Student group looks to get ‘off the ground’

Annie Chang

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

Members of a budding Northwestern club sport would rather be 30 feet in the air than struggling to get off the ground.

The NU aerial acrobatics group Cirque NouveaU was founded in October 2009, but its members have been unable to find a facility on campus in which to practice their trapeze, silk and rope acts. As a group with Associated Student Government’s conditional Club Sport status, Cirque NouveaU should have access to on-campus facilities, but the NU administration has been hesitant to give them a definite answer as to where they can practice, co-President Helen Kwok said.

Her co-president, Sophia Blachman-Biatch, got the green light from Christopher Johnson, director of the Office of Risk Management, to practice acrobatics on campus, but members are still getting the “run-around” from the administration, Kwok said.

“It’s almost the impossible quest to find space,” she said. “The answer always goes back to us having to get permission from Risk Management, so it’s circular.”

Working with the administration has proved more frustrating than establishing the club itself, Blachman-Biatch said.

“We’ve been given a wall,” the Weinberg sophomore said. “We’ve been stopped.”

In the meantime, the club holds ground practices at the Blomquist Recreation Center and the Sports Pavilion and Aquatics Center, focusing on strength training rather than aerial acrobatics. Most of the members attending practice this year have not had the chance to try real aerial acrobatics, said Michael Gajewsky, executive board member and Weinberg junior.

Kwok said practicing aerial art is not as dangerous as the administration may think, especially under supervision. Hired professionals would do the rigging required to practice acrobatics to ensure the members’ safety if the club could secure a facility, she said.

“It’s a big misconception that aerial acrobatics is the most dangerous thing you can do on campus,” the Communication senior said. “More people can get injured from practicing on a sports team.”

But Dan Bulfin, director of recreational sports, said his department is unable to certify the safety of the riggings. Several other club sports are not able to practice on campus, he said, citing the school’s equestrian and hockey clubs as examples.

NU froze spending on club sports several years ago, and lack of funding is another reason why Cirque NouveaU is one of several clubs that can only practice in off-campus facilities, Bulfin said.

“We try to help these groups facilitate their interests as much as we can,” he said. “We try to help them find places off campus that can serve their purposes.”

Kwok said her goal is to have Cirque NouveaU perform on campus by the end of the year. Though the group has been asked by several organizations to perform for events, members have had to turn them down because they cannot gain approval, she said. The experience has been frustrating, made worse when the club discovered an aerial arts group at the University of Chicago was able to perform on that campus, she said.

“It almost invalidates us as a club when we have to say the one thing we do with the greatest passion, we can’t do,” Kwok said. “If they get to do it, why can’t we?”

A performance would be an effective recruitment strategy, Gajewsky said. But at the core, there is only one main priority of Cirque NouveaU.

“We’d like to be in the air,” he said.