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She Wows Crowd in Ludlow on the German Wheel, Prepares for Bigger Stage

During the Circus Mojo Christmas Show in Ludlow earlier this month, performer Sharon Miller dazzled the crowd with her German Wheel performance.

The wheel is a sport, and is taken very seriously in parts of Europe and is growing in popularity. The wheel itself is large enough for a person to stand in and during the performance, Miller displayed elegant acts of balance and strength as she showcased a variety of physically impressive acts on the wheel.

Miller has only been training on the wheel for a little over a year, but already she has gained the necessary skills to compete globally for her native country of Mexico. In fact, unlike the United States team that has so many athletes interested in joining the squad that trials are needed, Miller is the only member of the Mexican team.

She came to the United States five years ago when she wanted to use the circus skills she developed as an aerialist. She and her husband, Chris, discovered Circus Mojo and Miller joined the troupe where she has been since.

“In Mexico, the government has a program to keep youth out of trouble. They have many different programs and you can take one of those for free and also they pay you for a small monthly stipend and transportation costs. I was part of those programs for a few months. I wanted to keep practicing circus so I found Circus Mojo and moved here,” she said. “I have only been doing circus for about five years. I started doing silks for that long because I am mostly an aerialist, but then I started doing the wheel last year. Silks are fabric that hangs from the ceiling where you hang.”

The German wheel is not something anyone can decide to do well and safely on a whim. When watching a competitor, it's easy to see how physically dangerous such an act can be.

“There are tricks,” Miller said. “You have to have perfect timing when to open your hands and when to lean back in. It is very difficult because in circus, the wheel is not used a lot, it's becoming more popular but it's really not a circus thing, it's a sport.”

Miller is trained by coach Wolfgang Bientzle who is an eight-time world champion and trains the United States team.

“In Europe it's a huge thing. They do the championships and it's based on skill. You should see the things people can do, it's crazy. They start when they're five years old,” she said. “I spent almost one week a month in Chicago to train with Wolfgang because he is the best. He is the one who has really been supporting me and pushing me to compete so I have to go there. There are no other coaches close by. I train with the US national team and I compete with them and everything, but I'm on the Mexican team, which is really just me.”

Miller said that she sometimes gets nervous about competing with such seasoned performers because she got a much later start.

“I thought that I knew some stuff, and I thought it was okay to do a cutsie performance the first year, but people will expect more. It's fun, but I am getting more stressed. I just want them to see that I am taking it seriously because for them, it's not circus it's a sport.”

Another exciting aspect to her wheel performance in Ludlow was the fact that her mother had traveled from Mexico City to see her daughter display her wheel talents for the first time.

“We were having some problem with her passport but she wanted to come to spend Christmas with us and I just said maybe she can come the 22nd or something, but I wanted her to see the performance because I don't know when we would have another show. I bought her a plane ticket on Thursday for her to be here on Friday, so that was a little bit expensive but it was really nice to have her there. She had never seen me do the wheel before.”

In addition to the wheel, Miller and the rest of her Circus Mojo colleagues display a wide array of talents and skills during the performance. Circus ringleader Paul Miller has worked with his staff to train them how to do a number of tricks and acts.

“We have to learn everything in our circus. I came with just one skill being an aerialist but then I wanted to participate more in the show, so Paul showed everybody how to juggle and to walk on a ball and I feel it is very important to have other skills, otherwise you're left out.”

She says that the training for her aerial acts and her wheel performance allow her to gain the muscle strength the activities require.

“Training keeps you strong, but for me, I think it's the balance of doing the silks and the wheel. They compliment each other because I have to have more muscles for the wheel, but by climbing the silks, I get them.”

Miller hopes that she will be satisfied with her performance in next year's world competition at Mount Saint Joseph University, but it's clear she enjoys what she does. She hopes the skills she has learned over the past five years will translate into work entertaining spectators for years to come.

Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor

Photo provided