Moving Picture: South Elgin siblings polish their acts
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."