Aiming for the Big Top!

- October 8, 2021 -

WORDS: Sheri Roca
PICTURES: Whitney Patton

Come one, come all and see The Amazing Emilie Bergbom flying high! Emilie is a nine-year-old Aerial Acrobat with her sights set on the Circus. And, where else but the home of the Ringling legacy, the land of big tops and big cats, would you see elementary school children dangling from great heights?  

For over three years, Emilie has been training at South Florida Gymnastics and Cheer (and apparently Circus) in Bradenton. She began as a gymnast at the school but was always attracted to the circus training. When she finally participated in one of the circus clinics, she knew that she had found a new obsession.  

Emilie dreams of pursuing the Circus long-term. She is currently on Pre-team at South Florida Gym and is working hard on honing specific skills in hopes that she will be invited to join their performance team, Circus Minius. The requirements to join the team are to show skill and proficiency in both ground and aerial art. The way she is going, it could happen soon.  

She and her team-mates practice two to three times a week, not to mention the many hours she practices the dance and acro portions at home. According to her mother, Casey, Emilie is ALWAYS practicing! Santa even brought Emilie her own Lyra one Christmas. Still, the family decided the danger factor was a bit high, having one at home, so it now hangs at South Florida Gym, where professional coaches and spotters are on hand. 

Tim Hernandez is the Founder and Director of Circus Minius at South Florida Gym and Cheer and has been offering recreational Circus classes for kids ages seven to 17 for more than nine years. With the support of Assistant Director Christine Warren, they offer training in juggling, riding a unicycle, and a variety of aerial apparatuses like the Trapeze, Tightrope, the Web, Silks, and Emilie’s favorite, the Lyra.  

The Lyra, in case you are rusty on your aerialist lingo, is a circular steel hoop, resembling a Hula Hoop, suspended from the ceiling, on which circus artists perform. The hoop can remain static during a performance, be it spinning or even swinging, while the Aerialist performs tricks such as the Candlestick, Birds nest, and the Crescent Moon. 

For Emilie’s ground performance, she is working on a Poi routine. Poi, which originated with the Māori people of New Zealand, refers to both the style of performing art and the equipment used. Poi involves swinging wands with weights or scarves through a variety of rhythmic patterns. The artist can also sing or dance while swinging their poi. The poi itself can be made from various materials to include different handles, weights, and effects. Poi can even be performed with fire. Hopefully, it will be a while before Emilie attempts that act!  

When asked if she was ever scared while practicing or performing, Emilie replied, “It used to be a little scary, but now it’s just fun!”. When I asked Emilie’s Mother if SHE was ever scared, she laughed and said, “Well, she has never been hurt, she has fallen, but she just kind of bounces. She is not the child that ever really cried when she fell, she bounces right back up and tries again.”  

While watching Emilie at practice, I witnessed this myself. After a fall from the Lyra during a stunt, she popped up and stated, “Whoops! Hand slipped!” And then, she pulled herself back up on the hoop. Thankfully, it was only about three or four feet off the ground at the time. 

For her elementary school talent show, Emilie was hoping to showcase her Lyra act. Unfortunately, her school wasn’t sure if having a 4th grader perform a dangerous act, on stage, in front of the entire school, was a great idea. So, Emilie recorded her routine and amazed her friends and teachers with the documented version at the show.  

Behind every good performer is a great coach, and Coach Tim Hernandez has all the qualifications. First, the kids just adore him. But, more importantly, Tim was practically born into the Circus, performing with his family, the Hernandez Family Troupe, since he was a child. Tim is a world-class Juggler and Aerialist. He and his family have performed with a number of Circuses, including The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.  

The Hernandez family’s claim to fame was the Teeter Board or Springboard act. You have probably seen the death-defying act in which one member of a Troupe stands on the low side of a board, resembling a playground seesaw, waiting to be catapulted into the air by another. The flyer may perform somersaults or land on a human tower or pyramid. The top flyer may even be catapulted onto a chair! 

Assistant Director Christine Warren didn’t always dream of joining the Circus. In fact, she is a Dental Hygienist with a daughter who has the circus bug. Christine started by being the helpful Mom when needed, and she learned and studied and began to “soak up anything and everything I could about the circus.” And, eventually, she was offered a job.  

Today, you can find Christine setting up rigging, designing costumes, and choreographing routines. Or you may even find her on the flying trapeze. At age 43, Christine was caught on the flying trapeze for the first time. “I just love it! The kids inspire me, and Tim is super charismatic and taught me everything I know.” Says Christine about her second job and newfound adventure. 

Emilie’s nickname, Peanut, I assumed was given to her by her coaches or teammates because of her tiny stature, but that is not the case. According to Christine, one day, when Emilie first started with the Circus pre-team, she decided to give everyone on the team a nickname inspired by food.  

There is now a Toast, a Sprinkles, and an Avocado on the team, just to name a few. And she gave herself the name Peanut. “I don’t know why,” said Christine, “She just has a big personality and a big sense of humor. She is sweet and spunky and full of life”. 

Emilie is clearly meant for the stage and limitless shimmering sequins. Her family and friends describe her as outgoing, funny, daring, highly energetic, super friendly, showy, and having a never-ending positive attitude. You can often hear her say, “I got this!” That sounds like the perfect combination for a circus performer! 

If you too have a child who is reaching for the stars and dreaming of the colors, flavors, and excitement of joining the Circus, not only does South Florida Gym host one of Sarasota’s largest circus performance teams, Circus Minius, but they also offer open Circus Clinics every Saturday, as well as recreational classes during the week. 

However, if being a spectator closer to the ground is more to your liking, Circus Minius hosts three shows a year, a spring performance, a Halloween performance, and a Holiday showcase that will surely amaze and entertain you. 

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