Former UIC Gymnast Sees The Sky As The Limit - Literally
March 5, 2012
Student-athletes are among the hardest working people on campus, balancing class, studying, and a social life around games, meets, traveling and practices. They have earned their spots on the team from years of dedication, from childhood to high school. In college, they aim to be the best of the best. While the select few go on to become rookies in the professional leagues, for many graduation is also the end of their days on a team. But what about those who are not ready to say goodbye to the passion of their sport? Former UIC gymnast Stacey Magiera shows that continuing to pursue your athletic abilities after college can create a very unique career path.
Magiera is currently using her gymnastics talents as an acrobat with Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas; a show of circus arts, stunts and acrobatics that has toured the country, and the world, since the 1980s. There are now quite a few permanent shows, like the one Magiera is part of in Las Vegas, as well as the tours. The shows are known for wowing the crowd with stunning acts of talent from its performers.
With two shows a night, Magiera keeps busy training and perfecting different acts. She is also an acrobatic captain, which sometimes requires extra hours put in helping others perfect their moves as well. While first hired as a temporary artist, Magiera was then kept on as a full time general acrobat after the initial trial period. After two years she was then promoted, becoming a featured artist with a solo act. Magiera specializes in high bar and Chinese poles; talents that have her soaring through the air high above the audience. Luckily for her, she is very comfortable in that space, and is very good at what she does.
The show, of course, doesn’t take just any gymnast or acrobat. The application and audition process is a long and tedious one. “Cirque is very prestigious,” Magiera explained.
Thousands of audition tapes are sent in to recruiters, who sort through them to find the perfect fits for the show. The recruiters are so meticulous, in fact, that Magiera didn’t get a call back from her audition tape for two years. In the middle of teaching gymnastics in Alaska, she finally received the call that Cirque wanted her to go and train at their headquarters in Montreal for five months before joining the show in Las Vegas. Magiera was on the next flight out of Alaska.
At Cirque du Soleil Headquarters, performers’ schedules were strict, and had an almost school-like quality. Not only was Magiera training full time as a gymnast and acrobat, but she was in classes pertaining to the “circus arts,” including improvisation and clown classes, as well as percussion, dance, and yoga. As opposed to a collegiate gymnastics meet, Cirque gymnasts are not only gymnasts anymore, but performers in an over-the-top entertainment show. While some of the classes were new to Magiera, this was actually not the first time she performed in a show like Cirque.
Prior to joining Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas, Magiera lived in San Diego and performed at Sea World in a show titled Cirque de la Mer. There she got her first experience at life on a show, taking the risk to move from Chicago to San Diego without knowing anyone. She performed water-oriented stunts and acrobatics such as flying trapeze, Chinese poles and high falls for five 30-minute shows a day to a delighted crowd at Sea World during the summers, while coaching gymnastics in Alaska during the winters. Magiera traveled to Las Vegas to audition for that show, perhaps a not-so-coincidental foreshadowing to her future success in that town. While she was told a notification would come in a couple of weeks about her audition, she was called back days later and asked to come to San Diego.
The risk was one she was all too willing to take. At the time, she had been working as an assistant strength and conditioning coach at her recent alma mater, UIC. She worked with the swimming and diving teams, as well as the gymnastics team she had just graduated from. While she loved helping the teams, it was here she had a revelation about her future.
“It was fun but made me realize I wasn’t done with [gymnastics]. It was a part of my life and I needed to keep doing it.” Magiera risked it all to try out performing, and the risk paid off.
Magiera’s success after college as a gymnast is one to be admired, but with an outstanding college career like hers, it comes as no surprise. She competed in three consecutive NCAA Championships, and was in the top three in state for beams and bars. She also hit every routine on beam that she performed for two consecutive years. Magiera considers being a UIC gymnast a “privilege,” and cites her coaches, Peter and Mary Jansson, as major motivators.
She had known Coach Peter Jansson from times he would visit her club gymnastics team when she was younger. She and the others would always have fun when he was there, she explained. Not only was a good time encouraged by the Janssons, but also an appreciation for the sport.
“Peter and Mary teach us to be mentally strong,” Magiera explained. This lesson taught her not only to be motivated by the love of her sport, but to stay positive and be even more determined to be better after a disappointing meet.
This determination has helped her become as successful in her post-grad career as any gymnast could hope to be. “Being a UIC gymnast has helped me become who I am today,” she stated. It helped her not only grow as a gymnast, but learn to prioritize and learn time management. She knows that she wants to continue performing with Cirque du Soleil as long as her body holds up. Luckily, while many gymnasts have athletic injuries and surgeries throughout their careers, Magiera has been lucky enough to avoid them. “There are people here that are 50 years old and still acrobats, I would like to be one of those,” Magiera said as she explained her future goals.
After reflecting on her past as a lifelong gymnast, she summed up by saying this: “I’m a competitive person, and college gymnastics is a win or lose competition, as opposed to Cirque where it’s nightly shows. I strive to be better each show. Being a UIC gymnast has helped keep the competitive drive in me to be better each show.”