Cool Jobs: Sem and Teresa Abrahams, unicyclists

You don't have to run away to join the circus, you just have to head to Livonia. That's where circus arts studio Cirque Amongus teaches the magic of the circus to adults and children alike, out of a nondescript building on Five Mile Rd. that gives little hint of the fun going on inside.

Cirque Amongus is the brainchild of husband and wife team Sem and Teresa Abrahams. It launched 15 years ago and has been in Livonia about five years. Most of their work involves traveling around to schools, libraries, and community events to perform and teach circus skills. They can also host up to 30 students at a time in their Livonia location for birthday parties and a twice-weekly open stage where children – and the adults who come with them – can try out circus arts like trapeze, juggling, tight wire, and stilt walking. 

"We wanted to share our love of unicycling and circus arts," Teresa says. "Also, we're getting older and we knew we couldn't do it forever ourselves." 

Sem and Teresa met nearly 30 years ago. They both participated in competitive unicycling –yes, it's a thing – and attended biannual international conferences for the unicycle community. They each fell in love with unicycling as children, Teresa in Redford and Sem in Suriname. Sem, who saw a unicycle in a comic strip and became fascinated, later ran a unicycling club in Amsterdam where he taught hundreds of people the discipline. 

In Teresa's case, she saw a unicycling performance by a local club (the Redford Township Unicycle Club) which is still active) and became hooked. She asked for a unicycle that year for her birthday – and received a bike. So she saved-up her allowance and bought her own unicycle at the local bike store. Teresa became profficient by going around and around her yard, using the fence to balance until she got more comfortable. Soon she was performing all over the region, going on to win several world champion artistic unicyclist competitions. She and Sem have performed in 20 countries and four continents. Most recently, they performed at this year's NBA Finals halftime show. 

Appropriately enough, for a couple brought together by unicycling, when Teresa and Sem married in 1988, the entire wedding party was on unicycles – including Teresa's dad, who learned at the age of 48 in order to pedal his daughter down the aisle. 

And like most family businesses, it was only a matter of time before Teresa and Sem's 8-year-old son Nash, joined their one-wheeled obsession. Nash has performed at halftime shows with the couple all over the country and even knows how to shoot basketball hoops on a unicycle. During open playdates, he shows other children how to use some of the family's equipment. 

Running a circus and being world-renowned unicyclists might seem like quite the conversation piece at the PTA, but Teresa says most people think the way her family makes a living is cool and interesting. "I love being in front of people and performing," says Teresa. "The fact that we can do it as a family is a plus for me, as well."

Cirque Amongus is a family business in the truest sense; many members of Sem and Teresa's family work with them, including their young niece and nephew. They also have a troupe of people who perform a whole host of circus disciplines and travel with them to shows. There is a close-knit community around circus arts – and a surprising amount of talent in Metro Detroit -- so they end up meeting people through word of mouth or know about up-and-coming kids who are able to share their performance skills, Teresa says.

Welcoming others is a big part of the circus arts ethos, says Teresa. It's important to performers to be open and inclusive of people who are curious about their art. 

"Most people are willing to share their art," Teresa says. "We don't get a lot of introverts – but sometimes you get people who feel comfortable performing in a crowd but are not the life of the party." 

The popularity of things like Cirque du Soleil has definitely drawn more interest to their work, Teresa says. And with the rise in popularity of aerial schools and yoga, it's clear that young adults are looking for experiences that go beyond pilates and weigh-lifting. But people's response to Cirque Amongus – and their enthusiasm chance to actually try out some circus skills – seems to cut deeper. The circus is linked to happy childhood memories for a lot of people. Circus arts are also not competitive in a way other physical disciplines can be.

"You're learning something yourself, not competing with a team," Teresa says. "It's self-competitive."

What's especially enjoyable, she says, is watching children's faces light up when they try a new skill and discover a new ability. "When kids come in for birthday parties, you can see the delight on their faces when they are doing something they think they couldn't do."
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