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updated: 9/13/2013 9:47 AM

Moving Picture: South Elgin siblings polish their acts

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  • Video: Moving Picture: Circus Kids

  • Nick Balk, 14, balances on one hand on 18-inch high balancing canes he made out of leftover lumber and pipes. He prefers strength tricks while sister Katie, 16, prefers balancing and flexibility tricks.

      Nick Balk, 14, balances on one hand on 18-inch high balancing canes he made out of leftover lumber and pipes. He prefers strength tricks while sister Katie, 16, prefers balancing and flexibility tricks.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Teenage siblings Katie and Nick Balk use their garage on Prairie Street in South Elgin as their personal circus tent. They like to perform tricks together, but rarely in public.

      Teenage siblings Katie and Nick Balk use their garage on Prairie Street in South Elgin as their personal circus tent. They like to perform tricks together, but rarely in public.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Siblings Katie and Nick Balk use their garage on Prairie Street in South Elgin as their personal circus tent. Nick balances on his homemade balancing canes as Katie, 16, pedals a unicycle in front of their house in South Elgin.

      Siblings Katie and Nick Balk use their garage on Prairie Street in South Elgin as their personal circus tent. Nick balances on his homemade balancing canes as Katie, 16, pedals a unicycle in front of their house in South Elgin.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Katie made juggling pins out of pop bottles before getting professional equipment. She can now juggle homemade flaming tiki torches.

      Katie made juggling pins out of pop bottles before getting professional equipment. She can now juggle homemade flaming tiki torches.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Katie Balk acts as a base for Nick. She likes to perform partner tricks with her younger brother.

      Katie Balk acts as a base for Nick. She likes to perform partner tricks with her younger brother.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Katie and Nick Balk say silent communication and trust are keys to their circus trick success.

      Katie and Nick Balk say silent communication and trust are keys to their circus trick success.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 

It's practically a circus on Prairie Street in South Elgin. And two teenagers are making it so.

Nearly every day, siblings Katie and Nick Balk are juggling, pedalling unicycles in tight circles, balancing on one hand and holding each other over their heads to hone their circus acts. The high energy rarely subsides.

"We don't have smartphones," said Katie, 16, explaining one reason the pair is in constant motion. "I think for us it's more for fun and a hobby."

The family's one-stall garage is their circus tent. They spend hours riding three different unicycles, one of them six feet tall. Nick built what he calls balancing canes out of leftover pieces of lumber and pipe. He can easily balance on one hand on the shorter 18-inch pipe and is working on the same trick with a 36-inch pipe.

"I like to specialize in strength and balancing," said Nick, 14. "Katie likes to unicycle and juggle mostly."

"I do more of the technique and grace and flexibility tricks," she added.

But that doesn't stop her from being a stable base as her brother stands on her shoulders, or balances vertically with his toes pointed to the sky while she lifts him from a prone position in the driveway.

"I like to do acts where it's both of us and we are a partnership," Katie said. "It's a lot of trust. I feel like I know my brother. I can always kind of tell if he's going to do something. I can sense it. If he's off balance and is going to come down, I can, right away, know how to handle the situation."

"There's a lot of silent communication," Nick confirmed.

For the last six years, the Balks have spent part of their summer vacation at a two-week circus camp through the Gamma Phi Circus at Illinois State University in Normal, a fraternity dedicated to physical education, fitness and gymnastics. Founded as the Gamma Phi fraternity in 1929, it was renamed the Gamma Phi Circus in 1931.

The Balks have become the stars of the show performed for the public at the end of camp.

With all their success, the siblings remain humble, working on their craft in the garage with homemade equipment.

"It's just fun," said Katie, who plans on becoming a high school math teacher.

"Katie may not continue with it," Nick added. "But me, I never know. One week I want to be an architect, the next I want to build my own circus. You never know."

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