‘Cirque’ debut is a Winter Carnival hit

STEP Training Center owner Chantel Whitley defies gravity with the help of two blue ribbons suspended from a crane. (Photo by CAMERON RASMUSSON)

SANDPOINT — A dizzying display of acrobatics and flexibility wowed the crowds Friday night as the Sandpoint Winter Carnival kicked off.

The staff and students of the STEP Training Center debuted the town’s yearly winter extravaganza in spectacular fashion with the Cirque de Sandpoint, a showcase featuring dance routines, gymnastics, fire spinning and aerial acrobatics. Crowds responded enthusiastically to the skill on display, especially when STEP Training Center owner Chantel Whitley took to the sky suspended by nothing more than a pair of thin, blue ribbons.

Each performance went off without a hitch, leaving both the audience and the performers satisfied with the evening.

“I think this was a great opportunity to showcase to the town what gymnastics is all about,” Whitley said.

The show was not without its difficulties. The Winter Carnival occurs smack-dab in the middle of competition season for the center’s students, leaving participants in a time crunch to prepare for both the show and their events.

Perhaps more unsettling was the fact that Whitley had never before tackled a performance like the aerial acrobatics show put on during Cirque de Sandpoint. Throughout the course of the showcase, she was suspended from a crane more than a dozen feet off the ground, held aloft by wrapping ribbons around her body.

While in the air, she pulled off a number of acrobatic maneuvers and poses, including a sudden and swift drop head-first from the top of the ribbons to a few feet from the ground. There was no room for error during her performance — the only thing separating her from the ground in the event of a fall was a two-inch mat.

“When I first got here tonight, I was definitely nervous,” she said.

The Cirque de Sandpoint showed off plenty of other talented people as well, including a number of training center students between the ages of 6 and 18.

Seventeen-year-old Lauran Mathews helped coordinate the team through a variety of dance and gymnastic routines.

Gymnast and athlete Oren Bridges also put on a memorable show using capoeira, a Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance and music into a complex array of moves.

According to STEP creative director Bo Whitley, the idea for the performance first struck last year when the center acquired several pieces of circus equipment. STEP officials prepared themselves by undertaking training sessions all over North America.

According to Bo and Chantel Whitley, the hard work was all worthwhile to put on a great show for Sandpoint.

“STEP stands for ‘seeking to encourage people,’ and that’s what we’re all about,” Bo Whitley said.

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