On February 24th, cinematic royalty descended on the Dolby Theater for Hollywood’s biggest night, the 85th Academy Awards. But the real buzz surrounded the after parties – particularly the exclusive celebration hosted by the master of the evening himself, Mr. Seth McFarlane. Of course, Zen Arts was on hand for the extremely private event, engaging the crowd in revelry that only the Zen Arts performers are capable of evoking.
Hosted by Nightvision Entertainment, the McFarlane post-Oscar bash was by all respects the party of parties. Merging old Hollywood charm with the appeal of a chic Vegas night lounge, the party theme was both modern and glam. The event went down at the Paramount Studios Lot, where ruby red carpets led into an alluring white-draped tent lined with lush trees and dazzling chandelier lighting. From the luxe seating areas, party-goers could fix their gazes on an over- the-top, color-shifting stage worthy of an Oscar itself.
Zen Arts felt right at home, setting the tone for the evening with mesmerizing performances throughout the night. More than 500 guests enjoyed the gyrations and tantalizing costumes of the famous Zen Arts performers, who made appearance throughout the evening.
Hollywood elite, like Johnny Depp, John Stamos and Ben Affleck rubbed elbows and talked Oscar gold over mouth-watering party fare and chilled flutes of Moët Chandon. Charlize Theron could be seen greeting McFarlane with a hug and sipping on a drink while chatting up friends and party-goers near the stage.
In true Hollywood style, McFarlane schmoozed his famous guests with old Hollywood glamour and the showmanship of a 100-piece orchestra – a trademark feature of McFarlane soirees. Seth himself assumed the stage to perform timeless renditions of Frank Sinatra classics like Luck Be a Lady Tonight and I’ve Got You Under My Skin. Later, McFarlane made his rounds from table to table, making small talk with the who’s who of Hollywood.
The party was ultra-exclusive, allowing guests to unwind and celebrate McFarlane’s witty first-time Oscar hosting gig without the hassle of outside media. To ensure everyone had a good time, ladies had the option of checking their stilettos with a show valet in exchange for party-friendly slippers. Guests partied the night away, stopping only to snap souvenir photo booth pictures or gaze at the captivating performances of the Zen Arts dancers.
Seth McFarlane’s Oscars after party lasted well into the wee hours of the morning, with guests finally turning in around 4 a.m.
When Zen Arts descended on the Americana at Brand in 2011 to captivate crowds at the annual Christmas tree lighting, a new standard was set in holiday celebrations. So naturally, Zen Arts was asked back for an encore in November 2012, wowing its audience with a Christmas production that far surpassed expectations.
Akin to a Vegas production, the evening was full of magic and whimsy that seemed to transform Glendale, California into a North Pole fantasyland. The event was produced by Zen Arts, Nightvision Entertainment, and The Americana and held at the famous Americana at Brand shopping resort. Twinkling Christmas lights and a dancing water display set the background for the evening, where throngs of crowds gathered in anticipation of the show.
Zen Arts really showed its versatility with a full 1-hour Christmas spectacular reminiscent of classic holiday stories. Instead of performing a few mesmerizing acts, the performers were tasked with telling a family-friendly story that incited fascination in both young and old. Their hard work paid off when they presented Cirque du Santa – an acrobatic story of a little girl’s experience as she’s taken to the North Pole and Santa’s workshop.
When guests arrived, they were met with mystery by a giant stage wrapped in red and concealed until show time. Trees dripped with bright holiday lights in the plaza, and fun characters began to emerge as show time drew near. In true Zen Arts style, all of the costumes were custom made specifically for Cirque du Santa. Kids from 1 to 92 looked on in awe as stilt-walking elves towered over the crowds and reindeer soared through the air from trampolines below.
Everyone loved the nutcracker ballerinas and toy soldiers, and they looked on in suspense as silk aerialists performed dressed as beautiful snow angels. The peppermint candy-striped kick line was a big hit with the audience, though it was Santa Claus himself who stole the show during the grand finale. Cirque du Santa ended on a bright note as fireworks shot into the air.
The Zen Arts performance at the annual tree lighting was arguably the most spectacular holiday event the Americana at Brand has hosted – even amazing many of the Zen Arts performers themselves as the show came together. If you missed it, we’re sorry. But you can check out pictures of the production here or watch Zen Arts footage of the evening below:
Many people spend the majority of their lives looking for their passion, that one thing that gets them up in the morning and excited about the day ahead. For some that passion may involve making a lasting mark on this planet in the allotted few decades we call a lifetime. For others their passion lies only in the present, to better and beautify the everyday world around us. For something so profound that carries so much meaning in one’s life, finding that passion often occurs in the most ordinary commonplace circumstances. And for a young boy scrambling on the desert rock formations of Joshua Tree National Park, discovering this passion would come years later in a fortuitous trip to the sea.
Only seven years ago on a Los Angeles beach, Zen Arts co-founder Doug Miller had witnessed his passion set ablaze in front of his very own eyes. Having followed a friend down to the beach to watch a group of fire dancers perform, Doug became instantly infatuated with the dangerous performance art, and utterly consumed in mastering it. At that time he could have never dreamed that his countless hours of practice for his new found hobby would years later result in grand scheme performances for artists like Madonna, Skrillex, and Paul Van Dyk, clients like Sony, HBO, and Warner Bros., or in locations like Beirut, Egypt, or Las Vegas. But as they say…life is unpredictable.
Inspired by the originality and skill of Cirque du Soleil shows like Allegria and Quidam, as well as the free-spirited creatives he’d encountered at festivals like Lightning in a Bottle and Burning Man, Doug envisioned starting an entertainment troupe combining the best of both worlds. A company that could harness the awe and amazement of circus performance with high fashion, music, art, and dance.
Through a friend’s recommendation Doug hired fellow fire dancer and future Zen Arts co-founder Susie Culini for a gig he had just booked. In her Doug saw himself, a dedicated performer who shared the same vision for this unprecedented new kind of entertainment company. After starting out with a few close performer friends booking small gigs, pretty soon Doug was scouting the best talent worldwide, evolving the fledgling Zen Arts into the international entertainment phenomenon that it is today.
Involved in all aspects of the company, including but not limited to design, music, costumes, choreography, lighting, and art direction, Doug uses his creative freedom to strive for a one-of-a-kind experience in each Zen Arts show. Truthfully his favorite thing about his job is the fact that “every show presents a unique opportunity to create and envision an experience like no one else has seen.” Although it may be tasking at times juggling 50 or so performers, Doug wouldn’t have it any other way. And with so much on his plate, most people are shocked to hear that Doug is also a practicing psychologist, working with inner city children of Los Angeles for the past 10 years!
Driven, passionate, and imaginative, Doug Miller is a true entertainer in every sense of the word, continually working to wow audiences with innovative, shocking, and exciting performances. Thanks to such a visionary leader as Doug, Zen Arts has grown bigger and better year after year…and this is still the beginning! For the future Doug foresees Zen Arts as a highly popularized global brand, opening offices in major cities around the world like New York, London, or Paris. Reaching an even wider audience, the Zen Arts of tomorrow will produce events on an unprecedented grander scale, working more with some of the hottest musical artists of our time as well as the largest multi-billion dollar businesses.
And just think…it all started with an innocent day at the beach.
Whether you’re a clubber, a gym rat, or a low-volume-playing-cubicle-inhabiting-corporate soldier…there’s no doubting you’ve heard his trademark bouncing beats. Since early 2010 Afrojack has turned the house music scene upside-down, leading the wave of the Dirty Dutch invasion, a subgenre of house music that has become popular in recent years, distinguished by its heavy drops, vocoder-morphed vocals, and high-pitched siren- and whistle-sounding synths. An originator and collaborator, releasing his own tracks as well as several remixes with many of today’s hottest musical artists, Afrojack is part of a new surge of EDM djs bridging the gap between underground techno and mainstream airplay.
Born in Spijkenisse, Netherlands in 1987, Nick van de Wall exhibited a passion for music at a very young age. By 5 he was already learning how to play the piano! It wasn’t long before Wall’s creative drive rose to the surface, leading him to create his own beats and mixes by 11, utilizing a software he downloaded called Fruity Loops (the same he uses to this day). Upon graduating high school Wall took to his musical passions with full-force, waiting tables on the side to fund his burgeoning career in nightlife, moonlighting as a dj in local Rotterdam gigs, playing his first nightclub named Las Palmas by age 16.
By 2006 Wall was beginning to branch out. Only 18 years old, he spent five months in Crete spinning at any nightclub that would have him, in an effort to spread his signature sound. His first hit F**K Detroit (a play on Fedde le Grande’s Put Your Hands Up For Detroit) became a big local success. Upon returning to Holland, Wall was able to release an EP entitled In Your Face on label Digidance, with help from fellow dirty Dutchmen Sidney Samson and Laidback Luke. The EP hit #60 in the Dutch Top 100 and #3 in Dutch Dance.
In 2007 Wall started his own label aptly named Wall Recordings, under which he spent countless days in the studio creating more and more original tracks under his new name Afrojack. By this year much of his music had begun to spread internationally with major house music names like Josh Wink, Dave Clarke, and Fedde le Grand playing Afrojack’s tracks. By the next year Afrojack himself was playing at the biggest EDM festivals in Europe, like Mystery Land and Sensation. Collaborated with Partysquad, the track Drop Down (Do My Dance) becomes Afrojack’s biggest hit to date, making the Dutch Top 20.
The game-changer really comes in 2009, when Afrojack is noticed by producer and mega dj David Guetta, who pulls Afrojack on tour with him. Nurturing the young talent, Guetta’s clout in the industry helps initiate Afrojack’s ride to global dj status. The friendship between the two results in several collaborative tracks and remixes, one of which even garners them a Grammy award in 2011 for a remix of Madonna’s Revolver.
But it’s one little track-turned-anthem released in 2010 that lights the rocket sending Afrojack into the upper echelons of dj stardom. Take Over Control feat. Eva Simmons sets records on charts worldwide, remaining on the iTunes Dance charts at #1 for several weeks, as well as 6 weeks at #1 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Airplay. The song’s fast bass beat, undulating siren sounds, and catchy vocal track make it a nightclub favorite for djs worldwide, and just as popular on radio airplay…even to the present day!
Since then Afrojack has become one of the most sought-after djs of our time, collaborating with everyone from Pitbull and Ne-yo, to Lady Gaga, to the Black Eyed Peas…the list goes on and on! In 2011 DJ Mag listed him at #7 in their Top 100 Djs of the Year (in 2010 he was #19 on the same list). By this point Afrojack is playing the biggest EDM festivals worldwide like Miami’s Ultra Music Festival and even Electric Daisy Carnival.
Last month Afrojack won a European Border Breakers Award for his album Lost and Found. The award is handed out every year to 10 European artists who were able to garner an international following with the release of their first international album. His recent iTunes hits No Beef (with Steve Aoki), Can’t Stop Me (with Shermanology), and I Like (with Pitbull and Enrique Iglesias) are climbing up the dance music charts. With what seems like a new remix or track released almost every single week, there’s no stopping Afrojack! This year be sure to catch him live headlining the 3 days of desert debauchery known as Coachella!
On February 16th, Zen Arts’ favorite event planning company Nightvision Entertainment threw a birthday bash at an exclusive and concealed Bel Air mansion for reality TV star, celebutante, and paparazzi-favorite Paris Hilton. The birthday girl, who turned 31 this year, celebrated the evening with her rumored current boyfriend, top global dj, and beat-master for the night Afrojack.
Zen Arts helped the notorious party girl rejoice with a team of sexy burlesque dancers and whimsical character performers. Performing on a sensual and sumptuous set created exclusively by kitsch production designer Alicia Drake, the burlesque dancers put on another tantalizing performance for a few hundred of Paris’ closest friends, as well as took pictures with the heiress, made honorary burlesque dancer in her suggestive and sparkly nude-colored dress. As Paris would say…“that’s hot!”
Notable attendees included new couple rapper Wiz Khalifa and model Amber Rose, among others. Although Paris and Afrojack (born Nick van de Wall) have been rumored to be an item since September of last year, several recent sources report the two are simply “good friends.” Whatever their relationship may be, it’s probably the result of close working quarters, being that the highly in-demand dj is the executive producer of Paris’ upcoming 2nd studio album said to release this year. A track from the album entitled Good Time was previewed by Afrojack in El Paso at the Sun City music festival in September. The socialite aspires to be the new “queen of house music”…and honestly we can’t wait! After all…everybody wants to party with Paris!
For more on Afrojack check out this month’s Artist Spotlight.
For pics of the event check out the thumbnails below and full gallery here.
A giant elephant, a growling lion, or a capricious monkey…these are just some of the exotic attendees one may encounter at any modern-day private event. Today more and more event planners are incorporating animal appearances into their events as a way of attracting guests, getting them interacting, and leaving them with lasting memories. How an animal is integrated into an event depends highly on the type of animal, but the range of possibilities is broad: watching animals perform, touching animals, holding them, riding them, or even taking photos with them. Animals are also a great way to add to the theming of your party; obviously for an Arabian Nights event a couple of friendly camels could really help set an immersive environment for guests to get lost in. Besides in the case of Zen Arts…what circus is complete without a few animals!?
As the event planner, whether you are personally handling the animals or hiring a professional handler (recommended), it’s important to remember a few tips before turning your event into the San Diego Zoo. In order to ensure your evening goes off without a hiccup, you must be very careful when dealing with animals as they can often be unpredictable and uncontrollable. The bottom line is when it comes to animals you must always be prepared for the unexpected. Obviously since animals don’t talk, precautions are largely based in reading animal body language. Below we’ve listed the top things you and your handler should be aware of before tossing those exotic creatures into a room full of guests at your next event.
1. First and foremost, whenever possible have a trained professional animal wrangler experienced with either that specific animal you are integrating, or at the very least that species of animal, present at your event.
2. Be sure to look into any necessary permits you may need to acquire, whether municipally or state regulated, for having an exotic animal present at your event.
3. Before bringing the animal out, make sure there are no visible signs of illness or injury. A healthy animal should have a relaxed posture, either in a lazy belly-down position or upright and alert. Heavy breathing, lethargy, and odd body positioning could be signs of a serious problem. At this point, the health of the animal takes priority over the performance.
4. Be wary of animals that seem fearful, since a fearful animal is a dangerous animal. Signs of fear include dilated pupils, visible fangs, tensed muscles, raised fur, rear-pointed ears, stiff tails, the animal backing into a corner, or being vocally expressive (growling, snarling). Animals responding fearfully to an event setting, person/people, lights, or noises should be removed immediately.
5. That being said, always be cautious of extremely bright lights, loud noises, or large surrounding crowds that could intimidate and disturb the animal, causing it to enter a state of distress. Certain animals, specifically livestock, become especially distressed around loud voices or yelling. Keep calm and quiet if possible.
6. Since every animal is different, do some research beforehand to study up on body language and other visible signs, as well as what to do if this specific animal becomes agitated and loses control. Even though most likely everything will run smoothly, its important to have this information in your brain vault in case of an emergency.
7. Be careful how animals are held, holding them in positions that are comfortable and secure. Any position that could be deemed uncomfortable or causing pain could create fear and distress in the animal.
8. Make sure to have a box, cage, or place backstage for the animal to hide when feeling threatened or frightful. A dark and quiet place away from people is the best way to help an animal calm down. Once calmer they may feel more up to venturing back into the public.
9. Be sure to have plenty of water and food on hand ready for the animal. Being on display is enough stress on the creature as is. You need to be sure they are fed and quenched prior to exhibition.
11. It’s important to gain the animals trust before embarking on a performance. Simple massages on the neck and back are an easy way to please the animal and gain some credit. Be sure to use nice long and slow strokes with firm pressure.
12. Remember that animals are very intuitive creatures that can sense your feelings and state of mind; its true that they can literally “smell fear.” People that are angry or anxious may put the animal into a state of agitation or fear. Keep your guests calm and remain calm yourself. Easy tempers will ensure the animal stays comfortable and relaxed.
13. Be prepared for a situation in which an animal wishes to cut loose or roam free. Always have leashes and wranglers close by and on hand. A large towel or blanket is also good to throw over the eyes of an animal that may be out of control. In worst-case scenarios, with very large and powerful animals its always good to have a tranquilizer gun handy just in case.
14. Make sure animal first experiences are pleasant. Animals have excellent visual memories, meaning unlike us they don’t remember dialogue, only sounds and images. New experiences can be scary to animals, but they’ll calm down if they are allowed to let their curiosity guide them and explore on their own. Make sure they are used to the elements of any show performance prior to show time (e.g. bright lights, colors, music, costumes, crowds).
15. Animals should be approached from the front and not the blind spots in the rear or the side, with movements that are slow and deliberate.
16. Studies show that animals, just like people, get depressed and irritable when kept alone. If possible, keep your animal penned with a fellow brethren. Lone animals can become stressed and thus dangerous, but providing them some company can actually help keep them relaxed.
18. Also be wary of children getting too loud or rowdy, as a raucous could put animals into distress.
19. Treat scratches, bites, and kicks as soon as possible, as these could help spread zoonotic diseases. On the same note, anyone touching animals should be advised to wash their hands afterwards as soon as possible for the same reason. Some diseases that could be transferred from animals to humans include salmonella, herpes, rabies, and hepatitis.
20. Advise guests ahead of time of the presence of animals to be wary of potential allergies from animal dander. In any case, its always good to have some antihistamine on hand for mild reactions, or in severe cases an epi-pen to stop airway constriction and other grave allergic reactions.
21. An exit strategy, either for the animal or yourself and the guests, is crucial to possess. You never know when an animal could go out of control, so its important to know exactly where to coerce the animal or lead your guests in the case of an animal on the loose.
22. All handlers and anyone else in close contact with the animal should wear the necessary protective equipment. Items like closed-toed shoes, safety goggles, gloves, or masks may be required for safe handling of certain animals.
23. Be prepared for dung!
In honor of recently wrapped New York fashion week, we thought we’d take a post to share some of the magic that goes behind creating Zen fashion. Being that Zen Arts is a fully-functioning complete circus production company means we do everything ourselves, including rigging, staging, lighting, music, makeup, and of course costumes! From inspiration to theming to design to construction, our sexy, fantastic, and exotic costume creations are all thanks to Zen Arts co-founder and head costume designer Susie Culini. A self-taught designer with a passion for fashion, Susie is responsible for the fabulous characters of many Zen Arts productions, pushing the boundaries on conventional costuming and transporting people to an alternate reality. But just how exactly does Susie make her design ideas come to life?
To start with, every show is centered around a theme, idea, or overall concept. For Zen Arts, usually this theme is tailored around the client’s business or what they would like to portray at their event. Once a theme is chosen (e.g. plants) it’s time to do some research. Whether it be online, through books, or through fellow performers, researching a theme brings out different characteristics and traits that can be applied to the costume design (e.g. green, wet, leafy, branches, flowers, etc.). This brainstorming is where many of the initial design concepts are born…but we’re just getting started.
Once the general concept ideas are thought out, now comes the sketching. Although the creative process is different for every designer, once a concept is solidified, usually most turn either to sketching or directly to draping fabric over a dress form. Using a sketchbook, tracing (or layout) paper, and colored pencils, a costume designer can bring the ideas of their mind into the physical world for a technical designer or pattern maker to see as well. Since not all designers are great artists, drawing a silhouette freehand might result in an abysmal design reference. Tracing paper allows a designer to outline a silhouette of a model from a magazine and recreate the same form on multiple sheets for different looks. Or if they prefer they could also sketch the form on regular paper and create their designs on tracing sheets, allowing for an easy glance at multiple costume ideas on the same silhouette.
When it comes to the silhouette, generally designers want forms drawn relatively straight, so they can focus on seeing the shape of the garment drawn upon it. However when drawing a silhouette, designers also think about how the person they are designing for would stand posture-wise. Is this character elegant? Sexy? Confident? Reserved? Since they will be the ones ultimately wearing the costume, it’s a good idea to visualize what the costume will look like during their performance poses.
The more detailed and specific the sketches are, the easier the job for the pattern maker, who already has a difficult enough job as it is. Remember that although paper is 2D, real life is 3D. Often when designers are coming up with a design, they will sketch the front, back, and side views, making it easier for the pattern maker to visualize and measure the shapes they need to come up with.
Once the sketches are finalized it’s time for the pattern maker to get to work. Whereas designers typically come up with costume conceptions, everything from lines, proportions, colors, and textures, the pattern maker’s job is to create the physical shapes and sizes of the garment’s elements, usually by draping muslin over a form, using paper and measuring tools, or a CAD computer program. It’s also the pattern maker’s job to shop for the necessary materials, mix and choose different fabrics and textures, and sew the prototype together.
Unlike regular stage productions such as plays, musicals, or concerts, a lot more must be considered when it comes to creating a Zen Arts costume design. First and foremost, costumes need to remain functional for each performer’s specialized skill. Constructing a design involves taking into consideration the talents that each specific performer is responsible for doing, how they are going to move around, and whether or not a specific costume element is going to impede their ability to perform. Costumes that are too flowy or loose can inhibit the performance of a Zen Arts acrobat, dancer, or contortionist and result in serious consequences on the live stage (e.g. trips, falls, and injuries).
To get around this most of our costumes are either custom-tailored to form-fit each specific performer, or made with stretch fabrics like lycra, spandex, or other elastics. Fabrics like these will still cover up our acrobats without getting in the way of what they need to do. Additionally we must ensure costumes remain light so the performers do not feel weighed down. Thankfully most of these stretchy fabrics are also very lightweight.
Another factor to consider is overheating. Anyone who’s been under stage lights knows that they can get really hot really fast, and thick costumes can exacerbate that heat. Although it may appear effortless, you also have to mix in the fact that most of our performers are strenuously exerting their bodies during their intricate displays of strength, even further propagating overheating. Breathable fabrics are key in helping to control body temperature.
Contrary to plays or musicals, in which the performers are talking or singing, many of our performers have little to no dialogue. This means that their costumes are a large part of speaking for their characters to the audience and selling the overall theme or story (as in our holiday show). On a similar note, the designer also has to think about the performance setting and how the colors and patterns of the costumes may intermingle or clash with the background. Obviously if the backdrop is mainly dark, you’d want bright, vivid costumes with colors that pop. If your backdrop is colorful and glitzy, costumes with more subdued tones would be the way to go. In the end, the costumes need to transform the performers into part of a scene while at the same time helping them stand out and be noticeable.
As stated, at Zen Arts each costume is custom made for each performer and their specific skill. This also means that certain performers may require extra reinforcements in their costume constructions. Dancers for example, need more support in the hips and bust so as to not expose themselves while shaking it on stage. I mean Zen Arts is definitely about being sexy…but we don’t want a wardrobe malfunction! On the other hand our aerial apparatus performers require overall support and coverage, seeing as they are often inverted. Achieving the proper effect in these two aspects may sometimes mean dressing performers even from undergarments up.
It’s also important to mention that depending on the location of the performance, costumes may also have to be constructed to travel well. Whether by car or plane, costumes need to be packed with minimal wrinkling and tearing, so they’re ready to go when arriving on set. In any case, it’s always good to have a small sewing kit for any last minute fittings, repairs, or corrections.
Finally, remember a costume is never complete without makeup. Be it on the face or total body, makeup is an integral part of character construction, contributing to the total look and theme that’s trying to be exhibited. Accessories are also a crucial final detail, with items such as hats, glasses, shoes, or jewelry often making costumes complete. Depending on the character and scenario, certain props may also need to be added in order to really give a look that finishing touch.
When all is said and done, costumes are always tested beforehand to ensure they are functional as well as achieving the right visual appeal. Following the golden rules of functionality and aesthetics, Susie Culini and her team of helpers is able to create the right costume & makeup combinations to morph the talented troupe of Zen Arts performers into true characters, adding to the magic of any Zen Arts performance, and aiding in submerging the audience into another world.
A long-time favorite of the circus clown, the crazy contraption known as the unicycle has been around for over 100 years. From its early beginnings under the big top, to present-day muni (mountain unicycling) competitions, today the original unicycle has been modified and improved for all sorts of different riding styles. In the following we’ll take a look at just how the unicycle came about, how to ride a unicycle, and some of the modern mutations the unicycle has undergone in the past thirty years.
To find the roots of the unicycle, we must first reach back further to the roots of its cousin, the bicycle. The first bicycle was invented in France by a man by the name of Comte de Gaye around the year 1790. It consisted of a simple wooden frame with two wheels attached to it, no pedals for gaining speed, and no handlebars for steering. Moving it required using the feet as one would on a scooter (or as the Flinstones moved their car) and it could only move in one direction.
Seventy-something years later Brit James Starley took that idea and evolved it into the penny farthing (aka the “ordinary”), a bicycle consisting of one giant wheel with one miniature wheel behind it, named after the two English coins of the penny and the farthing. In all senses, the penny farthing became the world’s first real functioning bicycle.
The penny farthing was created for speed, since a wheel large in diameter could cover more ground. Unfortunately this increased speed came at the price of a decrease in balance. The back wheel’s sole purpose was to maintain this balance and unfortunately hitting a bump in the road or stopping too quickly often caused the back wheel to come off the ground, leaving the rider to balance on just one wheel. Seeing as the riders were situated very high up (since the front wheel was so big), occasionally these riders would be bucked off the contraption altogether and sent flying forward landing head first. This is believed to be where the term “breakneck speed” originated. Poor brakes on the penny farthing were also a contributing factor to disaster.
It wasn’t long before some people realized they really didn’t need that back wheel of the penny farthing. First the back wheel was removed, then the handles too…and pretty soon the unicycle was born. The fact that early unicycles possessed one large wheel similar in size to the large wheel of the penny farthing further reinforces the idea that the unicycle was most likely a direct descendant of this accident-prone relative.
Unicycles comprise of a seat attached to a frame atop one single wheel, no handlebars, and no hand-brakes. As opposed to a regular bicycle, which uses gears and chains to turn the wheels, on a unicycle the pedals connect directly to the axle, making the wheel move directly. This is actually a more efficient use of energy, since the pedaling power goes straight into the rotation of the wheel and not secondarily as through a belt or a chain. On a unicycle, the axle is a fixed part of a special hub which is also affixed to the pedals, allowing for the movement of the pedals to cause a direct rotation of the wheel, an engineering feat known as direct drive.
Unicycles gained popularity in the circus, mainly by clowns who would juggle while riding them, or acrobatic performers who rode them across the tight rope. Unicycles did not see widespread use among the general public until the 1980s, when new unicycle variations created an entirely new generation of riders. Seatless, giraffe, and freestyle unicycles revolutionized unicycling, expanding it into a myriad of riding styles and competitive events. Engineers once again began toying with the size of the unicycle wheel, as wheel size has a direct correlation with speed (the larger the wheel, the faster the unicycle).
- Seatless unicycle – Also known as the “ultimate wheel,” this unicycle has no frame or seat, simply a wheel with two foot places directly affixed to it.
- Giraffe unicycle – Also known as a “tall unicycle,” this unicycle possesses a seat that is so high up that it is one of the few unicycles that actually requires a chain. Without a chain the legs wouldn’t be able to reach the pedals, so the chain is required to connect the pedals, which are placed just below the seat and high above the wheel, with the axle way down below. These unicycles average anywhere from 5 feet to 10 feet, but have been known to go higher. Contrary to common perception, these unicycles are actually safer than normal lower unicycles since they allow a falling rider adequate time to prepare for impact before hitting the ground (so they can most likely land on their feet).
- Freestyle unicycle – These unicycles possess smaller wheels 16 to 20 inches in diameter, with a high-pressure tire, flat crown, slightly higher seat post, and narrow saddle. They are built to handle the brunt of complex jumps and tricks, similar to those performed by BMX riders in the X Games.
- Touring unicycle – These ones typically possess a wheel 26 to 36 inches in diameter, built for long rides averaging 5 or more miles. The larger wheel allows more distance to be covered with less pedaling (more ground is covered with each rotation of the wheel, requiring less rotation of the pedals, and thus less exertion by the rider).
- Trials unicycle – These unicycles average wheels 16 to 20 inch in diameter, with fat knobby tires that are built to withstand the impacts of an obstacle course. Just as its name says, these unicycles are usually solely used for trials competitions.
- Muni (mountain unicycle) – Also known as “rough terrain,” these off-roading unicycles are similar to trials unicycles except with fatter tires so they can ride over big obstacles like rocks. They are built to go wherever mountain bikes go. They possess thicker seats for more cushion, as well as brakes for steep descents.
- Geared unicycles – As with giraffe unicycles, these too also possess chains in addition to a gearing system, allowing the wheel to spin faster than the pedal cadence. They are used mainly for distance riding.
- Multi-wheeled unicycle – As the name states, these ones possess multiple wheels stacked on top of each other (also called known as “stacks unicycles”). The wheels are connected either through direct contact or chains. This variation is mainly used for its bizarre appearance, in carnivals, circuses, and other arenas.
- Kangaroo unicycle – In this modification the pedals are not offset as a traditional unicycle; rather they are in line. This means the rider must utilize a hopping motion to propel the unicycle (looks similar to a kangaroo hopping).
- Freewheeling unicycle – This version coasts without pedaling (just like a normal bike would). For that reason, these are usually built with brakes.
- Self-balancing unicycle – This computer-controlled, motor-driven, high-tech innovation balances itself, similar to a Segway.
The wide variety and availability of the modern unicycle has spawned an array of unicycle-related sports and competitions. Street unicycling utilizes fixed urban props, such as handrails, stairs, and fences, to complete complex tricks and maneuvers. Unicycle basketball puts a twist on the classic game with players riding unicycles while competing, with the rule that the ball must remain dribbled while riding. Unicycle hockey has even become popular in recent years.
Worldwide unicycling has taken a specific foothold in Japan, where unicycling was made a mandatory PE course for elementary and middle school students about 20 years ago. Finding the benefits of unicycling in building balance and core strength, the Japanese Chancellor added it to the sports curriculum of Japan’s schools. Today this decision has resulted in millions of Japanese adults knowing how to unicycle.
UNICON, the International Unicycling Convention, is put on by the International Unicyling Federation twice a year. Started in 1984, the event allows unicyclists from around the globe to meet and compete in several unicycling event categories like artistic, track race, marathon, muni, trials, basketball, and hockey.
Unicycles present many benefits over traditional bicycles. Firstly, unicycles are smaller, meaning they fit into more places than a traditional bike would. Secondly, unicycles generally require less upkeep than a normal bike due to their lack of extra parts such as chains, handles, and gears. This also means that unicycles are cheaper to buy and maintain than regular bikes. Lastly, unicycles are usually safer than bicycles, skates, and skateboards because they cannot go as fast as those items.
On a bicycle, a person’s body weight is split between the two wheels by being situated in the middle of the connecting frame. On a unicycle however, a person’s body weight is held directly over the wheel. This poses many balancing challenges for beginning unicyclists.
The first and most difficult part about unicycling is mounting. To begin novice riders should use a wall, a chair, or another person to aid in mounting the unicycle. Since unicycles only possess one wheel, they can only remain upright when they are in motion. The seat of a standard unicycle should come up to about waist height before mounting.
When speaking of the wheel position on a unicycle, we’ll be referencing the pedals as hands on a clock. The safety position is when the pedals are at 3 and 9 o’clock, since at this point a person’s weight is evenly distributed, allowing the most control and balance of the unicycle. The dead spot is when the pedals are at 6 and 12 o’clock, since at this point a person’s weight is mostly on the 6 pedal, allowing easy loss of balance and resulting in potential falls.
Unicycles must be mounted in the dead spot, with the rider stepping on the down pedal. Mounting in any other wheel position could cause the unicycle to take off or the other pedal to rotate up and smash into the legs. Once mounted however, pedals should be taken into the safety position as quick as possible. After much practice one will finally be able to free mount the unicycle without any accidents, free mount meaning to get on board without the aid of another person or object.
Using a spotter can make learning to ride a unicycle much easier. A spotter is a person who can offer light support as a rider tries to learn the balancing of unicycle riding. Spotters should stand to one side even with the shoulder and follow along as the rider moves, holding one hand out flat and palm up for the rider to put their hand on top of. It also helps if the rider has a wall on the other side of them within arms length for further support. If a spotter is unavailable, two chairs or a narrow hallway can work too, allowing the rider to focus on forward and backward balancing without worrying about side-to-side falls. Use of ski poles or walking sticks during training is highly discouraged, since one wrong fall can cause a serious impalement injury.
Unlike a bicycle, where one has to balance between left and right, balancing on a unicycle can prove far more difficult since one has to balance in all four directions: left, right, front, and back. To do this the rider must maintain their weight on the seat and not on the pedals, and try to keep the wheel directly beneath their center of mass. This is not an easy task, but there are some tips one can follow to get a handle on this skill:
- Keep your posture straight and tall and aligned with the seat, almost as if the seat pole is going directly into your back.
- When moving its important to lean slightly forward and maintain pedaling. Momentum makes staying atop a unicycle easier.
- Keep your eyes focused ahead and not downwards, as moving down can cause you to shift your body weight. Picking a point on a wall or object in the distance can help you maintain level eye contact.
- Wear safety gear such as helmets, shin guards, wrist guards, elbow pads, and knee pads. For beginners, falling is inevitable and the only way to learn. When falling, its important to try not to resist the fall and stay on the unicycle, as that can prevent worse injury. Simply fall and think how to land safest.
The equilibrium of a unicycle is set between two points slightly in front and behind the seat. The goal of the rider is to try to remain between these two points. In reality, the only way to do this is to purposely initiate a fall and correct it at the last second. That’s why learning to ride a unicycle is actually the art of learning to fall. In order to keep their momentum, change direction, or slow down, unicycle riders must actually allow themselves to fall a certain way and correct it very quickly. This is all due to the fact that the horizontal distance between the rider’s center of gravity and the contact point (where the wheel touches the ground) determines acceleration in each direction. So a rider in motion can shift their center of gravity in front of the wheel’s contact point to accelerate, behind it to decelerate, or directly above it to maintain a constant speed.
When a rider is very far off balance, it may be impossible to move their center of gravity to the other side of the wheel to prevent a fall. In this case, the only way to move the wheel back under their center of gravity is through pedaling. Falling forwards may mean a rider didn’t pedal hard enough, whereas falling backwards means they pedaled too fast.
There are several tricks one can learn once basic riding is mastered. Idling involves not moving at all, keeping the unicycle stationary with balance by rocking back and forth on the pedals. Turning constitutes a rider looking the direction they want to go and shifting their entire body weight in that direction. An easy way to do this is put the arm of the direction you want to turn behind you and your other in front of your chest (so for a right turn, put the right arm behind and left in front). Other tricks include backwards riding, jumps, and spinning.
It’s apparent that unicycling is not just for the circus anymore. Today even many celebrities such as Coldplay’s Chris Martin, actress Leslie Mann, and comedian Adam Carolla are skilled unicyclers! Isn’t it time you joined the fun?
Hurtling towards the ground in a thirty foot freefall with nothing but a thin sheet of fabric between your legs is an everyday occurrence for the Zen Arts aerial dance crew. Born in the 1970s, aerial dance is the performance art of dance-like movements upon an aerial apparatus attached to the ceiling, with moves choreographed in all three dimensions of space, moving up and down, left and right, and back and forth. Although the talented Zen aerialists make it seem effortless, this risky art form takes a lot of courage, trust, and strength.
Aerial dance came about thanks to acclaimed dancer and choreographer Terry Sendgraff. In 1975 Terry introduced a new form of improvisational dance she coined “Motivity,” self-described as an emphasis on “the individual’s discovery of her or his unique aesthetic using a system of sensory awareness while on the ground and in the air.” Professionally trained in all forms of dance including modern and ballet, as well as gymnastics, Terry’s motivity genre mainly took place on a single-point low flying trapeze, upon which she performed various hangs, poses, and motions.
By 1978 Terry had founded “Fly By Nite,” the first ever women’s trapeze dancing troupe, performing regular shows at the Motivity Center in Berkeley, CA. By 1980 Terry established her Motivity Company. And since then Terry has been performing, collaborating, and teaching, helping to spread the aerial dance genre into the widespread phenomenon it is today, used in virtually every Cirque du Soleil production. She has won countless awards and honors including an Isadora Duncan Solo Performance Award in 1989.
Aerial dance is a total body workout, utilizing great strength, balance, agility, and flexibility across the entire body. Since grips are done with both the upper and lower body, an aerial dance performer must be well-conditioned all over, with emphasis on an exceptionally strong core. In most aerial dance performances aerialists do not utilize safety lines, so they must rely on their own strength and skill to ensure they do not fall.
Even though aerial dance is often performed solo, the apparatus upon which an artist is performing often becomes a substitute dance partner, for the aerialist must choreograph movements in consideration to the motion and balance of the apparatus itself. Add in another performer on the same apparatus and the difficulty of the task has just multiplied threefold, since now the performers must maintain balance with each other and complete their movements perfectly and synchronously.
There are hundreds of possibilities when it comes to aerial apparatuses, with new ones being concocted every year, but among the most popular are the trapeze, lyra, tissu, hammock, rope, and cube. All apparatuses can be used solo, with one partner, or multiple partners, with duos and groups performing various lifts and balancing acts for added effect.
Aerial trapeze, the original circus aerial apparatus and the one Sendgraff initially used to create aerial dance, is probably the most popular aerial dance apparatus used. It consists of a bar hanging from the ceiling by two ropes, fixed either at one point (allowing for full rotation of the swing) or two points (allowing for motion in only one direction). Trapezes can be static, swinging, or multiple, allowing for flying between trapeze bars. Tricks performed involve various hangs using the feet, legs, arms, or any combination thereof, with duo tricks involving some sort of support of the second aerialist.
Aerial lyra (also known as aerial hoop, ring, or cerceaux) is a steel ring that resembles a hula hoop, also fixed at either one or two points. Just as trapeze this apparatus can be static, swinging, or spinning. Furthermore, many of the tricks performed on trapeze can also be performed with the aerial lyra.
Aerial tissu (also known as aerial silk, fabric, chiffon, ribbon, or straps) is the use of fabrics hanging from the ceiling as a performance apparatus. The fabrics are usually a poly blend that allows for medium stretching, with a width depending on personal preference as well as size of hands. Aerial fabrics usually hang to the floor or even longer, giving the extra slack needed to perform various tricks. Most aerial fabric acts need vertical space of about 20 to 30 feet in order to perform tricks safely. Performers may use one, two, or more fabrics in any given aerial tissu routine.
Aerial tissu tricks are usually divided into three main categories: climbs, wraps, and drops. For the most part these are self-explanatory, with a climb being when a performer ascends up the fabric, a wrap when a performer wraps their body (or portions of their body) within the fabric, and a drop being when a performer descends down the fabric. During all of these tricks performers create various aesthetically pleasing poses. The more complicated the wrap, the easier the pose, since there is more friction holding the body up, taking a portion of the work off the performer. Drops are obviously the most dangerous and difficult of the three and are usually performed following a wrap. A common drop is the windmill, in which the performer unravels the fabric wrapped around their body, descending towards the ground with legs spread apart and spinning. Some drops are even performed in a state of complete freefall!
Seeing as aerial tissu artists are only as safe as their own strength, some performers use rosin, a sticky resin from conifers that increases friction, in order to improve their grip. Furthermore, duo aerial silk can be particularly tricky since partners must support and balance one another’s weight, a feat requiring implicit trust and confidence.
Aerial hammock is similar to aerial tissu except that the fabric loops back up to the ceiling to create a hammock-like apparatus to perform in. Aerial hammock tricks are the same as tissu tricks with the addition of cradling elements, in which the performer can lie within the fabric of the hammock without the support of a hand grip, foot hold, or additional aerialist.
Aerial rope (also known as corde lisse, meaning “smooth rope” in French) is a large rope apparatus that involves many of the same tricks as aerial tissu including climbs, wraps, and drops. Aerial rope is usually made from a soft cotton in thickness of 25-30 mm. Just like in aerial tissu, performers must utilize various foot locks to ascend and descend the rope, as well as to perform various intricate poses and tricks.
Lastly aerial cube incorporates a large, hollow, and side-less three-dimensional cube upon and through which performers exhibit various holds and poses. Like most other aerial apparatuses, performers on cube must pay particular attention to each others movements, for any untimely or wrong gesture could throw the entire apparatus into a state of disequilibrium.
Other types of apparatuses include aerial bungee, performing somersaults and various tricks attached to a giant bungee cord, aerial perch, performing grabs and poses against a fixed pole, and aerial net, performing tricks similar to those in aerial tissu utilizing a netted material.
Since aerial dance is usually performed without a safety net or harness, aerial professionals must go through rigorous practice and training before attempting a live performance. Accidents do occur, like in November of 2009 when an aerialist had to be hospitalized after falling during a holiday show at the Beverly Center mall in Los Angeles. The seasoned 26-year-old performer fell nearly 40 feet when she slipped while hanging upside from a lyra, a trick she had performed countless times before.
One of the main safety precautions aerialists take is performing in tight or form-fitting clothing to allow a full range of motion without the interference of materials. Baggy and flowy clothing can provide superfluous material that can intermingle with the apparatus as well as grip attempts by the performer. In addition to safety reasons, many wear minimal clothing to show off full muscular definitions and body lines as part of the aesthetics of the act, showcasing the beauty of the human body and its capabilities.
Starting in 1999 in Boulder, CO, the Aerial Dance Festival is an annual gathering of aerial performers to share, learn, and discuss various tricks and new techniques. Put on by Frequent Flyers Productions Inc., the festival consists of two weeks of demonstrations, seminars, workshops, and classes, providing a forum for aerial dance artists from around the nation to join together.
Today many modern trapeze schools offer courses in aerial dance. To try your hand at aerial dance simply research a trapeze school near you and ask which apparatuses they train in. Or if you’d like to leave the difficult stuff to us, call 855-ZEN-ARTS or email at email@example.com to witness a breathtaking Zen Arts aerial dance routine first-hand.
For more of our favorite photos of Zen Arts aerial dance check out the thumbnails below or visit the Zen Arts Facebook page.
If you’ve ever watched a Cirque du Soleil show filled with colorfully-costumed dancers rhythmically tumbling, jumping, and flipping across the stage…well guess what? There’s a name for that! Acro-dance is exactly what it sounds like, a form of performance art combing the best of dance and acrobatics. And although it may seem graceful and effortless, doing this stuff takes quite a lot of strength, energy, skill, and discipline.
Acro-dance, usually called just “acro” in the dance world, came about in vaudeville in the early 1900s. Even before this time, individual acts of dance and acrobatics were very popular, but no one had ever thought to merge the two together. On the same note, acro-dance wasn’t created overnight. It was a gradual creation through several performance artists across a span of many years. There is not one performer that is single-handedly credited as the sole creator of the art form.
Many of the pioneers of acro-dance were African American. Sherman Coates, of the Watermelon Trust dancers, was one of the first to use acrobatic elements in his dance routine around 1900. His Trust consisted of his friend Grundy and his wife, as well as Sherman’s own wife Lulu, who in 1913 went on to form a separate group with three other young male dancers called the Crackerjacks.
Another notable pioneer was Tommy Woods, a tap dancer who incorporated flips into his routine for the vaudeville production Shuffle Along. Woods would time his acrobatic feats to land them right on the beat of the music, a talent previously unseen by vaudeville audiences.
Since then vaudeville acro-dance has changed significantly, becoming more precise in form and movement as a result of the integration of ballet techniques. Additionally, vaudeville acro-dance generally focused on acrobatic feats with accompanying music, whereas today’s acro-dance is mainly dance with various acrobatic tricks sprinkled throughout a routine.
To become an acro-dancer takes an extreme amount of strength, flexibility, and endurance. If you’ve ever watched Olympic gymnasts, you know that they are in pretty incredible shape, so the same must go for acro-dancers. After all they are combining the strength and power of gymnastic elements into the elegance and energy of dance. To become trained in both dance and acrobatics is very difficult and requires a high overall fitness level in order to excel.
Acro-dance has seen widespread popularity in the performing arts, becoming a staple of almost every Cirque du Soleil production. However it is still not uniformly defined in the competitive dance industry, with each school and competition having its own rules on what percentage of a routine needs to contain elements of dance and what percentage elements of acrobatics. It is not an Olympic sport either, but if combined the competitions of floor exercise and rhythmic gymnastics, the offspring would most definitely be acro-dance.
One of the defining characteristics of acro-dance is its focus on smooth, graceful transitions between dance and acrobatic moves, creating seamless blends between the two. Additionally a significant portion of a routine must involve dance in order to be defined as acro-dance. For example a gymnastic floor routine cannot be considered acro-dance for its lacking in rhythmic dance movements as well as in the characteristic smooth transitions.
The dance portion of an acro-dance routine generally follows one of the more established and official styles of dance such as jazz, ballet, or modern. Nevertheless, what’s great about acro-dance is the creative freedom it provides the dancer, a freedom that is missing from most structured singular dance or gymnastic genres.
Acrobatic elements of any routine are obviously called tricks, and can be categorized based on the number of performers involved, solo being a single performer, double two performers, and group more than two performers.
A few common solo tricks include the elbow stand, back walkover, and hand walking. An elbow stand consists of a handstand on the forearms with the feet bent back and hanging above the head. A back walkover is similar to a cartwheel rather facing forwards instead of sideways, bending backwards with hands on the ground, and bringing the legs up and over the body one at a time. Finally hand walking is exactly what it sounds like, a handstand in which the performer walks across the stage using their hands.
A few common double tricks include the double cartwheel, swizzle, and pitch tuck. A double cartwheel is when one performer grabs the torso of another performer who begins cartwheeling, following the move with another cartwheel, and so on and so on in succession like a wheel rolling down a road. The swizzle is when one performer grabs another by the hands and swings them down towards the ground and back up high in the air in a 360 degree motion (this is also popular in doubles figure skating). Finally a pitch tuck is when one performer clasps the hands together to create a support structure to launch the other performer into an aerial backwards somersault, tucking the knees in during rotation and landing on both feet.
A common group trick includes the pyramid, in which 3 or more performers support each other in a vertical fashion. Most group tricks involve creating some sort of human support structure, similar to the pyramids done in cheerleading.
Acro-dancers usually have their own type of footwear, unable to perform barefoot like gymnasts since they usually do not perform on the cushioned springy floors that gymnasts use. Their footwear usually consists of various types of jazz dance shoes, providing traction and cushioning, to prevent slipping as well as protect the joints during the hard impact of tricks. They also protect against abrasion on the ball of the foot, which takes most of the brunt of acro-dancing. Some dancers opt for foot thongs, which only partially cover the foot (specifically the ball), and come in flesh-colored tones so as to appear barefoot.
Many acro-dance performers will also incorporate the use of props such as hoops, batons, and balls in order to increase the difficulty and skill level of a routine. Or in the case of Zen Arts…our favorite props are snakes and fire!
Circus troupes such as Cirque du Soleil and Zen Arts have helped increase the popularity of acro-dance worldwide. Common acro-dance elements are now not only a feature of, but expected of, the dance troupes on MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew. And more and more dance studios nationwide are offering acro classes in their repertoire, allowing future circus performers to get started at a younger age.
For inquiries on booking a Zen Arts acro-dance performance please call 855-ZEN-ARTS or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.