By Shelli Epstein
(As told to Katherine Dolan)
I was once told, you are not talented, but you work hard.
At first, I took offense to the statement. But now I see it in a more positive light. Yes, I am slow to pick things up but once I learn something I’ve got it. And I do believe that if you put in the time and dedication to achieve what you want, anything is possible. I know it’s true because that’s how I landed my dream job with Cirque du Soleil four years ago.
First, let me introduce myself.
My name is Shelli Epstein, I am 26 years old am from both Israel and the United Kingdom. My parents worked in both countries, so at a young age, I was a world traveler. My journey in sports began when I was just a baby. I had so much energy, my Mother sent me to Baby Gym to burn it off. She kept me in gymnastics until I was 4 and then from 4 to 12 I got more involved and started competing nationally for both Israel and the U.K.
The year I turned 12, my life took a turn. I went through an illness and recovered, but things were not the same when I returned. I was lacking the passion I used to have for gymnastics until I discovered acrobatic gymnastics (previously called sports acro) and I fell in love again. I knew it was what I wanted to do.
Around that time, Cirque Du Soleil came to London, England and my parents took me to the show. I was mesmerized. I was enchanted. I was so inspired as I saw my future on the stage. Immediately after the show, I told my parents that is what I wanted to do. It was either that or a stunt double and fortunately, my first option turned out!
I continued to work hard and hone my skills and at 18, I auditioned for ‘The House of Dancing Water’ written and directed by Franco Dragone. I was familiar with Dragone’s work because he had done Cirque Du Soleil shows before and although this was not a Cirque show, I knew it was an amazing opportunity.
I went to the audition with nothing to lose. Thinking I would try and get used to being rejected, I planned to see what level I needed to be at, to try out again next year.
Funny enough, they offered me the job.
So at 18 years old, I went home and informed my parents I was moving to China.
I love my parents so much, they were supportive from the start. At 26 I have reflected on that opportunity and questioned my mother as to why she decided to let me go. She responded that if she didn’t let me go, she knew I would resent her and I would have always wondered what if.
Neither of us could have known at the time just where that journey would take me.
In the next three-plus years, I lived, learned and grew up in China. It was a challenging process at 18 learning how to be on your own, in a different country without family and working full time. But it was an incredible experience, the show was and still is phenomenal and when I look back, I have no regrets. It has made me into the woman I am today.
Going into my third year, I was not planning to stay. I wanted to take the next step in my career and I hoped it would be with Cirque. So I submitted my audition online through the website and heard nothing for 6 months. Then one day, an email showed up about a show in Las Vegas. I was so excited, but they ended up choosing my friend over me.
It was a tough blow.
But I never lost hope.
Shortly after they contacted me for a new show they were working on, called ‘Luzia’. I landed the job, playing a character Luzia, running woman and swing to swing flyer. Since then, I have never looked back.
As a young kid with dreams of being on stage with Cirque du Soleil, it still is a dream come true. Some days I look out at the young kids in the audience and remember once upon a time, that was me. I was once, one of those little girls, watching the performers, hoping, dreaming and wishing that one day I could be on the stage.
And now I am.
I still have to pinch myself that this is my life. I am so in love with what I do, and I never get tired of hearing kids share with me how I have inspired them to want to perform with Cirque du Soleil. I am a true believer that it is possible, all you have to do is want it enough and put in the hard work. If you do that? You are capable of absolutely everything.
I know so many kids today share my dream of wanting to perform with Cirque, so here’s my advice.
Gymnastics is such a great foundation for sport. It teaches discipline, body awareness, and cool skills so definitely try it. But also try other things from dance to acting to trampoline and diving. Circus School is also something up and coming, so give it a try and see if you like it! I came from a sporting background, while others in the show came from Circus. Don’t be afraid to try them all to see what you like!
As for my next steps, we finish performing ‘Luzia’ in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, then head to Vancouver, British Columbia where we finish our North American tour of the show. After that, I get to return home to perform ‘Luzia’ in London, England in front of my hometown crowd. I am beyond thrilled to show my family and friends where I am now and what I am doing.
Long term, I will keep going with Cirque du Soleil, as long as my body holds up. I am still learning new disciplines and growing while soaking up every minute of my time performing on stage.
So if you are a young athlete with dreams of performing on stage with Cirque Du Soleil, know that it is possible. Don’t give up, stay focused on your goals and work hard for it.
I wish you all much success!
See you at the show!