The CIRCUS COACH
BY ELLEN GILLETTE
When Mylene St-Jacques was a child in Canada, she dreamed of growing up to marry a man who spoke English and to live among palm trees, the only tree she could draw well. It was an unlikely future for a little girl in Quebec, where French is the official language. And with temperatures dipping to -30 F, there’s also nary a palm tree in sight.
St-Jacques’s parents both taught physical education before her father went into law enforcement.
“They were great role models for my brother and me,” says St-Jacques, whose mother nicknamed her “Angel,” an endearment that stuck.
School came easily to her and she enjoyed math especially.
“Math is awesome, magical, logical. Everything works together.”
At 15, St-Jacques began working at odd jobs – Kentucky Fried Chicken, a perfume store, a pharmacy. She eventually attended McGill University as a personal challenge, because all instruction was in English.
“It was a big step for me,” she says, “opening doors to other opportunities and travel.”
After graduation, a job with Club Med allowed her to travel to a Club Med in Cancun, Mexico, in 2005 where she met her future husband, Billy Havik, an American in charge of the hotel’s circus program, and they hit it off immediately.
“We were together within a week and got engaged a year later.”
She was fascinated by Havik and his fellow circus performers, especially the flying trapeze artists. It took her several months to build up enough courage to try the trapeze and since she didn’t want to embarrass herself in front of him, she waited until he was in a meeting,
“I waited until Billy was away before trying the flying trapeze,” St-Jacques says. “He was mad that he missed my first time.”
St-Jacques was hooked, incorporating dance techniques on the trapeze, silks and an aerial hoop called a lyra. People assume that trapeze work requires superior upper body strength, but St-Jacques says this is a misconception.
“You create momentum with your body and don’t feel your body weight,” she explains. “I tell students ‘The first time is for fear, and the second time is for fun.’ “
St-Jacques and Havik, who married in 2009, enjoy a perfect balance. “We’re yin and yang,” she says. “I’m organized, I plan. I’m cautious and into details. He’s the dreamer who says ‘do it.’ We meet in the middle and feed off each other’s energy.”
St-Jacques and Havik were working with Wyndham Hotels and Resorts in the Caribbean when the economy crashed. Selling their circus program to the chain, they moved to Montreal where she found work teaching and Havik worked at a trapeze center.
During their four years in Montreal, the couple became a family with the birth of their son, Will. And then an offer came for a job at Club Med in Port St. Lucie, Florida. Understandably, St-Jacques’ parents didn’t want them to leave.
“At one time, they hoped that we would have more traditional, stable careers,” St-Jacques explains. “They worried about the safety of circus work.” But they also saw how happy they were performing, according to St-Jacques.
St-Jacques was hired to instruct students at Club Med Academies, a private school connected to Club Med sports training. She covered academic classes and took care of the international students. She also participated with her husband and others performing amazing stunts from their circus act.
In 2019, St-Jacques and her husband launched out on their own with two partners from Texas, forming a circus training school. Momentum Academy offers classes for beginners as well as those hoping to make circus a career.
St-Jacques is proud of their custom-made equipment and the age-appropriate classes they offer.
“We have 5-year-olds and students in their 60s.”
The company also offers portable rigs that can be set up at other venues, circus tents and tables and chairs which can be set up for on-site shows.
The academy is also close to Renaissance Charter School where St-Jacques teaches middle school math. Connecting with students is no less challenging than an advanced aerial maneuver.
“When something clicks with a student, I get so fired up,” St-Jacques says.
The motivation is different with circus students. They choose to be there, rather than being required to be at school.
“Once students come to us, they usually return.”
Although plans changed dramatically during the pandemic, business has started to return.
“We had so much lined up, working with children’s services, an animal rescue center, a show for the Red Hats,” says St-Jacques, who is also on the board for the Momentum Foundation, the academy’s charitable arm.
The foundation raises money to connect underprivileged children with circus arts classes. They’ve also participated in events for foster and adoptive families.
“It’s a great bonding experience,” St-Jacques says.
St-Jacques loves to perform, becoming a character in costume with a routine that complements the music, connecting with the audience.
“It got me out of my shell,” she says, making her a better athlete as well as a better teacher.
You might say that along with her other dreams coming true, Angel has found her wings.
MYLENE “ANGEL” ST-JACQUES
Lives in: Port St. Lucie
Occupation: Teacher at Renaissance Charter School; managing director at Momentum Academy; vice president of Momentum Foundation
Family: Husband, Billy Havik; son, Will
Education: Bachelor of Arts with certificate in mathematics from McGill University; certified circus instructor with the National Circus School of Montreal
Hobbies: “Do I have time for hobbies? That’s the real question. When I have time off, I’m looking for circus videos or projects for my math students or opportunities for our business.”
Who inspires me: “My husband. Everything he does, he’s good at it. He’s the most motivational person I know.”
Something most people don’t know about me: “I used to be a professional hip hop dancer back in the day.”