Running off with the circus seems like little more than a childhood fantasy — that thing thing that we read about in books or see in movies. Surprisingly, though, there really are people who work in this trade as trapeze artists, fire eaters, stilt walkers and more. The question is: If you’re able to bend your body into a pretzel, or know how to balance a chair on your chin, where in Kentucky can you find a place to perform your unique skills?
The answer is CirqueLouis, an Oldham County-based circus troupe founded four years ago by Abbie Springer and her dear friend Lynley Elliott. Abbie serves as interim executive director; Lynley is the president of the circus; and both perform as aerialists. It’s an exciting adventure for the former University of Louisville cheerleader, one that her whole family is involved in.
Let’s now turn our attention high above the center ring to learn more about Abbie Springer, that daring young woman on the flying trapeze, our latest FACE of Louisville.
How were you introduced to the circus arts?
It all started with being a cheerleader in Kansas City, Missouri. I did competitive cheer in high school and then went to a community college in Kansas. I’d known the University of Louisville cheerleading coach since I was about 16, so being on the U of L squad was always on my radar. I tried out and made the squad. That’s where I met Lynley — she was born and raised here.
My first summer at the university, the squad was invited to the opening ceremonies of the summer Olympics in 1996. Our first meeting together involved hanging out for three weeks in Atlanta and preparing for the opening ceremonies. During this time period, girls in cheer really didn’t do what is called “single base stunting,” which is where you’re throwing a girl around. Lynley looked at me and said, “I think I can do that with you.”
Lynley has been in the circus since she was about 6 months old, and she was basically teaching me an old circus art. She’s part of the Wolf family, who’s been involved with the circus arts locally for decades.
What did you do after college? Did you and Lynley stay in touch?
There was a period where we didn’t talk — we would catch up at reunions, but that was about it. But after I had Aeson, my middle son, Lynley contacted me and said she wanted me to come into the gym and try some things like aerial hanging. I was hesitant but finally said, “okay.” We’d had such good timing together at U of L that we knew we would work well performing on the trapeze and webs. I have to say that what we’ve done in the last 10 years is fun and amazing, and I attribute it to Lynley’s history in circus arts.
What inspired you to start CirqueLouis?
It came from performing with Lynley and working with the other women who I affectionately call “aerial beasts.” They’ve studied circus arts their entire lives as well. To them, it’s normal — they’ve been hanging off the Second Street bridge on Spanish webs since they were only 8 years old and doing other things like that. I studied with them, and we pushed each other to become better. It’s really novel for this area to have this many people doing circus. We wanted to spread the word to the public about our circus performers and share their talents.
Where do you find your acts?
We hold public auditions, and if people feel they have a skill that I call “stage-worthy,” we want to see them. Our performers are teachers, realtors and sales professionals. One girl is in law school, and she’s also a pilot. These are your neighbors — people you may not realize who are flying on a trapeze, eating fire or hula hooping.
Tell us about CirqueLouis’s outreach efforts.
Our productions and events are mostly what we’re recognized for, but we are a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization [that runs] the Unicycle Project and Social Circus. With the Unicycle Project, we give back to the community in a variety of ways, including bringing our circus arts to Mayor Fischer’s Give a Day Week or the annual Thanksgiving breakfast. We do this to honor one of our performers, Zander Pois, who committed suicide two summers ago. We also partner with PeteFest, a music festival that is held to draw attention to mental health advocacy.
Social Circus is a curriculum-based, intentional effort. Globally, Social Circus programs are meant to provide intervention for high-risk individuals. It can be for kids, veterans, sexual abuse survivors — many types of people. We teach them different types of circus arts and make them aware that this is a safe space. There’s a little more behind it than just free circus classes.
Is your family involved with CirqueLouis?
Yes. My husband, Adam, will work from time to time with us when we can pull him in. He has a reputation as a very good stunter. He and I were cheerleaders together at U of L. My daughter, Annabelle, began basic tightrope walking when she was 3 and globe walking when she was 6, and our sons, Aeson and Abram, want to become more involved. Aeson wants to be a break dancer, so he’s been working on that, emulating our contortionist and hand balancer.
Did you ever have an interest in the circus arts before meeting Lynley?
It was never on my radar. When I met Lynley I was like, “What is this life?” But seeing her hanging in the air, I began to understand it all.
Do you ever attend other circus performances to observe their style and technique?
When Cirque du Soleil comes to town, we go see their show. We always want to support other organizations. It’s all about learning and enjoying and loving it.
Do you have any hobbies?
I enjoy watching what my kids are doing. Annabelle is in dance, and my boys are in wrestling.
Is there anything people would be surprised to learn about you?
I tap danced for 13 years. I have a burning desire to get back to it when I have more time.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Get quiet and listen to what your soul says, and if you can do that, you’ll never be wrong. If you listen to worldly chatter over and over again, you’re ignoring what your truth is, and you’ll never feel peace.
Besides faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Playtime with my aerial beasts, self care and speaking my mind
Thanks for chatting, Abbie, and a big thanks to Gretchen Bell Photography for the fabulous photos.
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