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May 20, 2008

Brigette Maia tries the trapeze with the Triton Troupers

Generations of children have run away from their families to join the circus. Brigette Maia’s journey to the big top took a different course. Her mother signed her up to perform in the Triton Troupers Circus for three sold-out performances in mid-March.

Maia already had plenty of experience performing for the public. The Oak Park native took dance courses at the Academy of Movement & Music and the Lou Conte Dance Studio. She even danced with a professional company, Ula La, performing Latin dances.

“Latin is so different from ballet,” Maia said, “but I definitely got it out of my system.” Looking for new fields to conquer, Maia was surprised one day when her mother asked, “Want to join the circus? Get in the car, we’re going to the circus.”

Maia’s mother, Colleen, is a former high school guidance counselor brimming with activity ideas for Brigette and her 16-year-old sister Maria.

“My mom schedules activities for us,” Brigette explained, “because she knows we get bored.”

It would be difficult to cram any boredom into the OPRF senior’s busy schedule. The circus, however, presented a whole new arena of challenge.

When she reported to practice for the 37th Annual Triton Troupers Circus, Maia was asked what she wanted to do. She decided on the trapeze. “I didn’t know anything about it,” Maia confessed, “But I learned you really have to trust everyone.”

Beginning in January, Maia spent six hours a week learning the trapeze, the trampoline and floor exercises. “I was on this high,” Maia said, “Learning new things, so that I could be in four different acts.”

Maia was literally on a high, flinging her body through space, just below the ceiling of the Collins Center Gym. The trapeze artists substituted safety ropes for a net, so there was no danger of her falling on her face. Still, the practice sessions were grueling.

“It’s very tiring,” Maia said. “It requires a lot of core strength and upper body strength.”

The diminutive Maia has 105 pounds of well-toned muscle but being petite is no requirement for flying through the air with the greatest of ease. Her “catcher,” Mike, was at least twice her size.

Maia’s act started out with her standing up on the trapeze and ended with her hanging by her ankles. Safety rope or not-the effect was thrilling.

“It’s the most fun I’ve had this year,” Maia said.

She especially enjoyed the camaraderie with her fellow troupers, a mix of professional performers, amateurs and novices. Rick Wright, the founder of Triton Troupers, explained that the performers “are your friends, neighbors and the people down the street. They spot each other for safety, encourage each other to excel and help each other mend sprained ankles and bruised egos.”

The Triton Troupers may be semi-pro, but they definitely put on spectacular show. The lighting and sound systems were superb and what the performers lacked in panache, they made up for with enthusiasm. In the space of two hours, they presented 18 acts, which included juggling, tightrope-walking and assorted stunts performed high above the upturned faces.

Maia said she is definitely coming back to perform in the 38th annual circus. In the meantime, the 18-year-old will begin studying for a nursing degree at Loyola University. But she may not stay there.

“In sophomore year, I might transfer to ISU,” Maia said. “They have a circus program there.”

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