Behind the scenes training for professional circus performers

Posted in Media Releases & Latest Coverage

on March 9th, 2016

A warm up jog of 2 kms, skipping, jumping, 75 squats, 50 pull ups, 50 sit ups and enough push ups until he can’t feel his arms – and that is only the first hour of Phelelani Ndakrokra’s daily training routine to keep fit at Zip Zap Circus School.

While most people are amazed by impressive circus acts, few realise just how much hard work goes into preparing one’s body to perform so effortlessly. Hours and hours of daily, weekly and monthly training culminates into a few minutes of awe inspiring movements that keep audiences coming back for more. “Hours are spent training for a couple of minutes in front of the audience; the payoff is when you’re in the air for those ten minutes entertaining the crowd. Their gasps of sheer enjoyment and applause make all the bruises, bumps and long hours training worth it,” says Ndakrokra.
Twenty-year-old Ndakrokra is one of Zip Zap Circus School’s professional performers and trainers who must be in top condition for the corporate and public shows put on throughout the year. These shows are a small fundraising tool for the Non-Profit Organisation which teaches circus skills at no cost to children from high risk communities, offering them an opportunity to dare to dream and make their dreams a reality. “Our professionals are a source of inspiration for the youngsters at Zip Zap,” says van Brent van Rensburg, co-founder of Zip Zap Circus School.
Ndakrokra’s daily warm up is followed by over an hour of intense training on one of his two speciality acts; the Cyr wheel and straps, both of which require extreme upper body strength. “I don’t need to do weights in a gym, I just hang on the straps with my hands above my head, then I pull my body up all the way until my hands are beside my hips – up and down at least ten times,” he says, explaining how he prepares before practicing even more complicated acts.
The diet of circus performers varies substantially, depending on body type and specialisation. For Sabine van Rensburg who grew up at Zip Zap and is currently studying a Bachelor’s Degree in Circus Arts at the National Circus School of Montreal, in Canada, it’s all about giving herself enough fuel to perform at her peak. “If my calorie intake is lower than what I’m burning then there is no way I can get through a day of training,” she says. Van Rensburg’s speciality is the scarf, also known as tissue. Hours of “high impact” training every week require her to “stay tight and focussed” while holding onto the scarf 12 meters above the stage. An hour long handstand class three times a week is another small part of her training routine to strengthen muscles in her wrists, arms and upper body.