From ballet to BANG!



When you think of ballerinas, many thoughts may come to mind.

But you would never think of a ballerina as someone whose ambition is to be shot out of a cannon at the circus.

But Nicole Sanders—who started training in ballet at age 3—does just that when she steps into the spotlight with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s Circus Xtreme, which comes to the XL Center in Hartford from May 11 to 15.

Although going from dancer to human cannonball seems like an extreme career change, Nicole, who goes by the moniker Nitro Nicole, said it’s really not for her.

It’s more of a career migration.

Yes, she said, she studied ballet. She also graduated from Loyola University in 2007 with honors and magna cum laude with a bachelor of science in psychology, minoring in ballet.

But after college she attended Circus Center in San Francisco, a circus school. There, she studied how to be an aerialist. And that training as an aerialist gave her control over her body.

“Being a human cannonball took it to the next level,” said Nicole.

The sensation of being shot from the cannon is “unlike any other experience,” said Nicole.

“With the cannon, you’re being propelled,” said Nicole. “I can’t equate it to anything else.”

And when you’re in the air, she said, you have to keep a close eye on where you’re heading and your body position so you can land correctly without hurting yourself.

When Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey present Nicole’s act, she said, “They do it really nice.” They will wheel out the cannon and there will be dancers accompanying it. The ringmaster then will speak about what will happen next. The audience will watch as Nicole preps the cannon and herself for the launch. When she is ready, she gets in, waves goodbye, and then the cannon is fired. When she lands, the successful launch again is accompanied by another dance number.

Some circus performers have said that when they watch the other acts, they are inspired to learn a new skill. But for Nicole, being a “human cannonball is the extreme of the extreme of the extreme.” She said the only way to challenge herself further is to do as the person who trained her has done. He is shot out of a cannon while on fire. “I’m not going to take that on.”

As family entertainment, Nicole said, Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey has it all. “It’s a thrilling journey.” She said people will see “exciting animal acts… All of these extraordinary performers.” And for this edition of the circus, as the name Circus XTREME implies, “We’re taking it to the extreme.”

“This is some of the best family fun there,” said Nicole. “There’s so much entertainment for the kids” with the lights, music, dancing, and specialized acts.”

And it never lets up, said Nicole. With all of the focus these days on social media, said Nicole, “It’s nice to see this live.”

Ringling Bros and Barum & Bailey “does a great job leading this journey (of entertainment).”

From May 11-15, “Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Presents Circus XTREM” takes up residency at the XL Center in Hartford. Tickets start at $15 and children’s tickets are just $12.

For more information, visit or XLCenter.comhuman cannonball

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