Sandra - Talent Around The Block

You know these incredible athletes who climb very high and move on silks, hoops and even trapeze like it is the easiest thing on Earth? Well Sandra is one of them. Performer in Toronto and NYC, she will make you want to fly... (Tip: she teaches classes downtown To. Just saying.)

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Sandra Crljenica and I’m an aerial performer and teacher in Toronto.

With a background in music and theatre, what attracted you to learn the circus arts?

I had been a dancer for almost my entire life and when I had to stop due to injuries, I found myself looking for another athletic outlet. I was also a theatre major at York University at the time, and worked at Cirque du Soleil in the VIP tent and at Cirque Avaia in the box office as summer jobs. I really enjoyed the circus showmanship, talent, and fun atmosphere and thought how great it would be to actually do something like that. Starting back at school for my final year of undergrad, I saw a pamphlet for a circus school which I decided to take as a sign, and enrolled in a class. After my first class I was completely hooked and exhausted and knew that my life was going to go in an entirely new direction!

You specialize in aerial hoop and aerial silks; do you have a preference? Why?

I don’t really have a preference because I love both for different reasons. I love the silks because you can wrap them a thousand different ways, and literally manipulate them to do almost anything you want. I love the hoop because it can’t be manipulated and I have to find ways to move myself around the apparatus. With the silks you can do big drops, and with the hoop you can spin as fast or as slow as you want. The silks are softer to the touch but do require more strength, whereas I find the hoop easier when it comes to strength but much more painful as it’s made out of steel. There are many pros and cons to both but at least they are fun pros and cons!

What is a key skill an aerialist should have?

A key skill an aerialist should have is a never ending work ethic. You have to constantly be working to maintain the strength and stamina you already have, as well as the strength and stamina you want to have in the future. That means even when it’s raining, even when the TTC breaks down and is sorry for the inconvenience, even when there’s 4 feet of snow outside you have to get up and go train. When you’re sore, tired, feeling lazy, or would much rather order a pizza and eat it all to yourself in one sitting, you have to get yourself up and train. 

How does a typical day with you go?

To be honest, I don’t really have a typical day but do have a show day routine. I like to arrive on site at least an hour and a half or two hours before I’m scheduled to go on. My first priority is to get rigged up and make sure I know how I’m entering and exiting the venue. Next, I find doing make-up very intimidating and time consuming so I like to get that started as early as possible. Next, I like to do a good thorough stretch, put on my costume, and then go back and forth between dancing around the dressing room to high energy music and going over the choreography in my head while listening to the routine track. As I’m walking over to the apparatus and about to start my piece I always forget the choreography until the music starts, and then my muscle memory takes over and everything is fine. 

What was your most challenging performance?

Good question! Last year I had to the honour to join the Caravan Stage Company for the last six weeks of their New York tour as a replacement aerialist. Essentially, every week I learned a new routine and was added to the show. I think my most challenging performance came during my fifth week on tour when I had just learned the final routine and was going to perform all of them for the very first time. I was so nervous and excited to finally do them all, and kind of scared that I may not be able to make my way through the entire show because it was so physically demanding. On the bright side I did make it through, and it was hands down one of the proudest moments of my life.

What is your favorite moment when you are performing?

When performing, my favourite moment is hands down the gasping sounds the audience makes when I do the first drop of the routine! I absolutely love doing drops too, so I tend to try and fit in as many drops into a number as I can. To me there is nothing better than hearing the gasping of the audience at the beginning of a drop, followed by the laughter and applause from the audience at the safe ending of a drop. That’s how I know they’re really with me, that they’re enjoying the show, and living in the performance as much as I am.

What is your favorite move on the silks?

Oh, tricky! My favourite things to do on the silks are drops and if I had to pick a favourite, it would probably be what I call an egg drop. To do an egg drop you would have one leg hooked on the silks and the other leg has the silks wrapped around it so it kind of looks like a candy cane. From there I would pull myself up and over the hooked knee so I’m resting sideways on one hip and folded over like I’m trying to touch my toes. From there I fling myself backwards and basically end up sideways in a position similar to how I started. This sounds simple, but it scares people because it’s quick and you change directions while dropping. It’s soo much fun! 

What do you do when you are not performing?

When not performing I am usually training myself, teaching others, or working one of my many other jobs. Aerial aside, I enjoy training with weights, swimming, yoga, running, and rock climbing. I also work in special events ranging in everything from weekend festivals to big one off events such as Nuit Blanche. This summer I’ll be working the Pan Am and Parapan Am games for the City of Toronto, and I am very excited for that! Every week is a new adventure! If I’m not training, teaching, or working, chances are I’m eating.

Are there any other disciplines, circus related or not, that interest you?

I am interested in almost everything! I would most definitely love to learn more ground based disciplines, especially fire dancing, cyr wheel, stilt walking and parkour! Circus aside, I am fascinated by everything to do with psychology from reading body language to decoding the minds of criminals. I try to read at least one book a month and every month has a different topic. I also think knowing two languages would be such a great workout for the brain so I’m currently trying to teach myself Croatian. The key word in that sentence is trying.

What is your main career goal?

My main career goal is to perform all over the world. I know that sounds kind of simple and generic but it’s from the heart. I love to perform and I love to travel, and my goal in life is to make a career out of doing both! I want to perform a silk number while hanging from a crane in Australia, I want to do a triple trapeze number in the heart of downtown Toronto, I want to do aerial hoop on a cruise ship while sailing the Caribbean, I want to learn how to work the cyr wheel in France. Essentially, I want to go everywhere and learn everything :) 

What  advice would you give to a beginner in silks?

My best piece of advice to beginners in silks would be to never say “I can’t”. I actually have a rule in my classes where every time you say “I can’t” you stop what you’re doing and give me ten push-ups from your toes. Each and every time. Just try! You can say “I presently struggle with”, “this is hard”, “I need a second this is scary”, but never say “I can’t”. If you tell yourself you can’t do something you’ve already mentally given up, and your body is not going to go out of it’s way to prove you wrong. Even if it’s not graceful, even if your arms shake the entire time, and even if your attempt didn’t look exactly the same as your teacher’s demo at least you tried! Show up, try your very best, and chances are you’re capable of much more than you ever thought possible! 

Where can we find you?

I am all over the city! I’m usually training at Zero Gravity in the east end or teaching/creating at Hercinia Arts Collective in Liberty Village. I like to go for runs in High Park or along Bathurst Street to Union Station. I’m a big fan of Snakes and Lattes and walking along Queen Street West with a frozen yogurt to go window shopping in the summer.

If Toronto was a person, what kind would it be?

If Toronto was a person I think it would be the kid that is so cool and curious and has soo many interests it takes a different type of camp every week in the summer. One week it’s dance camp, one week it’s math camp, one week it’s soccer camp, etc. and gets the most of out each.

Last word for the road?

Go big or go home :)

Read more about Sandra on her website! Interested in taking aerial classes? She teaches at Hercinia Arts, in Liberty Village.


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