True Life: I Dance for Cirque du Soleil

A scene from Cirque du Soleil's Las Vegas show Mystère (courtesy Hayden Hopkins)

Former comp kid (and 2013 DS Cover Model Search winner!) Hayden Hopkins grew up training in Seattle, WA, cultivating her huge social media presence along the way—she has more than 200,000 followers on Instagram alone. The 20-year-old recently landed her dream job: dancing in Cirque du Soleil's Las Vegas show Mystère. DS had her keep a diary last spring to get the behind-the-scenes scoop on what dancing in a Cirque show is really like.

—Courtney Bowers


Sunday, April 30

Today marks a full month since I debuted in Mystère, so I've been doing a lot of reflecting. I'm so excited to be a part of this legendary show—it'll celebrate its 25th season next year.

I'm very superstitious. Before I go onstage, I always perform the same rituals I've done for years. I put my right shoe on before my left, wear the same perfume, and do the same exact ab warm-up I used to do before competitions. Lastly, I say a prayer. I like to believe that these things will help me perform at my very best.

Hopkins backstage (courtesy Hopkins)

My role in the show is a character named La Belle, a queen who celebrates the mystery of beauty and being in the present. One of my favorite moments is the opening of the show when all the characters descend onstage, and I'm standing high on a drawbridge, gracefully watching over the other characters. It gives me goosebumps every time.

Monday, May 1

We perform 10 shows per week Saturday through Wednesday (2 shows each night, at 7 pm and 9:30 pm). Tonight, as I usually do, I went to the dressing room to get started on my makeup. It takes about an hour and a half. We're trained to apply our own makeup, so there are no makeup artists on staff to do it for us. After makeup, I put on my costume and did my rituals, and then it was showtime.

Both shows were great today—the audiences were super-energetic. During the shows, you can often hear gasps from audience members. Their laughter, applause, surprise, and shock truly energizes me.

Hopkins as La Belle during the show (courtesy Hopkins)

Our performances ended at 11 pm. I left the theater at 11:15 pm, after taking off my makeup and costume. Once at home, I prepared a quick dinner—lately anything with zucchini has been my go-to. Then I went out to the hot tub and relaxed under the palm trees and the Las Vegas night sky. It's such a contrast from everything that happens on The Strip.

Tuesday, May 2

I made a smoothie with spinach and kale for breakfast today before heading to my gym downstairs. In the afternoon, I scheduled
a sports massage with one of our on-staff masseurs, who does deep-tissue. He worked a miracle on my quads and hamstrings.

Today, I also had a drumming session. In the show, there's a drumming sequence before the finale that involves artists playing taiko drums. I've drummed before, but this is pretty challenging. During the session, I went over the sequence a few times because it's so fast and changes rhythm often.

Wednesday, May 3

It's the last day of our work week, and then the show is going on a nine-day dark period (no performances for nine days),
so I really gave it my all. During the afternoon, I had a private Pilates session with our amazing instructor, where we focused on using my hip flexors less (I'm so guilty of this) and my lower glutes and inner thighs more. Then, thinking I was Superwoman, I scheduled a session with our trainer, focusing on my whole body. He really pushed me.

Hopkins warming up before a show (courtesy Hopkins)

Tonight, everyone was excited about our last two shows and I felt like we all nailed our acts and dances. I was sad to hang up my costume before the break because I love wearing it.

Thursday, May 4

It's my first day off. Tomorrow, I'll head back home to Washington for a few days. We work extremely hard during the week, so I really like to take advantage of my downtime. This morning, I kept breakfast easy with some fruit and then headed to the pool—it hasn't gotten that hot outside yet, so it's the perfect time to go.

Around lunch time, I went to the gym to stretch and later hung out with a few of the dancers from the show. We reviewed corrections for one of our new dances that we had to learn quickly when we first joined the show. It's still a work in progress. Even on my day off, I love being surrounded by people who share the same love for dance and performing that I do. Looking at them and seeing their energy and passion inspires me.

Saturday, May 13

It's my first day back from vacation. I'm already missing my family badly, but I also missed the stage while away.

I knew this was going to be a long day, so for breakfast I had Greek yogurt and granola with a banana. I got to the theater at 4 pm and had a sports massage. Next was Tapis Rouge, a weekly company meeting where the artistic team, stage management, and artists review any show notes, news, or important events for the week. It's a great time for artists and staff to come together and talk about anything pressing. At 6 pm I had a workout with a trainer, where we focused solely on abs and legs. After working out, it was back to the dressing room for makeup and costume. I missed my costume!


A version of this story appeared in the September 2017 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Cirque Queen."

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