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Security Forces and Cirque Du Soleil

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Stephanie Morris
  • Minot Air Force Base Public Affairs
In a grassy field near Quebec stands an enormous yellow and blue tent; those who dare to venture inside are greeted by a world of pageantry and wonder. High-wire walkers balance precariously on their lines, jugglers, acrobats and dancers decorated in festive regalia. This is the exotic and exciting world of Cirque Du Soleil.

Lights blaze all around the stage casting hues from every end of the spectrum. Music blares across the crowd of excited onlookers, building on the drama that is the circus.

Far from the blinding lights, thunderous music and beautiful décor stands an Airman, guarding Minot Air Force Base with his fellow defenders. Unbeknownst to his friends and coworkers, he was once a star of his own right in that bright world.

Airman 1st Class Robert Taylor, a member of the 5th Security Forces Squadron alpha flight, happens to be an avid unicyclist who once worked for Cirque Du Soleil.

According to their website, Cirque du Soleil, which was a group of 20 street performers at its beginnings in 1984, is now a major Quebec-based organization providing high-quality artistic entertainment. The company has close to 4,000 employees, including 1,300 performing artists from close to 50 different countries.

The site also states Cirque du Soleil has brought wonder and delight to more than 155 million spectators, in more than 300 cities, in over 40 countries on six continents.

During his time with Cirque Du Soleil, Taylor performed in several cities across Texas and this November will mark his seventh year pursuing unicycling.

However, Taylor's hobby started off more by coincidence than his own desire to pursue the pastime.

Approximately seven years ago, Taylor visited a garage sale with his stepmother. On weekends they would go to sales together and on one such day they came across a garage sale, just a couple neighborhoods over from theirs, where an old man was selling a small-short unicycle.

The man said he was too old for it, that he couldn't ride it anymore, so Taylor begged his stepmom and she bought it, Taylor said.

"She thought it was weird but I thought it was cool. I'd never seen one before," the California native explained.

About three days later, he was riding it up and down the street and that's how his hobby got started.

"When I was riding the little unicycle, my little sister was dating this guy whose parents were both in the circus," Taylor said. "They traveled with Cirque Du Soleil a lot and some of the performers ended up getting sick. He had seen me riding my unicycle, walking on stilts, juggling and all those things, so he asked if I would try out. Because I was one of the few unicyclists, I was able to work for the circus for a little while."

Taylor stated that joining the circus was more like an audition than a competition. If there are three good unicyclists they will use all three but if there is only one at the audition who is good enough, they will be the one who performs.

The job with the circus was a fun and exciting time in Taylor's life. He was able to learn a lot, meet a wide array of people, and do many interesting things, but it was also a hard life.

"I was only there a little while in Texas but you travel a lot and you're away from your family," Taylor said. "My sister's boyfriend at the time lived with his little brother in a house seven or eight months out of the year when his parents weren't home. He basically raised his little brother and he was only 18."

Ever shifting locations and an inconsistent schedule ultimately turned Taylor away from circus life and pointed him toward a career in the Air Force. He explained that spending large amounts of time away from his family was the main reason for the change.

"Now in the military, I have a more stable life and things like medical insurance which I wouldn't have with the circus," Taylor explained. "It's a long day here but I know that when I come home, I can do the things that I like and I don't really have to worry about seeing my family or what's going to happen."

Now Taylor rides a giraffe unicycle, which unlike the smaller unicycle is driven with a chain and much higher off the ground. Giraffe unicycles range from five to seven feet tall with approximately four to six feet between the wheel and the seat and sometimes their crank arms are not attached directly to the axle. Most commonly they are the tall unicycles used for parades and shows.

Unicycling isn't new however; it has in fact been a popular hobby since the 1800s. During 1866, James Stanley invented a unique bicycle called the Penny Farthing. It is this vehicle that is thought to be the inspiration for the unicycle.

During the late nineteenth century the Penny Farthing was a popular bicycle. It had a large front wheel and a small rear wheel. Since its pedal cranks were connected directly to the front axle, the rear wheel would often go up in the air moving the rider slightly forward. This likely prompted riders to see how long they could ride with the back wheel in the air. Thus, the unicycle was born.

Unicycling is really just about balance, Taylor said. It's hard to learn, and hard to understand but it doesn't take long to get good at it.

Taylor uses his unicycle as a primary mode of transportation not only because it's fun and entertaining but also because it reminds him of when he was a member of Cirque Du Soleil.

Taylor explained he has never fallen off of his unicycle and for him it is much easier than biking.

"People define falling as hitting the ground and scraping their knee or hands but on a unicycle you can't fall," Taylor said. "It's difficult to fall off of a unicycle because when you feel yourself falling your feet are already under you. When you fall off a bike you'll be holding onto the handle bars until you hit the ground."

Taylor also explained all of your body weight is on the seat when riding a unicycle so the tire always looks flat, as all of your weight is on one tire instead of two.

"With biking you actually don't really use your seat," Taylor said. "In reality most of your weight isn't on the seat it's either on your wrists and hands or your feet. You're either standing up and biking or you're very lightly on the seat."

For Taylor, the people he met and the experiences he had working for Cirque Du Soleil were worth all of the effort and he doesn't intend to forget the things he learned while there.

Though he has left behind the fast paced circus life, Taylor said he enjoys his new job. He explained meeting new people and being able to see his family more often are both huge benefits to military life, but he wouldn't change his experience with the circus for anything.

"I'm actually hoping to start classes on base for people who want to learn unicycling," Taylor said. "I've had two people already ask me to teach them, one is a nine-year-old boy who I ended up giving my original unicycle from the garage sale to. I don't intend to stop doing this anytime soon."