A Former Cirque Du Soleil Performer
Returns to Windsor with a Direct
and Informative Guide on Nutrition and Fitness
Story by Matthew St. Amand
Photography by John Liviero
It’s right about now that most people are looking at their New Year’s resolutions in the rear view mirror. We have the best of intentions, but then life takes over and the best laid plans… go off the rails. There is a way to get back on track with your fitness: Darren Bersuk’s new book, Get Off Your Ass!, which shows that health improvements are within reach.
Why should we listen to Darren? For one, he’s in awesome shape. For another, he performed around the world with Cirque du Soleil for over twenty years. He is now a personal trainer and learned how to fuel himself optimally while performing at a pinnacle level most of his life. His book, Get Off Your Ass!, is motivating, compassionate, entertaining and informative.
Growing up in west Windsor, attending Marlborough Public School and then Kennedy Collegiate Institute, gymnastics was the center of Darren’s athletic universe since the age of ten.
“I trained with Carey Vigneux, who was a great coach and like a second father to me,” Darren says. “I got to a point, though, where I wanted to train with members of the Canadian national gymnastics team. So, when I was seventeen years old, I moved to the National Team Center in Burlington. I wanted new challenges in the gym. Iron sharpens iron.”
Darren was a member of the Canadian national gymnastics team, competing around the world: 1991 Pan Am Games in Cuba, 1992 Moscow World Stars competition in Russia, 1993 World Gymnastics Championships in Brisbane, Australia, 1994 World Gymnastics Championships in Dortmund, Germany, 1995 American Cup in Seattle, Washington.
“I finished gymnastics in 1995,” Darren says. “I blew my knee out and wasn’t able to go to the ’96 Olympics, which had been my goal.”
Rather than wallowing in “what should have been,” Darren recuperated from the injury and assessed his options.
“Around that time, Cirque was getting hot and they were taking people from the Canadian gymnastics world,” he recalls.
Darren auditioned for Cirque du Soleil in Toronto.
“After the audition, they said: ‘You’ll likely hear from us over the next six months,’” he says. “Three weeks later, I was living in Vegas performing with Cirque.”
Originating in 1984, comprised of twenty street performers, Cirque du Soleil completely re-imagined circus arts, becoming a world leader in live entertainment. Darren made the cut with the best of the best.
“Mystère was my first Cirque show,” he says. “I went to Montreal for a week of preparation, getting work permits, and then it was off to Vegas for two shows a day, five days a week.”
It was a grueling schedule, but being on tour could be even tougher, what with travel, carving out some personal time exploring new cities, never settling in one place for long. Darren performed in both worlds during his years with Cirque du Soleil.
“With Cirque and other circus performances, I toured South America, Eastern and Western Europe, Russia, Australia, North America,” Darren says. “I went to South Africa, Turkey, China, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Malaysia and Japan.”
He got three weeks off a year.
While in Vegas, Darren met another Canadian gymnast, Etienne Deneault, from Ottawa.
“Before and after the shows, we created our own act,” Darren says. “In 2001 we left Mystère and went into the corporate event world. Cirque-style acts were very hot back then. We had offers before we even left Mystère.”
Darren and Etienne moved to New York and created a “hand-to-hand” act, which involved no equipment, but had Darren balancing one-handed on Etienne’s head, and levering off his limbs. The act was roughly five minutes in length and so physically intense, it left both performers virtually spent.
“I ended up creating three acts, and each of them was picked up by Cirque,” Darren continues. “The length of the performances was increased to six-and-a-half minutes. They were super intense, non-stop.”
After performing together for fifteen years, Etienne required two shoulder surgeries.
“We were both pretty banged up,” Darren says with a laugh. “I moved to Vancouver and worked on a solo act. At the same time, I opened my own gym.”
He also got married to his wife, Desiree Day, who is a personal trainer and former elite Canadian gymnast.
Cirque du Soleil came calling again, interested in the solo act Darren created called Power Tower, which he performed using a pole. This act had him performing hand balancing feats similar to his act with Etienne, and the “human flag” which meant gripping the pole with both hands and extending his body perpendicular to the floor.
Darren performed with Cirque du Soleil into his forties. At that point, Cirque called once more, asking if he wanted to be their head coach.
“The position involved going to South America for over a year,” Darren says. “My wife and I had a two-year-old daughter, Dylan. We thought: ‘We’ll never have this opportunity again.’ So we went. It was an amazing experience.”
Darren has come full circle, settling in Windsor with his family, and starting a business: Bodies By Bersuk. In his spare time, he wrote Get Off Your Ass!, sharing a lifetime of fitness and nutrition knowledge. The real winning factor, though, is how Darren’s personality and humour comes through on the page, illustrating his points. He also keeps it real and understands that most people just want to shed a few pounds, not become elite athletes. Darren preaches common sense. He points out that most people already know what they should be doing. “It’s simple,” he writes, “but not easy.”
“People do the right thing—eating healthy, exercising—but then have a slip,” he says. “After the slip, they’re like ‘It doesn’t matter! I’ll just eat whatever I want and maybe eventually I’ll get back to it!’ Nutrition is more psychological.”
Get Off Your Ass! is one of the most approachable books on health and fitness. It’s available online through Amazon and Indigo. For more information about Darren, check out bodiesbybersuk.ca.