Daniela Caldwell was 6 years old the first time she saw someone fly. Her parents took her to see “Kooza,” a circus production by Cirque du Soleil, and Caldwell was mesmerized by the various forms of acrobatic art. She saw performers spin and flip and contort using hoops, straps and Chinese poles suspended in the air. In it, Caldwell saw an art form and physical experience with “no limits” and “no boundaries,” she said.
The Forsyth County resident has brought that aerial flair to the Cumming Scare Fair, the new haunt attraction at the Cumming Fairgrounds that begins its final weekend tonight at 7 and ends Saturday.
Born in Guatemala, Caldwell was adopted a young age and raised in Forsyth County. From early on, Caldwell was drawn to art in motion. Before circus art, she did rhythmic gymnastics. She discovered contortion. Caldwell tried dance and traditional gymnastics. But each has been a brief experiment.
“It’s always just been coming back to circus,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell began to fly at 10 years old. A flexibility coach introduced her to Sky Gym Atlanta, an aerial dance and fitness gym, and Caldwell was hooked, though terrified at first.
“I was actually terrified of heights the first time,” she said.
But Caldwell’s coach, Amber Monson, the founder of Sky Gym, pushed Caldwell through the fear, and Caldwell quickly grew comfortable off the ground. Her first apparatuses were the aerial silk and aerial sling, long pieces of fabric that hang from the ceiling, either straight down, like a curtain, or suspended, like a hammock.
Caldwell then progressed to aerial hoop, “and I really fell in love,” she said.
Caldwell’s life has been structured around her art. She attends the Christa McAuliffe Academy School of Arts and Sciences, an online private based out of Oregon. That allows her the flexibility to train 3-6 hours a day, six days a week.
It can be a grueling regimen. Her contortion warm-ups can take 1-2 hours, and even the smallest of body parts need to be prepared for practice. The shoulders are the most important to protect, Caldwell said, but she also has exercises to strengthen her fingers and feet. She uses ballet and contemporary dance to augment her circus training. Caldwell said she plans to begin weight training soon, too.
“There are definitely days I really do not want to train,” Caldwell said, “but the feeling of flying and doing what I love gets me through that most of the time.”
Caldwell first performed in student shows at Sky Gym, but eventually she started to get hired as “Flying Daniela” for sporting and nonprofit events. She’s been a regular performer, along with other circus acts, at the Sets at Sunset Music Festival at Lake Lanier Olympic Park.
When Caldwell heard about the Cumming Scare Fair, she volunteered to be a scary contortionist. But Caldwell and organizers decided to use her aerial skills to create a sideshow for people to enjoy as they wait in line.
“I honestly think I would have been too scared inside of [the haunt] myself,” Caldwell said.
It was also an opportunity for Caldwell to showcase Qui Vive, the collaborative circus group of about 13 performers that she founded three months ago. The Scare Fair is the group’s first show, which they themed “The Upside Down Circus,” after the popular Netflix series “Stranger Things.”
Caldwell said the first two nights of the Scare Fair were a success, with long lines for the haunt, meaning lots of spectators for Qui Vive’s show. She anticipates attendance will increase this weekend for the haunt’s final nights on Friday and Saturday, from 7-11 p.m.
“It’s definitely been a lot of fun,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell hopes this is just the start for her circus career. She wants Qui Vive to help Atlanta-area circus performers showcase their art. They’re currently in talks with organizers of a few area events, she said. Soon, Caldwell will graduate from high school, and she plans to attend a circus school and “go as long as I can with my career.” She also has an interest in veterinary science.
But Caldwell’s dream is to one day join Cirque du Soleil and fly for audiences around the world.
“The ability to create absolutely anything, and also the ability to entertain audiences and bring joy to people and make large crowds feel certain emotions, it’s really awesome,” Caldwell said. “It’s a very cool feeling to be able to make a full audience feel happy or sad or even confused. It’s an indescribable feeling.”