey, new record!

Literally the only picture I took last week.
But hey, new record!

For one exercise, we stared into our partners’ eyes while George narrated the reunion of long lost lovers. The goal was to convey emotion clearly through only facial expressions. Like the dancing, it was fascinating to see how different pairings interacted. Certain pairs couldn’t stop giggling. Others nearly cried.

We practiced entering the room, connecting with the audience, standing on stage, telling a terrible joke, then leaving. The concept was to embrace “Mr. Flop” and to save the performance.

If you don’t know Mr. Flop, imagine standing on stage while there are crickets and blank faces in the audience. THAT’S Mr. Flop…and it’s terrifying.

We did a similar exercise where we came on stage, said, “My name is ____, and I do this.” And then we did stupid human tricks, trying to keep the audience engaged for as long as possible. I ended up bruising my fingers from my strange clown act, but my brain was (and still is) reeling from all the potential.

Until next time, which will probably cover 2 weeks since I’m a week behind…whoops. XD

Chicago Week 8 : The Circus-ing Dead

Last Saturday, I woke up rearing to go. I showered, dried my hair, put on makeup. I stripped the bed and loaded my car up with two huge loads of laundry and had my grocery list all ready to go. I was full of motivation to get all the things done!

And then my car didn’t start.


I’m not saying that having my car towed to the shop set the tone for the week…but it totally did. My Monday started with a call about all things wrong with my car, and the $2000 it was going to cost to fix it. But somehow, despite my frustration and stress, I managed to have a really successful handstand semi-private, followed by a fun rope class where we learned a drop! And in case you didn’t know…I love drops. Monday afternoon, we ran our monologues in costume. A decent day, all things considered.

And then Tuesday happened. All 8 of us missed at least a day last week as we passed around an illness that while rather short-lived, made us all miserable, exhausted, and congested. It hit most of us (including myself) on Tuesday, such that by the end of the day, only 2 remained.

Wednesday was still pretty rough. Our handstand class ended up being stretching and ab conditioning since no one wanted to go upside down. Morning open training times involved a lot of laying on mats. Thursday and Friday were much the same.

Which is all sounding rather negative, so here is a list of some positive things:

  1. Successful Handstand Semi-Private
  2. Rope drop!
  3. Funny Costumes
  4. I’m getting better at juggling while laying down
  5. Acro Juggling!
  6. My legs are catching on to ballet…arms are next
  7. I started learning how to run the trampoline wall. FUN!
  8. I saved 15% by switching to Geico
  9. Just kidding. I am going to save some money on my car though by taking it elsewhere for some of the repairs this weekend. At this point it’s just a necessary pain in my ass, but I have a functioning car again!
Zombie Mackenzie lurks below as I do a neck hang on sling

Zombie Mackenzie lurks below as I do a neck hang on sling

Three weeks ago, Shayna (our program director) announced that Aloft would be hosting a Halloween Party. It was rather last minute and a little chaotic getting everything together, but once all was said and done, Aloft put on a pretty rad party with some spectacular performances.

The full-timers did a spooky “dance”…or should I say performance art? Anyway, we were all in hospital gowns and covered in ghoulish makeup and fake blood. We stalked from room to room, banged on walls, screeched, swatted at imaginary flies (Bees?), and ended with a chorus of screaming.

When we weren’t “dancing,” the trampoline-inclined full-timers did spooky bounces (trampoline/wall) and the aerialists hung-about in slings. I can’t even begin to explain everything else that was going on, so if you’re in Chicago next year around Halloween, this is going to be an annual event, and you should check it out.

Next time in Blog-Land, I’ll be talking about our 2nd Lab week, this time hosted by George Orange. He’s a clown. I’m super pumped!

Chicago Week 7: The Engagement Story and Physical Theater

I got engaged last weekend. Say whaaaatttt?! Much like my last post, if you’re only reading for circus shit, skip down to the Circus Talk. Otherwise, buckle up for the engagement story.


Last weekend, Paul and I met in La Crosse, Wisconsin because it's the halfway point between Chicago and Sioux Falls. It was a cold, rainy day, so we did an escape room. Alas, we did not escape, but it was still fun. Then we ate at a hibachi place (my favorite). At one point during dinner, Paul asked if I had brought an umbrella. “I thought we might like to go on a walk later.” (Subtle. Very subtle. :P)

But it was cold, and we ditched that idea so I could do my laundry at the hotel, and we watched an episode of Breaking Bad. After an episode, but before it was time to get my laundry from the dryer, we were just killing time cuddling and talking. I said something along the lines of "I want to be with you forever," at which point Paul asked, “do you mean it?” and then he pulled out the ring. He said a few mushy things (I’ll spare the details) and asked, “will you marry me?” I cried. Oh yeah, and I said yes.

We’ve had quite the year, especially the last several months. I ruptured a huge ovarian cyst the day I was supposed to move to Chicago for circus school (which I’d only had 2 weeks to prep for anyway). Paul recently started new job and locked down several freelance projects. He also inherited my cat and my roommate, Samara. And that’s just since September.

Life has been chaotic, but I couldn’t imagine a better partner through all of it. Paul has been my rock, and I know we will continue kicking ass together. Forever.

Alright. Mushy time is over. Let’s talk Circus.

On Mondays we have our Physical Theater class in the afternoon for 3 hours. Now, what exactly does that entail?

Good question. There's really no short answer. We often have an active part of class including games like foursquare. But since we are circus folk, it tends to get weird.

Our theater coach, Adrian, encourages us to take note of our reactions, both physical and verbal, in the games we play. And since we are circus people, we tend to feel more comfortable with the physical reactions.

So naturally, we spent the last 3 weeks on verbal - monologues to be exact. But not just any monologues. Each of us wrote a story from our past. They are all wildly different, ranging from a 5-year-old taking home 2 kittens to someone finding out their dad had died.

We swapped stories and have been making them our own by making choices about what we, the performers, want from the audience.

For example, the monologue I am working on is about having a crush on a dance teacher, working extra hard to impress him, then failing miserably during the performance. Each section could have a different want. During the first section as I describe the dance and the instructor, I want to be seen as shallow - maybe a little trashy. Then as the character fails, the trashiness and shallowness falls away, and I want the audience to pity me.

I could choose to be shallow the whole time, but that makes for a flat character. The more desires and choices, the more interesting the piece becomes. So those are two big wants, but it can even be done on a smaller scale. It could be the difference between two words, "SO neutral."

Why does this matter?

Transitions make or break an act. But what does that MEAN? Even the smoothest transitions and the best tricks can combine to make a boring act if there are no choices, no desires. You don't have to have a story, you don't have to be a character, but your act should make sense.

So that's what I'm working on, and my brain is reeling from so many ideas. I probably spent more time on silks this week than I have in the previous 6 weeks. It feels good to be back in the air. Here's to hoping for more inspired weeks like this one!

Chicago Weeks 5 & 6: Family Visit and Goals

Week 5 beat me up.

I’m recognizing the importance of rest days. As it turns out, if I’m out and about too much on the weekends, I turn into a cranky monster by Tuesday.

I handstand at navy pier, while my brother's afro majestically blows in the wind

I handstand at navy pier, while my brother's afro majestically blows in the wind

I DID enjoy however, getting to see my mom and brother! If you’re only reading for Circus shit, skip down to the Circus Talk section, otherwise prepare yourself for a bunch of Chicago recommendations and a play by play of my time with my family.

On Saturday, we checked out Jam for breakfast and then walked to Aloft so I could show them where all the magic happens. After naps (them) and laundry (me), they checked in to their Air B and B.

Then, we headed to iO Theater where we had dinner and saw Whirled News Tonight, an improv show. I’d definitely recommend any of the shows at iO if you’re looking for (relatively) inexpensive entertainment in town. During the show, Charlie and I had second dinners. Turns out circus school creates an appetite that can rival a teenage boy that already has over 60 lbs on you…

Sunday, we trekked to the grocery store, ate a quick bite at the Air B&B, then headed to Navy Pier and acted like tourists. We even recreated a picture on the ferris wheel from 10 years ago - check it out in the slideshow below! We ate at Weber Grill, then headed back to Logan Square for card games (I kicked their butts) and more food.

Mom and Charlie visited Aloft for lunch, and once I was done with school, I got a home cooked meal! Mom had intended to use whatever leftover pork tenderloin we didn’t eat go into Tuesday’s dinner, but there were no leftovers…no matter. She bought more and we scarfed down Sweet and Sour Pork before heading to Cadillac Palace Theater Tuesday evening to see Motown the Musical.

Random side note: I read The Boxcar Children when I was little, and I distinctly recall thinking that the books would be half as long if you cut out all the descriptions of food. I mean, it makes sense given that food is vital and they were hungry. So now that I'm a bottomless pit from all the training, I'm worried my blog, like my life, is permeated by food.

All right. Let's talk Circus.

On Fridays, the full-timers discuss goals. Every other week, each person shares their progress and updates the group on new goals. The goals vary in discipline and duration. For example, a 2 week goal of mine might be to get 10 catches of a new juggling pattern, while a 6 month goal of mine is to hold a 1-minute straight handstand.

When it comes to goals, the more concrete, the better. I know this has been repeated in so many books and articles about productivity, but it's worth repeating:

You are far more likely to achieve your goals if they are broken down into measurable, smaller goals.

So for example, "lose weight" might be the goal. But "lose 5 pounds by November 19th by controlling portion sizes and cutting out soda" is a far more concrete goal with something that can be done every day. When we discuss goals at school, we make sure to not only state the goals, but what we are doing in order to meet them. It's also a time when the group can check out form or offer any suggestions that might help.

I LOVE this accountability. Pssst...I'm brainstorming ways to bring this back to Cirque Dakota next Summer. Students, shoot me a message if you would be interested!

More of my goals:

  1. Run 3 miles in under 30 minutes
  2. Get 2 rollups consistently on straps/silks
  3. Straight handstand for 1 minute
  4. Get 10 catches on 10 juggling patterns by Thanksgiving break
  5. Get a front walkover

Balancing all the goals can be challenging, so I'm trying not to have too many. Or rather to focus on a few at a time, since I can only do so many handstands before my forearms scream, so many rollups before my bruised biceps force me to stop, and so much running before I render myself useless for the week. So it's nice to have goals in each discipline so I can rotate my focus depending on what hurts.

It's all about finding the balance. Pun intended.

Coming up next week: Paul and I got engaged (SPOILER) and I discuss what we've been doing in physical theater.

Chicago Week 4: Every Day Is Ab Day

I’m back at full capacity! The 3 week period of sitting out as outlined by my doctor is over. I can tumble, do acro, and wheel down on fabric again…woohoo!

Week 4 was our first “lab week”. Each month, we have a guest instructor come in and take over all our afternoon classes for the week. Joe Pinzon had us evaluate our goals and motivations through movement exercises and daily discussion. For one of the exercises, we danced around the room with minimal instruction, a common occurrence at auditions. Then Joe would call out things like:

“Divide by 2!”
“Clouds are coming in”
“You and your lover decide it’s worth it”

And we would interpret as best we could to convey the direction through dance and movement.

In our daily discussions, Joe was very candid about the circus industry. Act creation, business, performance, money... all that fun stuff. It was very enlightening.

And of course, we worked out every day in addition to our 9 AM conditioning. Since Joe specializes in aerial fabric, we climbed and inverted a lot, then ended with ab work on the floor. After a month of taking it easy on my core, it only makes sense that this was the week of the abdominals.

An example of an ab exercise: Oblique Crunches on Fabric. Instructions: Hook inside leg, wrap 2 times (or more if you have slippery pants), toes together, and crunch up sideways, trying to get the elbow behind your knee. 10x each side

An example of an ab exercise: Oblique Crunches on Fabric.
Instructions: Hook inside leg, wrap 2 times (or more if you have slippery pants), toes together, and crunch up sideways, trying to get the elbow behind your knee.
10x each side

Joe also led us in an hour of stretching at the end of each day. Much of it was similar to what we do in Cirque Dakota flexibility classes, but I’ll definitely have a few torturous stretches to bring back. MUAHAHAHA....

(Sorry students, you’ll hate them, but you’ll thank me later.)

Week 4 was the perfect blend of skill/strength development and industry discussion. It very much solidified one thing:

I’m exactly where I need to be right now.


Next week I’ll be talking about goals and I'll hopefully have more than 3 pictures, but for now I’ve got to go spend some time with Mom and Charlie (my little brother) who are visiting for a few days!

Chicago Week 3 : Every Day Is Leg Day

I ran 3 miles on Tuesday. In a row. For the first time. Ever.
And I did it in 34 minutes.
In the rain.


Mind you, this was after Monday’s classes which involved over 100 lunges and quite a few burpees. It was also after walking 5 miles Monday night. I was headed to the post office, and thought walking would be easier since I hate traffic and parallel parking. Turns out I needed to FedEx the package and ended up driving anyway. Sigh.

Side note: I DESPISE sending mail. Consider yourself lucky if you’ve ever gotten snail mail from me. I hand delivered a Mother’s Day card 2 months late rather than mail it. And I still have postcards from April I’ve been meaning to send. Anyway…


Wednesday involved some brutal leg conditioning first thing in the morning. Followed by a static trapeze class. But of course, I couldn’t do hip balances because of my ovaries (LAST WEEK SITTING OUT OF STUFF!) so I hung from my knees when I wasn’t hanging from my hands.

Single knee hangs = hamstring and glutes

Thursday morning, my legs crumpled underneath me as soon as I jumped down from my (lofted) bed. I managed to get through a silk class, but was pretty much useless the rest of the day. My hamstrings and calves were incredibly tight, and I’d had a restless night. I almost fell asleep in ballet class. While doing ballet. It was a rough day.

But by Friday, my legs were feeling usable again. So what did I do during open gym?

Yep. I ran 3 miles.
In 33 minutes 20 seconds.

Y’all. I hate cardio. I hate running. But I know I need the endurance, and I know I need to strengthen my lower body.

So I downloaded a neat app called Endomondo to track my runs. It also connects to Spotify and selects songs that match your pace. Even though I’m dreading all these runs, I’m excited to see my progress over the next 9 months. If you’re interested in tracking your runs (or walks) check it out.

Maybe I’ll even start to like running one day…HA!

Chicago Week 2

At the beautiful Theater on the Lake, where I would have done a handstand if I wasn't injured. (Week 1)

At the beautiful Theater on the Lake, where I would have done a handstand if I wasn't injured. (Week 1)

I have officially been here for 2 weeks, and my recovery post-ovarian cyst rupture is going well! Last Tuesday, the first day of classes, I could hardly walk, but I was determined to at least be present. By that Thursday, I was almost completely pain free, and participated in a gig at the newly renovated Theater on the Lake where the mayor spoke. I sat (and sometimes stood) on a swing and looked pretty for 30 minutes while the other full-timers hung about on lyras.

Though my class participation was quite limited in week 1, I did some light conditioning and stretching. On Monday of this past week, I was cleared to do low impact things, and slowly eased back into using my abdominals. I’ve participated in juggling, dance (ballet), physical theater, cardio (3-mile runs on the horizon, but I power walk for now), handstands, rope, straps, silks (to a degree), and stretching.

Still a week or so away from being able to run, tumble, do acro, trampoline, teeterboard, or anything that places pressure on my abdomen. Not that I have any pain, it’s just still a bit scary and intimidating.

The program is at Aloft Circus Arts, a beautiful old church in Logan Square. It’s a short walk from where I’m living: a 5 bed, 1 bath house across the street from Palmer Park. All the people in the program and Palmer house have been great, and I definitely feel like I belong in this crazy circus community.

Last weekend I had my first visitor, Lindsey. She almost forgot I had moved here and left without seeing me, but thankfully I saw her snapchats! Lindsey helped me meal prep, and we walked to a lunch spot.

If you’re ever coming through Chicago, let me know!

This weekend, I saw Acrobatica Infiniti with Sarah, another full-timer. Yesterday, I spent most of the day working in a coffee shop. I’m currently at a laundromat and thinking this will be a Sunday tradition. There’s coin laundry in the basement should I need it in a pinch, but the washers are bigger, faster, and overall cheaper here at the laundromat. Other Sunday plans include grocery shopping, meal prep, and working.

If you’ve made it this far, congrats! I’ll try to keep posting regularly about my Chicago adventures, though I doubt they’ll all be this long or detailed. I don’t have a whole lot of time outside school, work, eating, and sleeping. But I’m loving every minute. :)

And lastly, if you feel so inclined, I'm still in need of financial assistance. My apartment in Sioux Falls has still not been subleased, and I am paying rent in 2 places, as well as expecting an astronomical hospital bill soon. Every bit helps.