From a young age, we've been told to reach for the sky. Well, one woman took that advice seriously, and has reached new limits by joining one of the most influential performance groups in the world. Dealing with a frantic work schedule and relentless training isn't easy for most, but Naomi Zimmerman, a Cirque du Soleil performer, hasn't let any of those obstacles stop her from doing what she loves most.
Zimmerman, 26, performs as an acrobat and dancer in the Cirque du Soleil show Luzia, a tribute to Mexican culture that highlights elements of light and water, combining the Spanish words for both to form the name. In the show, Zimmerman performs an Adagio act, or sort of acrobatic version of a dance number, accompanied by three male partners who toss her in the air or swoop her in dizzying loops to peaceful music. It's reminiscent of the death-defying tosses of a high level cheerleading competition — but so much more artistic.
I just thought, 'You know what? That's what I want to do. There's no question about it.'
When you're in the audience, Cirque du Soleil performers make those twists, turns, flips, and other tricks look effortless. Well, that's a part of the job. Little do most of us know that it takes hours of training and practice in order to make these performances come to life. For Zimmermann, her training started at an early age, by getting involved in gymnastics when she was only 5 years old. Through gymnastics classes, she discovered her love for acrobatics and decided to attend a circus school at 8 years old to push herself even further.
"At the beginning I wasn't sure because I'm a little bit shy, but people were so welcoming and it was very acrobatics orientated, and I really loved it," Zimmermann tells Elite Daily in an interview.
Zimmermann's love of acrobatics might have been what started her journey, but once she realized she could make a career out of the activity, she was all in. "I discovered that people were actually making this their job," Zimmermann says. "So I just thought, 'You know what? That's what I want to do. There's no question about it.'"
Once she decided she wanted to make a career out of acrobatics, Zimmermann auditioned in 2010 for professional circus school École Nationale de Cirque in Montréal, Canada, and was accepted. Three years later, Zimmermann was able to audition for Cirque du Soleil immediately thanks to her school's association with the famous performance company. However, when Zimmermann first auditioned, she was told that there was no place available at the time — and didn't land the job.
"They told me they would contact me when they found a spot for me or need someone who fits my skill set," Zimmermann says. "So, I decided to perform in another show in Mexico."
When she didn't make the cut for Cirque du Soleil the first time, Zimmermann could have given up. Instead, she continued to perform in other shows until she was contacted by the company nearly three years later in 2016. Zimmermann was asked to perform in Cirque du Soleil's show Luzia and accepted the role.
I can throw myself a little bit harder because I know there's three people to catch me, and I love them.
As an official Cirque du Soleil performer, Zimmermann definitely does not have the standard 9-to-5 job. She starts her day by attending a yoga or fitness class to wake up her muscles, and then heads to training in the afternoon. During training, performers practice tricks that need more development, or work on new tricks being incorporated into the show. Even though Zimmermann isn't a stranger to perfecting her moves, the preparation is rigorous. As an audience member, one might think that these performers only have to put their game faces on a few nights a week, but in reality, it's hours of hard work. The show puts on some eight to 10 shows a week, spending four to 12 weeks in a city before moving on.
"Our work is pretty rigorous," Zimmermann says. "We have to train all day and on our own time, so I don't think people always realize how much work goes into this show." Performers get about eight months of training for a new show before it goes on the road.
One of the things Zimmerman loves most about her act is the creative aspect. "The work that I do in my act is something very different and something we created," Zimmermann says. "It's something that's never been done before, so that's what I love about my act."
Of course, performing in the air can be stressful, and relies a lot on trusting your partners. Luckily for Zimmermann, she's developed close friendships with her fellow performers and knows they have her back. "I can throw myself a little bit harder because I know there's three people to catch me, and I love them," Zimmermann says.
As an artist, never be scared of being different.
One of the best perks for Zimmermann is the traveling. While Cirque du Soleil has some 20 shows in active performances at any given time, some of them are limited to one location while others move around. Her show, Luzia, tours in countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom, and Russia. For some, international flights can be draining, but for Zimmermann, it's an exciting perk. "The aspect that I love the most is the travel," Zimmermann says. "Traveling with with this big family that I get to work with every day is really nice."
Zimmermann may be filling up her passport, but spending so much time on the road definitely takes away from family. However, Zimmermann is grateful that her family recognized her talent from a young age and has supported her throughout the entire process.
"My family has always been very supportive," Zimmermann says. "They saw my talent and the potential I had when I was young. I was very lucky in that department. I don't see my family very often since I'm traveling, but they've come to see me perform in certain cities."
Zimmermann's resilience is proof that no one should give up even if things don't initially work out. As long as someone is unique and unafraid, Zimmermann is sure that hard work will pay off.
"First of all, as an artist, never be scared of being different," Zimmermann advises. "The more unique you are, the more interesting you'll be. People will be drawn towards your work."
Not all of us can be circus performers, but Zimmermann's talent is something she's taken to new heights — literally.