April 15, 2023

Athletic Therapists at Work: Cirque du Soleil

To see humans push themselves to limits you didn’t think possible, you may want to purchase a ticket to see the Cirque du Soleil. Founded in Quebec in 1984, Cirque du Soleil has become a global sensation featuring larger-than-life, jaw-dropping performances.

Without a doubt, Cirque du Soleil performers challenge our ideas of how the human body can move, twist, contort, jump, and spin by putting on an artistic display of athleticism. Cirque du Soleil performers don’t always fit into the traditional idea of what an athlete looks like, but the way they train and push their bodies puts them up there with some of the most elite athletes in the world.

We spoke to Certified Athletic Therapist Angie West from Cirque du Soleil to get a behind-the-scenes look at working with these performers.

Becoming a CAT(C)

Growing up in the United States, Angie saw her brothers get lots of football injuries such as concussions, where they would be referred to a physiotherapist. Angie found the treatment they received to get back on the field to be quite interesting; this began her pursuit to study physical therapy at university. When she began her studies, Angie quickly realized she wanted to be specific in her area of expertise: working on the active population and focusing on the musculoskeletal system in the field of athletic therapy. Angie started as an Athletic Trainer in the United States and certified in 2006, before moving to Canada and becoming certified with CATA in 2018.

Before Cirque Du Soleil

Out of her undergrad, Angie decided to go back to school for a Master's Degree in Athletic Training. She was unsure at that time of what she wanted to do, so she went to work at a high school to explore the possibility of becoming a teacher or a researcher. Angie discovered this wasn’t for her but gained a huge appreciation for people working in those fields. Following this experience, she went on to do a fellowship with the Stedman Clinic at an orthopedic practice in Vail, Colorado and worked with ski and snowboard athletes.

Angie at EAP training with Performance Medicine, coaching and technical crew at the International headquarters.

Why Cirque Du Soleil?

While at Stedman, Angie got to work directly with a surgeon and sports medicine doctor; this meant she got to see complex surgery cases, casting, braces, and diagnostic tests. One of those surgeons happened to be affiliated with Cirque du Soleil and would treat the performers. After working with many of these performers in this role, Angie would take an opportunity with Cirque du Soleil and began touring with them as part of their support staff. After touring, Angie successfully landed a job at Cirque du Soleil headquarters in Montreal. To date, Angie has worked with Cirque du Soleil for over 10 years and has toured with four different shows.

Working with such a talented and diverse group of performers, Angie has the unique opportunity to learn about different cultures and performers' backgrounds. Cirque du Soleil provides unique experiences with the opportunity to travel worldwide doing a job you love. Of course, this comes with its challenges which make it not the right fit for everyone; long hours, and lots of travel, but for Angie, this is right where she wanted to be.

What is it like working with Cirque du Soleil?

Because Cirque du Soleil is an international company, Certified Athletic Therapists work with other professionals and trainers from around the world. This means that you work with many different backgrounds and educational philosophies; this can be both enriching and challenging to your work. Finding complementary pairs and working professionally to care for athletes is essential in ensuring they get the best care possible.

Because the performers also come from a diverse set of cultures and backgrounds, many have little to no experience working with a Certified Athletic Therapist or sports medicine professional. This requires an approach that seeks to earn their trust, while also making sure cultures and boundaries are respected and discussed. It’s up to the Certified Athletic Therapist to make sure that treatment is mutually agreed upon.

On tour, most of the injuries Angie treats are chronic in nature due to the repetitive movements required for the performers' jobs. Because different performers have different tasks on stage, injuries and treatment look quite different between performers. In general, Angie provides strength and conditioning training, and rehab work specific to the performers' act, and works directly with the coaching team for each act.

While based with Cirque du Soleil’s international headquarters, Angie works on medical repatriation cases, sourcing and working with new artists, and helps with shows being created. She continues her role with strengthening and conditioning and constantly strives to find new ways of supporting the athletes.

How are these performers similar to traditional sports athletes?

Much like other high-level athletes, performers experience similar musculoskeletal issues that require proper attention from a Certified Athletic Therapist. For Angie, her approach to working with a circus performer is no different from how she would vary her approach from working with a hockey player to a cheerleader; care is different depending on the type of athlete regardless of the activity.

Care needs are different as well. There’s no crescendo building up to a sports competition. The focus is on strength and conditioning, getting athletes to a repeatable and sustainable performance level at about 75 to 80% intensity that can be maintained. You don’t want your athlete to crescendo to 100% as far as intensity as it isn’t sustainable for the length of a tour.

Another major difference for Cirque du Soleil performers is that there is no off-season. Shows can vary, but generally, performers will only get one to two weeks off before starting again with 8 to 12 week runs. This can be very hard on performers' bodies and requires Angie to shift her mindset to manage the repetitive nature of their movements.

Anything else you would like to share about your work?

For those considering working as a Certified Athletic Therapist in performing arts or the circus, Angie recommends working in as many alternative sports as possible to vary your resume and gain essential experience. Reaching out to other professionals and pursuing a wide variety of opportunities will also provide the chance to explore what areas pique your interest.

To learn more about what a Certified Athletic Therapist can do for you, find one in your neighbourhood on website. Make sure to stay up to date with CATA by following us on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn!