I’m fascinated by other people’s talents and skills. Musicians, novelists, dancers … anyone who has a specific ability that they’ve honed and perfected. And kudos to those who share their talent and touch the lives of others – from teaching classes or performing on stage, to simply going to work every day, in the case of a steady-handed surgeon.
Perhaps my fascination stems from the fact that, well, I’m not really sure I have any specific talents. I dabble in photography and love to cook, but those are hobbies I enjoy as opposed to special abilities I possess or have perfected.
My interest grew enormously when I recently attended Cirque du Soleil’s Totem in San Jose and witnessed some unusual and stunning performances. Granted, I’d never experienced a circus before: not when I was a kid to see princely tigers jump through hoops and massive elephants balance on their hind legs, nor a “humane,” human-only circus.
Actually, that’s not quite true. Some friends and I attended a Cirque Berzerk show a few years ago down in Los Angeles, but just before the show started, I received a phone call that my uncle had died. Needless to say, the entire show and our trip back home was a blur.
So my hopes were high for Totem, being that I had no real reference on which to compare it. And my hopes were easily surpassed. I left the blue circus tent with acts replaying and questions swirling in mind. First and foremost: How do they do that?
How does a person realize she can balance on a tall unicycle while tossing bowls with her feet onto the head of other unicyclists? How does another know that, while a unicycle may not be his forte, he’s an amazing roller skater who can perform tricks on a small circular surface while spinning his partner?
I could go on and on – the costumes, the pole balancers, the band, the clowns.
Some might wonder what talent a clown possesses, but when public speaking is one of people’s greatest fears, I wonder how many of us could get up in front of a crowd and become a successful joker. I imagine it takes guts and good timing – not to mention a natural ability to make others smile. (Or run, since clowns are sometimes on that same list of greatest fears.)
A friend of mine and her fiancé were once a part of Cirque du Soleil (he was a clown in Kooza), and she shared with me what their life was like behind the scenes: the money was good, the travel could be taxing, the interactions between cast members and technicians were interesting. There were language barriers, injuries – broken bones, torn Achilles tendons – and, as with any job, small rivalries between a few.
I can’t imagine being a circus performer is just any job, but I suppose when your specific skill involves a trapeze or dancing with hoops, you need to seek out an appropriate venue in which to share and showcase it.
It makes me wonder if people are born with innate abilities, or perhaps specific talents that lean toward genetics. I imagine the child of two musicians would be more musically inclined than, say, the child of two people who weren’t interested in music.
Then again, I suppose some people simply find something they’re passionate about and become skilled in it over time. A professional chef isn’t born clutching a spatula, nor a dancer wearing ballet slippers. Maybe it comes down to environment and what activities parents push their child toward.
Who knows what would have happened if I’d taken those piano lessons my folks suggested when I was young or if I’d put more effort into those drawing classes when teachers told me I had a natural ability.
Maybe it’s about time I pick up some charcoal pencils again and see if it’s still there. But if for some reason it’s not, I guess it’s never to late to try something new and see what happens.
Who knows? Maybe somewhere, deep inside, is a bowl-tossing unicyclist just waiting to emerge.