They do acrobatic handstands while balancing on top of precariously stacked chairs.
Their pyramids of people grow to be three human beings high — as acrobats flip and toss each other into the air, then catch each living projectile.
“What we do is dangerous. It takes specialized training to do this stuff,” said Olympix-Acronaires’ coach Ron Schafer.
But while the feats of strength and agility might be reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil, the entertainers who practise four nights a week aren’t professional acrobats.
The Olympix-Acronaires are an amateur group affiliated with Canadian University College in Lacombe.
“A lot of people say, ‘We had no idea this kind of stuff is done at CUC,’ ” said Schafer. “They are quite amazed when they see what we can do.”
The group that wowed crowds at Red Deer’s Festival of Trees last weekend is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a reunion performance on Saturday at the college.
The show will also feature acrobatics from some special guests who actually have worked with Cirque du Soleil: world trampoline champions brothers Kyle and Keegan Soehn, of Red Deer; Acrobazia, a male acrobatic pair from out of the U.S.; as well as a Russian trio who do a bar routine will join the Acronaires for the weekend show that’s open to the public.
Schafer believes the “high energy” reunion program will provide plenty of thrills, as well as allowing his group to reminisce and celebrate four decades of performing across Canada, the U.S., as well as Central America and Europe. (Next summer the globe-trotting acrobats are headed to Africa for more performances as well as humanitarian projects with Lacombe charity A Better World.)
The Olympix-Acronaires were formed in Lacombe in 1973, when Schafer signed on as one of the first local gymnasts.
While having a touring acrobatics team is unusual for most post-secondary institutions, it isn’t for Seventh-day Adventist colleges, said Schafer, who noted the model for this was formed in 1959, when Robert Kalua and Gene Wilson created a gymnastics training field in Loma Linda, Ca.
Since then, other acrobatics groups were formed at other Adventist institutions as a way to promote physical fitness while engaging the public. The acrobatic groups began touring and performing, much like college-affiliated orchestras and choirs, said Schafer.
The Lacombe Olympix-Acronaires have had many highlights, including performances in Las Vegas, Jamaica, Costa Rica and Belize, and having members compete in the U.S. National Acrobatics Competition in 1989 (when a member advanced to the world competition) and in 1996.
The 30-some group members range in age from 11 to 68 and don’t have to be Adventists. The youngest are twin sons of one of the group’s assistant coaches, while the oldest was a biology instructor at the Lacombe college who was always extremely fit and wanted to try acrobatics, said Schafer.
He noted the main requirements are high energy, good balance and core strength, and, most importantly — trust. “When you get thrown into the air, you want to make sure people are there to catch you.”
Schafer, who’s stepping down after coaching for 30 years, is looking forward to the reunion, where he will see former group members and “relive a lot of memories.”
Although the Acronaires have done a lot of touring over the decades, they always find an audience. If anything, the blending of physical fitness and performance art has seen a surge of public interest over the last few years because of the popularity of Cirque du Soleil, said Schafer.
While he doesn’t put his group in the same category as the world famous Cirque, he believes the Acronaires never fail to impress a crowd.
“There are lot of people who have never seen this kind of thing before. It always leads to lots of inquiries about us and the school.”
Tickets for the 8 p.m. acrobatics show on Saturday in the gymnasium of Canadian University College in Lacombe are $25.
Those who want to attend a 1:30 p.m. reunion banquet at the College Heights Christian School gym earlier on Saturday can get tickets to the luncheon for $30.
Tickets to both the luncheon and the acrobatics show are available for $50. For more information, call 403-782-2822.