by Victoria Upton • photography by Two Eagles Marcus
Teddy bear, Teddy bear turn all around,
Teddy bear, Teddy bear touch the ground,
Teddy bear, Teddy bear jump up high,
Teddy bear, Teddy bear touch the sky . . .
Teddy bear, Teddy bear show your dirty shoes,
Say your prayers . . .
Any number of variations on this jump rope rhyme has been sung on playgrounds and along sidewalks. Showing off jump rope skills by acting out each part was an urban right of passage. Some of us were really good at double-dutching with a clothesline. If you were anything like me, you couldn’t master the knack of jumping in and were stuck turning the rope for others – a lot, unless you owned the clothesline or decided to go solo. By age 10, most of us skipped off to other challenges.
Not the case with Hungarian born Adrienn Banhegyi, who at the age of 28, is a jump rope pro and a member of Cirque du Soleil. I met with her at the JW Marriott. Very comfortable speaking English (she started learning the English language as a child) Adrienn was candid, vibrant, down to earth, funny, brilliant and gracious.
Her jumping journey started 20 years ago.
“The main reason I started jump rope is that my dad is a physical education teacher and he wanted to have a sport that is easy too access and doesn’t take up too much space,” explains Banhegyi. “He saw girls playing double-dutch and jumping with single ropes and felt it was a good way to improve condition and coordination at the same time.”
Banhegyi developed her own tricks and techniques and joined a national skipping team where she won the World Championships three times and the European championships five times. She teaches skipping to children, as well as athletes. She also holds a world record!
“I have a world record in jump rope – consecutive triple lander,” brims Banhegyi. “[It] means you turn the rope three times for every jump. I did it three hundred thirty times.”
Six years ago, Adrienn started to feel she was getting “too old for the competitions” and decided to pursue a career in performance art. She sent the casting department at Cirque a demo video and was contacted to attend an audition in France.
“They have to look at your talent, test your flexibility, strength, jump rope knowledge, and they also look for facial expressions and your body language,” says Banhegyi. “We have to be technically qualified.”
A few years passed before she was invited to attend their training school. And, 18 months ago Adrienn officially joined Cirque du Soleil. She is now on tour with Quidam in North America performing as a rope-skipping soloist. Each performance is as breathtaking as the one before.
“You figure out the best way to prepare mentally. When you’re wearing the makeup – for me, it’s easy to perform. It puts you in a different character,” Banhegyi explains. “I feel very happy when I’m on stage. I bring a lot of energy to the act.”
The show is rigorous on the performers with choreography but also with geography.
“Every week we change cities,” Banhegyi admits. “Each show is eight to ten weeks. Then we have a two week break.” She spent her last break in Florida getting a suntan.
“We have to work out and we have to stay fit and keep our body balanced,” she confidently explains. “Right now, I feel like I can do this for a long time.”
Outside of performing on stage for thousands, she likes to play guitar and sing. “I can play a couple of songs,” she humbly admits. Banhegyi also loves travelling and attributes the realization of her goals in her personal mantra; the key to happiness is having dreams and the key to success is making them come true.
When back in Hungary she looks forward to her mom preparing her favorite, yet traditional meals. “I’m sure she would prepare fruit soup, gyümölcsleves. It’s a cold soup with cherries and peach, made especially during summer,“ she smiles.
Although she had been out and about being interviewed by media, and doing demos since 5 a.m., Adrienn graciously said yes to our request to see her jump rope. We stepped outside on the deck of the JW Marriott into the brisk wind along the Grand River:
Our last question, what’s the strangest thing in your purse?
She smiles and reaches in her black nylon handbag, revealing a small cloth bag wound with a thin black strap. As she loosened the strap on the blue bag she explains, “It’s a special good luck bag made by my mom.”
Attached to the bag filled with amulets, charms, and coins is a gold dove for peaceful travels. Items are added to the bag each time she returns home to prepare her for her next adventure. She recalls that the first item placed in the bag was a tiny clear box containing two colorful pebbles.
She affectionately placed each treasure on the table, one by one, recalling their meaning or origin; coins, a smooth circular red glass piece, a small wooden doll on a string, and one very special tiny teddy bear.
Banhegyi will be in Grand Rapids performing with Cirque du Soleil: Quidam from May 30 to June 3, 2012 at the Van Andel Arena. To purchase tickets, visit ticketmaster.com.