It started out as a brotherly challenge: His older sibling was practicing gymnastics after school, so Gael Ouisse wanted to go, too. Now the 35-year-old French acrobat performs in Cirque du Soleil’s “Totem,” a show that chronicles the human evolution. As part of the Rings Trio act, Ouisse flies around the big top with a fellow beach boy, competing for the attention of a beautiful woman.
But being a professional gymnast wasn’t always a dream job for Ouisse. He felt “there were more things to explore than just training to be a gymnast,” so after graduating from college, he became a firefighter. Even though he continued to practice gymnastics and competed nationally, it wasn’t until he saw another Cirque show -- “Mystère” in Las Vegas — that he decided to pursue a full-time career as a gymnast.
Today, he’s grateful for the opportunity to travel the world and make people laugh, all while doing what he loves. He just wishes he could see his family more often.
HLN: What is life like touring with “Totem?”
Gael Ouisse: Fantastic for me! I love this lifestyle -- I think it’s a privilege. But I do respect and understand that people might not agree with me.
HLN: Do you have family here? Do they travel with you?
GO: We all feel like a family on tour. If I feel like I need to go for a walk with someone, I can call anybody in the cast and they’ll come with me. My girlfriend is on tour with me [as part of the Rings Trio]. She has a child, but she’s not with us right now. But there are other kids here -- they have school on tour, too. It’s a great facility for families.
HLN: What is your typical day like?
GO: Life for us is a bit different from the average person’s. Most people wake up around 6-7 in the morning, but I wake up between 9-11 a.m. If I only have one show a day, I’m pretty much free from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Eventually, I come in for training. The show is usually around 7-8 p.m., so I do the show, go home, and go to bed between 1-2 a.m. When I have two shows a day, which are usually at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., I go to work around 1 p.m. We can have as many as three shows a day, but that’s rare.
HLN: What does it take to prepare for the show?
GO: We have warm-up time before the show, which is very important and takes about 45 minutes to an hour every time. We also have to do our own makeup. Mine isn’t very complicated, but it still takes me about an hour.
HLN: How many hours do you work a week?
GO: I have no clue! We might spend more time on site than what most people spend at work, but when you’re here, you’re not necessarily always working. Your body needs rest because it’s a physical job, so between training and performances, you have free time.
HLN: How often do you usually train?
GO: For the rings act, we have one mandatory training a week, and then it's up to us to keep up what we want to keep up. I train two or three times a week in addition to that. Generally, I go with precise conditioning -- it’s very similar to Pilates, but a bit more intense. It helps your body and your muscles remember the proper way to move.
HLN: How often do you practice your routine?
GO: Actually, you almost never practice the routine because the amount of shows we do a week keeps you in good shape for this specific routine. So you actually want to rebalance your body by doing more general conditioning.
HLN: So what about going out at night or seeing the city in which you’re touring — do you have time for that?
GO: I’ll be honest: When I first joined Cirque -- and I was 25 years old -- I used to go out during the week and on the weekends. Now that I’m 35, it’s rare that I go out. On the weekends, sure, because you have more time to relax. Sunday shows are earlier, so you’re done by 7:30 p.m. and you can go out and enjoy your evening.
HLN: What do you like to do in your spare time?
GO: My personal morning is mostly learning Russian. My girlfriend is from Ukraine, so every single morning I’m using Rosetta Stone to learn Russian. I also Skype a lot with my family. It’s important to stay in touch because you are so far from home.
HLN: Is that your biggest challenge -- being away from home?
GO: It is. Since you choose to travel and see the world, you’re far from home. So you miss your family and the place where you grew up. But when you go back, you only get the best of it, so it’s also kind of a luxury. You go back, see the best of it, enjoy your time there, and then you leave. You don’t have to take the bad with you.