Out From Under the Big Top

You may have noticed her juggling clubs on Sun God lawn. Or maybe you’ve seen her atop that unicycle, breezing past a sluggish student body on her way to classes. Either way, make sure to step aside.

“It makes for a lot of funny looks, and then people become roadblocks because they’re staring,” said Sibert.

There aren’t many places to walk a tightrope on campus, but according to Sibert, she can do that too. And rumor has it the girl swings a mean trapeze.

Her obsession began in 5th grade during a Club Med family reunion to Mexico. Sibert said, the kids were shipped off to circus lessons to occupy their time. And it’s been occupying her time for a while now.

“I tried the flying trapeze there and loved it,” Sibert said. “I fell in love with the circus, and was doing all these crazy stunts that gave my mother heart failure.”

The very next spring, she joined a circus camp to reconnect with her newfound affinity for acrobatics — and has been an aerial stunt girl ever since. What’s more, for the past three summers, Sibert worked at Tito Gaona’s Flying Trapeze Academy and Flying Fantasy Circus, in Massachusetts, inspiring would-be aerialists as young as six years old to do as she did.

Sibert said she specializes in eliciting shock and glee from her audiences. As an aerial specialist, she performs everything from flying trapeze to the aerial hoop — cartwheeling at upward of 20 to 25 feet off the ground.

“The circus is about crazy tricks and looking for ways to make the audience gasp, then laugh,” Sibert said. “It’s a fine line between horrifying, amazing, death-defying skills and comic relief.”

Every skill requires a different set. Unicycle took Sibert over a month of daily practice to master, and the three-ball juggle a month on top of that. Now, she can juggle five balls or three clubs — seven, if passing to a partner — and is an enthused member of the Muir College Juggling Club.

As for the more complicated tricks, Sibert said she has never been afraid of learning new aerial maneuvers — even when she’s dangling upside down, 25 feet above solid ground (no net, no mat), suspended by nothing but silk ribbons and confidence in her own talents.

Sibert said she has never been injured while doing any of the stunts.

“There’s definitely times when I think that what I’m doing is crazy, but with the right mentality, anyone can do it,” she said. “I’ve learned how to trust myself, and know what’s safe and what isn’t.”

Shock value isn’t the only upside of the circus for Sibert; she said she also digs the close-knit dynamic of the circus community — her second family.

“The circus is one of the few places where every single human being is accepted as the core of who he or she is,” Sibert said. “There’s no need to put on a face. You’re accepted point-blank with no strings attached. You support each other.”

Despite her apparent passion for the circus, Sibert said her aerial aspirations almost fizzled out completely when she first arrived to UCSD.

“There was the Muir Juggling Club, but I couldn’t find anything with aerials, so I was just going to focus on school. I thought, ‘I’m done for now.’”

Turned out she was wrong.

“I happened across someone who needed an aerial partner through another person in the Muir Juggling Club,” Sibert said. “Within a quarter I was heavily involved.”

Now, Sibert trains and coaches with what she describes as “a group of people who have found each other over the years” — a new circus family.

What does the future hold for this one-wheeled campus wonder? Sibert said though she does have aspirations to pursue marine biology at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, she is heavily considering taking a gap year before graduate school to travel with a professional circus.

“Circus isn’t something that can wait until after I obtain my PhD. The tricks are rough on the body,” Sibert said. “It’s in my blood, in my life.”

Readers can contact Angela Chen at [email protected].

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