We’re at the halfway point of 2020…congratulations. If you’re reading this right now, you likely need an escape from the circus that is 2020.
I’m not going to rehash the excitement from the first half of the year, or speculate about which inconceivable acts we’ll see next. Instead, I’d like us to share an intermission together—to stretch our legs and get some air.
I’m going to talk about a different circus that changed my life, positively and permanently. Perhaps you’ll relate to it in some small way, and it will help you figure out how to execute your balancing act.
On my thirteenth birthday, my dad took me on a 40-minute drive to the beach. Sunset was slowly approaching and I had no idea why he was taking me there at the strange time of the day. He told me to hurry up and put on a pretty dress, or we’re gonna be late.
When you’re thirteen, you still mostly do what you’re told. Plus, childish curiosity was more dominant than playing the sullen teenager at that point. I felt giddy about my birthday surprise. But, of course, I played it cool in front of my dad.
I sighed and shifted throughout the car ride, listening to whatever music he wanted to play on the radio, rolling my eyes behind my sunglasses as my dad sang.
I saw Santa Monica Pier looming in the distance. As always, it seemed out of place next to the Pacific Ocean with its rickety Ferris wheel, tattered flags, faded signs, and the dingy white roller coaster that moved at a snail’s pace.
In the sand beside the pier was something I had never seen before…a circus tent.
When my dad pulled into the parking lot, I realized with great disappointment that we were going to the fucking circus. This confirmed the fact that my dad still saw me as his little girl, rather than the woman I yearned to become.
I dragged my high-heeled sandals all the way through the sandy-covered parking lot toward the blue and yellow circus tent. I wanted to sit in the sand and watch the sunset, not sit inside some stuffy tent that reeked of overly buttered popcorn and the collective sweat from excitable children.
“This isn’t like any circus you’ve ever seen before, Brittney,” my dad said to me at the entrance.
The sullen teenager had fully taken over and I rolled my eyes. “Sure, Dad.”
I wasn’t prepared for the magic of that evening when I saw my first Cirque du Soleil show, Alegria. There was no way for me to have known anything about it way back when I was thirteen, because Cirque was new. Alegria had just opened in 1994.
I loved every magical moment, which was made all the more magical by being in a circus tent while the sun eased into the ocean horizon just outside. I knew enough French from ballet class to translate the name Cirque du Soleil to Circus of the Sun. That evening I could have been the sun, I felt so warm and full of life.
My body wanted to explode when I saw these talented humans come together to test their physical limits, tell stories through music and movement, and share a cutting-edge art form with everyday people.
Dad nailed it. What an incredible experience we shared for my thirteenth birthday. I realized he understood me, the woman I yearned to become.
I’ve seen several Cirque du Soleil shows over the years, all now with my husband. In addition to my thirteenth birthday, I saw two of these shows to celebrate other major life milestones.
In 2005, when me and Mr. H got married in Las Vegas, we saw Ka with my dad. In 2017, we saw Kurios at a tent show in Portland. This was my last day at my job—I finally left my salaried job so we could run our business together full-time.
Mr. H and I were supposed to see the remade version of Alegria in Chicago this month. But, Cirque du Soleil canceled all of its shows. Instead, I did my best with a replacement last week. I curled up on the couch and watched the old Alegria, the same show I saw on my thirteenth birthday, on my TV. I cried through most of it.
My heart goes out to all of the performers in the world who have lost their livelihood. I have thought often about the people at Cirque du Soleil and my many artist friends who have tirelessly created and rehearsed shows that never opened.
There are so many unknowns for all of these artists. I know just how dedicated they are to their craft. Art is a part of them. And they will find a way to keep creating and sharing their creativity.
Maybe Cirque du Soleil and performance doesn’t impact you like it does me. Maybe it’s sports or taking classes or some other communal activity that was canceled. For all of us…life has felt like a circus this year.
We can spin out of control, get lost in the dizzying lights, lose our balance and fall. We can feel powerless and humiliated, like we’re trapped in a cage. Or, we can connect with the magic that got us this far in life and hang onto it.