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5 stretching mistakes that may harm you.


Cirque du Soleil contortionist


'Just because I know how to stay on my hands doesn’t mean that I’m any stronger than any other woman out there'.

Alona Zhuravel was born in 1991 in Russia. At 10 years old, she started to perform professionally. She toured with circus and theatre productions in Europe between 2007 and 2012. From 2012 to 2016 she was the main character and hand-balancer in Cirque du Soleil shows "Varekai" and “Joya” from 2016-2019.

Describe your background in a few lines.

I come from a circus family, both my parents used to be performers, so I basically grew up on stage, which means I had the best examples right in front of me. My mom was one of the very first female hand-balancers, that didn’t do just contortion but actual hand-balancing skills so she has always been my inspiration. I have wanted to become a circus performer from a very early age and honestly, I have never regretted this decision, even in times like the ones we are living in. 

How do you define yourself?

I am a circus performer, where my specialty is hand-balancing. I am a mother and a wife and I like keeping the right balance between all three of those things, which is not always easy to do, but the fact that my husband also comes from the circus world makes it possible. When I’m at work I focus completely on just that, professionalism is a very important thing for me if not the most important. Sometimes our work takes us to opposite ends of the world, since my husband is a 'Cirque du Soleil' performer but that’s just part of it, even though it’s tough at times, we have figured it out pretty well, so far. 

Cirque du Soleil artist with babyHave you always been flexible, or did you have to do a lot of work to obtain results?

Since I started very early (due to seeing my parents and their performances on stage), I had the advantage of still having more flexibility because of my age, but up to this day it’s not a natural flexibility, I have to work daily to maintain or improve it.

What would you say was your biggest challenge in terms of flexibility?

My biggest challenge has always been my legs: my hip flexors are naturally very tight; it has always been challenging for me to perform and maintain my splits over 180 degrees.  

What are your lifestyle secrets/hacks for keeping in great shape?

I think it is very important to listen to yourself and what your body craves at times. Being a woman, hormones are a very big part of the natural cycle, so if we try to keep ourselves from the things we want (food wise) it usually backfires, at least in my case it does.

Flexible back Alona ZhuravelCould you tell us more about the difficulties of a pregnancy for a physical artist like you? How did you overcome them?

Honestly, I had a very easy pregnancy, the first three months I had nausea and was still performing, so that was the most difficult part of the pregnancy. As from my fourth month I stopped performing and kept myself fit by walking a lot and stretching a bit. Six weeks after giving birth I restarted my basic training exercises and hand-balancing, it took me about two months to feel good about myself and my weight again.

What would you tell your fifteen-year-old self about the self-care required for a long-lasting career?

That’s a good question. I’d definitely tell her to warm up better, also not to listen so much to other people and what they think about your weight. As a 15-year-old it already is difficult enough to accept yourself the way you are and if you are in Circus, people like to point out your weaknesses or any kind of excess weight (even if you don’t have it).

What is your training regime in detail?

These days my training regime is very basic, I focus on my handstand basics, I stretch and I do Pilates exercises or a HIIT workout. Usually, it takes me around one to two hours, and I have one or two rest days per week.

Tell us more about chronic injuries you had. How did you manage/cure them? What are your lifestyle secrets to keep them minor?

The only chronic pain I experienced was my lower back (left side), definitely due to overusing it, since I had been working for several years without having any actual time off. Now, to prevent it, I concentrate on a good warm up, on doing my Pilates exercises as often as I can and on getting massages.

contortionist hand balancing on canesScience has now proven that there is a loss of collagen as we age, resulting in a lack of elasticity of our joints. Do you experience this change with ageing? 

There is definitely a difference between my flexibility between when I was younger and now, I do not take any supplements though, just try to eat as healthy as possible.

Is there anything else you would like to share with an audience who may think you are a superwoman?

Honestly, I think every woman is a superwoman. We sometimes don’t even realize how much power we have and what we are able to overcome. Just because I know how to stay on my hands doesn’t mean that I’m any stronger than any other woman out there.

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