How to become a therapist for Cirque du Soleil

by Trevor Aung Than on August 9, 2012

So you think the life of a circus carnie might be for you? You won’t need to carry any water for elephants but a therapist position with Cirque du Soleil is a challenging, stimulating and rewarding experience nonetheless. A ‘Performance Medicine’ or PMeD role on a Cirque show not only involves overseeing the salubrious needs of the artists but is a multi-faceted, holistic role incorporating the artists’ medical and psychosocial issues. Cirque artists are akin to professional athletes, often undergoing a gruelling schedule of 8-10 shows per week plus training and rehearsals.


An insight into the world as a PMeD therapist on a Cirque touring show (OVO)

Cirque du Soleil shows are either Resident shows, based in a permanent residence (currently 10 shows in Las Vegas, Orlando and Los Angeles) or Touring shows which travel the globe with their troupe (currently 11 different touring troupes). Each show has its’ own PMeD department each employing 2 or 3 therapists depending on the size of the show and number of artists. Cirque also maintains an International Headquarters in Montreal where a team of therapists looks after all the repatriated artists and the artists undergoing the creation of new shows. Cirque therapists come from a diverse range of backgrounds and cultures – physiotherapists from Brazil to Australia, physical therapists from the US, athletic therapists and massage therapists.

Part of my role as PMeD Supervisor was the hiring of therapists for our department in Macau. Strong clinical and manual skills were essential and experience in therapeutic exercise such as pilates were desirable. Emergency medical experience was also desirable in the event of an accident (concussion from a blowhorn, compound fractures, hangnails) during show or trainings.

Soft skills were often a clincher for potential hires as the nature of Cirque artists and Cirque shows are so diverse. The nature of the PMeD role dictated a fine line between an artists’ medical needs versus artistic and coaching needs. Often a decision from the therapist could mean the difference between an act featured in the show that night or a drastically altered show. Cirque acts change and of course, in a touring environment, the environment is constantly changing! Each new city for touring PMeD means new doctors, X-Ray facilities…everything!

Some of the essential skills of the job would entail:

Hard skills
Manual therapy
Strong clinical reasoning skills
Therapeutic exercise and rehabilitation
Emergency Medical skills

Soft Skills
Adaptability
Diversity
Willingness to learn
Team player

I recall one of my old bosses mentioning 3 things they look for in all their hires:

1) A therapist that thrives in a changing/uncertain environment – Cirque is a constantly changing environment; nothing is set in stone, a successful therapist should be able to excel during uncertainty.

2) The ability to deal with many diverse cultures; keeps an open mind with assessments/treatments.

3) Passionate about getting artists better; getting them back to their craft.

I think these are the 3 main attributes Cirque looks for: a therapist who can work in an ever changing environment (especially touring), deal with diverse cultures; does a great job treating ALL artists.

My tips for aspiring circus therapists would be;

  • get some decent clinical skills – ie. manual therapy, soft tissue, deep tissue, Active Release, whatever!  A minimum of 5 years experience for most shows.
  • get some decent rehabilitation/therapeutic exercise skills – pilates, S and C, functional conditioning, etc.
  • have adequate emergency rescue skills i.e Senior first aid, Advanced first aid, Resuscitation, etc.
  • be willing to change, adapt, do assessments in another language, do assessments with no language ; )
  • be willing to have an awesome adventure!

Well, what are you waiting for?

Here are some resources that may help…

Resources
Back in late 2007 when I saw the Cirque show Varekai here in Perth I had one of those moments where I thought to myself ‘Wouldn’t that be cool to work as a physio for this show??’. I bought the DVD series ‘The Fire Within’ – which follows a group of artists during the creation and launch of Varekai – and resoundly watched all 13-episodes in quick succession. I was hooked. It prompted me to apply for a therapist job online and I guess the rest is history! Watch all 13 episodes of The Fire Within here.

I kept a blog during my 2.5 year tenure with Cirque in Macau, China.

Go here for the Cirque du Soleil job page to post your profile (which is how I was recruited).

I sum it all up in the manifesto – The 7 things I learned from working in the circus.

Feel free to comment or email me if you have any questions.  More than happy to help.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Jessica March 21, 2013 at 3:07 am

Hi! I am looking for information for getting into Cirque and your article was super helpful, but I have a couple questions. What are the requirements (education, certifications, experience) for working in Cirque Du Soleil or related circus shows. I’m from the US and we have different terminology for all of our sports medicine related fields, so I’m not sure what matches up with what. I am an athletic trainer and personal trainer. I have my bachelor’s degree in athletic training and have been working for 5 years in a variety of settings (high school, university, physical therapy clinics) I will be starting my master’s degree this summer and am also going to sit for the certified strength and conditioning specialist certification. Are there any other qualifications I need?

Thanks so much!

Reply

Trevor Aung Than March 24, 2013 at 9:29 am

Hi Jessica,
Thanks for the message. Yes, there are many athletic trainer’s working for Cirque so your qualifications are suitable. At a minimum Cirque looks for 5 years clinical experience (clinic, college sport, etc). Your masters degree and S and C certification will only hold you in higher regard! I would suggest just reaching out to them via their website and job board.
Good luck,
Trevor

Reply

Adam March 29, 2013 at 11:17 pm

Hi Trevor,
Thank you so much for putting this together! I was hoping to get a little more information as well. I am a fairly new physical therapist, but with 4 years PTA experience. I’m currently certified in Graston Technique, I’m a couple of courses in towards the McKenzie certification, I am about to begin a 2 year program learning Shiatsu massage techniques to apply to my current practice, but I’m wondering what would be most beneficial to pursue in regards to other treatment techniques for a career with Cirque du Soleil. I have assumed that Pilates based therapy would be beneficial, but that is mostly just an assumption on my part. What would you recommend going after for someone like me who is aspiring to work with the performers in the show? I’m thinking long term, as I know having only a year experience as a PT isn’t enough to join the show. Thanks for your time!!
-Adam

Reply

Trevor Aung Than April 5, 2013 at 10:10 am

Hi Adam,

No problems, thanks for following. Certainly you are heading in the right direction with your ‘hands-on’ skills. I would definitely look at broadening your knowledge in the ‘hands-off’ department – whether it be pilates, Strength and conditioning, other rehab focus like FMS, kettlebells, etc. This would add another tool to your belt. Keep up the good work!

Trev

Reply

Julie Laico June 21, 2013 at 8:21 am

Hi Trevor,
Thanks for the video. It just inspired and excited me even more. I just applied the the Cirque Du Soleil website. I have been a Licensed Massage Therapist for 12 years and just became certified in Cupping Therapy and Cupping Massage.
I have experience anywhere from Sports Massage to Lymphatic Drainage and most in between. I did clinical massage and treatments such as electrical stimulation and therapeutic ultrasound for 7 years. For the past 3 years I have been successfully independent with a strong clientele but was told recently that I should apply to Cirque because it’s right up my alley.
I love new experiences and would love to learn so much more within our amazing line of work. It would be such an honor to become part of the Cirque family. If you could put in a word a good word I would be so proud. This is my passion and I want to share my gift.

P.S. I live in Florida. I’ve never seen snow. I would move to Montreal, Canada to work for Cirque. :)

Application # SHO06240

Best Regards,
Julie Laico

Reply

Trevor Aung Than July 3, 2013 at 10:15 pm

Good luck with your Cirque aspirations Julie!

Reply

Phone Therapy July 30, 2013 at 12:20 am

I think this is among the most important information for
me. And i am glad reading your article. But should
remark on few general things, The website style is wonderful, the
articles is really nice : D. Good job, cheers

Reply

Steff September 15, 2013 at 10:27 am

Hi Trevor!
Thanks for such a great page!
I’m just wondering what Cirque’s position on new grad’s would be? I’ll qualify from my Bachelor of Physio in Australia in December and am looking for a really exciting job opportunity. I have extensive experience in emergency medicine (8 years ski patrolling), speak 2 languages fluently (Eng & Ger) and absolutely NEED to travel!
I feel like it would be a perfect fit but that a new grad position is unlikely…?!
Any advice would be greatly appreciated! – steff

Reply

Trevor Aung Than September 26, 2013 at 11:49 am

Hi Steff!

Thanks for following. Generally CDS will not employ new grads, a mimimum of 5 years clinical experience is what we used to look for.
You could always try though!

Cheers
Trevor

Reply

Kelly Harrison September 25, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Hi, I am currently a physiotherapy student in Australia and just looking for some advice as to what is the best path to take after studying if I have a goal like this at hand? I am at ex gymnast of 14 years and currently a dancer so cirque du soleil has always been my dream, and to maybe work one day as a physio would be incredible.

Kind regards,

Reply

Trevor Aung Than September 26, 2013 at 11:53 am

Hi Kelly

Thanks for reading. As I’ve replied before, just get as much relevant experience as possible i.e. work/volunteer at gymnastics, circus schools, etc. Pilates/rehab experience also comes in handy.

Cheers
Trev

Reply

Denis October 9, 2013 at 10:31 am

Hi Trevor,

My question to you is how likely is for the Cirque to just hire a Registered Massage Therapist (in the states: LST) compare to a Athletic therapist or a Physical Therapist. I’m a RMT for the last few years with a heavy background with training knowledge ranging from gymnastics to weights. It just seems the application is looking for more AT and PT than just a massage therapist with other skills under the belt.

Thanks,
Denis

Reply

Trevor Aung Than November 15, 2013 at 10:22 am

Hi Denis

To my knowledge CDS don’t directly employ RMTs. I believe they have a pool of massage therapists that service the residential shows in LV and will usually hire local RMTs in each city when touring.

Reply

E Burke October 23, 2013 at 1:14 pm

Hi, I saw on the cirque website that they have programs, teachers etc. for performers who travel with family members. Are the same opportunities provided for staff that would like to travel with their kids? (they are young, aged 2 & 4 right now)

Thanks

Reply

Trevor Aung Than November 15, 2013 at 10:24 am

Hello

Yes, the artists with children do usually have teachers and schooling available for their children. Artistic staff and technical staff don’t usually have the same services available to my knowledge. I know because I asked the same question!!!

Trevor

Reply

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