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Loyola alumna put her ballet talents to the test to become an aerialist in the circus

On December 6, 2013

After graduation, Nicole Sanders, A'07, decided to pack her bags and join the circus.
Before Sanders could soar in to her circus career, she trained with San Francisco's Circus Center for nine months. Her dancing obsession began at age three, leading her to pursue a ballet minor at Loyola. She said she wasn't ready to retire her dancing shoes, so becoming an aerialist gave her another avenue of performing.
Sanders attributes her circus career to Loyola's ballet program. She said ballet took up the majority of her time, and she loved every second of it.
"I got to perform, which was great, and it helped solidify that I love performing. That's why I got into circus, to get one step further," Sanders said.
She said her first Loyola ballet performance was nerve wrecking, but the final result was "great."
"I stepped in for a girl that got sick with mono. I was pretty nervous, because I was doing a duo," Sanders said.
Sanders said being nervous is normal and thinks performers should start worrying if their nerves aren't kicking in. She said her motto is, "if you're not nervous, it's time to retire or give up." She believes being nervous before stepping out on stage is beneficial.
"It gives you awareness and makes you concentrate on what you're doing, which is essential in the circus because it can be dangerous," Sanders said.
Sanders is very conscious of potential injuries. Laura Zambrano, director of the Loyola ballet program, said Sanders struggled with knee injuries and had trouble with both of her ACLs.
Sanders said she took her knee problems in to consideration when Lorelei Ashe, Gravity Defying Fitness owner, suggested trying aerial preforming. Sanders said the only drawback was her lack of upper arm strength, but that could be fixed as opposed to her "bad knees." Sanders said she wouldn't have to worry about using her knees since she'd be in the air.
Sanders said she finally knew she wanted to pursue this as a career once Ashe introduced her to all the instructors at San Francisco's Circus Center. She moved to San Francisco and attended their professional program, but her knees put a dent in her plans when she tore her ACL.
"It was a rough road getting back because I couldn't do much. I was wondering if I should've given it up, but...this is my dream," Sanders said.
Sanders perseverance led her to perform in Peru for two months.
"It was great. I enjoyed getting to use my Spanish, and people in Peru love the circus," Sanders said.
Sanders said her most memorable moment was performing in a coliseum, during Peru's Independence Day.
"The entire coliseum was full. It was amazing, just walking out there and seeing all these people applauding for me," Sanders said.
Matthew Richardson attended circus school and performed with Sanders in Peru. He said their time together was filled with laughter.
"I would describe Nicole as the single-handedly most fun and hilarious girl I know," Richardson said.
Richardson said he remembers doing high-kicks to the overdramatic gladiator music and learning Burlesque choreography, but that one memory outshines the rest.
"One of the coolest moments was performing an acrobatic 80's dance/aerobic number with Nicole lip syncing to 'Two of Hearts' in front of a live audience for a week," Richardson said.
Performing in the circus wasn't all laughs. Richardson said they had a grueling schedule, performing up to three shows a day.
"We performed every day for a month with not a single day off, but we always had an amazing time together," Richardson said.
Sanders said that there are people who stereotype her career, but she believes Cirque de Soleil is diminishing those generalizations.
"Usually I get 'oh you're a carney' or 'you're a clown,'" Sanders said. "They are trying to be cheeky and cute, but some people are put off on it because the stereotype is that circus people are strange, weird, nomads or a freak show."
Sanders said that ballet has helped her with moving gracefully on the floor and in the air during her circus performances. She said she learned the importance of connecting with the audience.
Sanders said that Zambrano's strong ballet background has shaped her into a better dancer and performer.
"She always goes that extra mile in rehearsal," Sanders said. "She taught me about a strong work ethic and dedication, which is the key to success in circus."
Diana Mirfiq can be reached at 

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