Spirituality, Circus & Aerial Essentials With Cheetah Platt

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Who is Cheetah?

Many of my choices in life have been defined by a sense of adventure – a sense that this world is here to be experienced. Discovery, searching, finding, journeying, and venturing: those were always the terms that I’ve lived by.

Up until fairly recently, the word “manifestation” was never a word in my vocabulary. It didn’t make sense to me. So, I was actively searching for adventure: traveling, wanting to see something new, and wanting to experience something that I hadn’t before.

Cheetah shares a silk routine high above Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Photo by Celeste Veurman.

What’s your “origin story”?

I grew up in Northern California, in a tiny little city called Redwood Valley. It’s about two hours north of the Bay Area. We had no TV, no neighbors. So my childhood was spent hiking around the hills with my brothers, reading books, reenacting fantasies with sword fights, goblins and orcs, and creating whole adventures from our imaginations.

Our parents put us into sports, and the physical activity always resonated with me. But there was always a point in every sport where I was playing defense or the ball was on the other side of the court, and I didn’t have anything to do with it. So, there was a disconnect. The only sport that really ever resonated with me was wrestling because once I was on the mat, it was up to me and nobody else to win or lose. I was 100% in charge of my success.

In middle school I started dancing. I started being on stage and getting to choose how and when I moved my body, which completely resonated with me. From that moment on I knew that whatever I enjoyed, I could just do on stage. If I liked sword fights I could choreograph a sword fight. If I liked doing flips, I could do flips. Whatever the activity was that I enjoyed, it could be choreographed into a dance and put on stage and people would enjoy it.

So I knew from a very young age I was going to be a performer of some kind. I went to UC San Diego to pursue a B.A. in Theater and Dance. Like I said earlier, I dropped out to perform in Nevada for a couple years. I eventually went back to San Diego to complete my degree. I moved up to LA and was working in the industry.

I also had a show with my brothers that we wrote that did very well. There were about seven years where I got to tour with two of my brothers. It was called The Platt Brothers. We were on America’s Got Talent and made it to the quarterfinals.

From there, we did TV appearances, and then through that, Cirque du Soleil found out about us and hired us to come do corporate events. I started doing more shows with Cirque because they found out I was an aerialist as well.

I’ve spent my entire life performing because I’m good at it, not because I’m the best. I have fun and I enjoy it. I also wasn’t trying to make my living as an aerialist. I wasn’t trying to make my living as a singer or as an actor. I was trying to live. I was trying to be happy. I was trying to grow and learn. I think that that was something that really allowed me to be much more successful. Number one, I didn’t have all my eggs in any one basket. I had a billion different baskets and each one had half of an egg in it, but that was plenty for me.

How did you get into aerials?

When I was in college, I received an email that offered me a job. I would have to drop out of school and move to Reno, Nevada to start performing in a show at Harrah’s casino. It was a huge transition in my life because I thought I was going to school to become a performer and go into college to get that degree. Then all of a sudden, all of my dreams were handed to me and saying, ‘Hey, how about you just drop out of college and do it professionally?’ It sounded great. So, I did it. I moved up to Nevada and started performing every day.

Every night I had a show but every day I had free time. So I was looking for new things to do – I was in a new place of the world and a new place in my life. I wanted something else to stimulate my mind in my body.

I heard through a friend that there was a woman in town that used to teach trapeze. I convinced her to start up a class with my brother, two of the members of our cast, and me. So I started taking flying trapeze lessons in 2004. And it really resonated with me – everything in the air.

Tuesday nights became a night where my brother, these two cast member dancers, and I would just get to go and play on these aerial apparatuses. We taught ourselves a lot – we used YouTube, we read books, we researched circus. We did everything we could to just figure out how to play in the air.

Because I had a background in performing arts, dance, movement and sports, I created a way of working through circus that wasn’t very traditional. I wasn’t taught by a traditional circus teacher, which means I’ve got a varied background in circus arts.

Over the years, I just kind of threw myself into the world of aerial arts, and it never left me. I got introduced to it as a fun thing to do on a Tuesday night, and then it became my job, my livelihood, my entertainment, and my reason for travel and fun.

What does circus mean to you?

I never felt a huge pull towards circus; I always felt a pull towards performing arts. However, circus is one of many disciplines that I really resonate with. While I didn’t train in a circus to learn juggling or handstands, a circus was always a place that I could go to explore more. I come from a dance and a performing artist background where technique was never nearly as important as entertaining was… where getting a message across was always more important. That’s something that I feel like circus does very well. Circus takes an art form and adds entertainment. It adds spectacle – something that you may not be able to see anywhere else.

What is a spectacle?

Storytelling has always been a big part of my connection with entertainment. Being able to take the audience on a journey from one emotion to another. Even if both of those emotions are states of bliss and happiness and entertainment, you’re still taking them on a journey. You’re telling them a story. You’re showing them this emotion that hopefully connects.

I think that there is something wonderful about subtlety in that. There’s also something wonderful about spectacle – about trying to do something over the top, to push an envelope. I think that’s what circus does better than anything else is to take a current art form and push it past where it feels comfortable. I want to push boundaries and feelings with performance and with circus. I think that’s what spectacle is to me.

Cheetah continues his silk routine at Eagle’s Nest Atitlan. Photo by Celeste Veurman.

What brought you to San Marcos?

Kirtan. I came with the intention of following music and seeking answers to how that music affects me. How does it fit in with the rest of my life? I’ve spent most of my life in the circus, in performing arts, and in entertainment. But now, kirtan speaks to me in a way that isn’t based around performance. It is based around soul-searching, divine truth, and inward seeking as opposed to outward spectacle. So, I came to take on an inner journey through music.

How do you bridge spirituality and circus?

My spirituality has always been an individual practice. My connection to anything outside of myself has always been really closely guarded. I don’t feel comfortable sharing my thoughts or beliefs with other people – that’s never been something that I’ve resonated with. There’s an initial trigger within myself that says, ‘False Prophet.’ So, I shy away from that.

Now, I am trying to connect my personal spiritual growth and journey into a more public community life through circus and through connection with other people.

I find it very difficult to step into a role of speaking my own truth and of letting my thoughts be known. I’d much rather lead by example rather than by speaking. I like to live appropriately for myself, and if people resonate with that, I’ll live with them. But I rarely tell people how to live – I don’t resonate with that well at all.

What ethics do you live by?

I live by the idea that smiles can make a day better. I live by believing that our kindness can be an objective truth – one regardless of personal preference or belief. There are ways to be kind to everyone, even if you don’t agree with them. I think that there is an objective kindness that can be reached between humans and animals and all living things. There’s a mutual understanding and a respect of our place in this world together as carbon-based life forms that breathe the same air. I think that there are very simple truths to allow each other to live.

Has circus shone a light on your ethics? What’s the link?

When I am able to give someone an experience that they never thought possible – the way that they light up – I resonate with very deeply. One of the most accessible ways that I’ve found to do that is by helping someone swing from the ceiling and do aerial arts. There are very few people who innately think that they will be good at aerial arts. Most humans believe that only with the greatest of teachers would they ever be able to fly on a flying trapeze. But I believe very much not the case. I believe that anyone can learn it anytime, and I have been able to facilitate that learning, that joy, and that exploration of movement.

That is a way of connecting to someone’s joy, their happiness and their excitement in a physical way where they can be connected to their body and to that joy. It’s not just philosophical or spiritual talk –everything is converging in this massive stimulation and fun, embodied experience. That’s what circus does for me and is why I like to share it.

What is Aerial Essentials?

In 2006, I was a working aerialist and performing everywhere I could. But it was very hard to acquire safe, reliable equipment for my chosen profession at that time. It was just out of wanting a safe and easy way to pursue my art that I acquired business licenses and resale certificates and began working with specific companies to develop products that would allow a simple, easy transaction for an individual to buy what they needed to get in the air.

There were lots of companies that could help production companies do it, there were lots of companies that could help event producers do it, but nobody was available to help a single aerialist who wanted to get up in the air and train.

So Aerial Essentials started as a broke aerialist buying 20 of an item instead of one and re-selling. Over the years it just steadily grew. I made sure to invest in safe equipment and reliable gear, and get it out there to the public. The goal of my company was always to help the aerialist.

So over the years it’s grown: we moved from California to Vegas and got a larger warehouse. We’ve got a full time staff that packs and ships and does research and development. We do all our own testing in-house and produce our own equipment now. I’m always on the lookout for different ways that I can help improve the actual atmosphere.

For decades circus was always thought of as a super secret art form that you could only learn if you were part of the circus. That’s why they always said you had to ‘run away’ to join the circus. My feeling was that no, you don’t need to ‘run away,’ you just need to sign up for my Tuesday night class. You can stay at home, you can do it in your living room, you can do whatever you want. Circus is no longer an inaccessible secret that that only magical people do in spandex.

I want circus to be a sport. Every other sport has professionals that compete in the NFL and while you’re not at their level, you can throw a football in your own backyard and play. I want that to be what aerial arts are. You can train it in your backyard. It’s okay to not be professional, but still love the sport. That’s something that’s really important to me.

How do you balance work and art?

It was actually never something I really had to work at. I’ve never felt satisfied if I’m only in my work mind, and I’ve never felt satisfied if I’m only in my artistic mind. I’ve never had a separation between the two. When I go to create a piece, I really want to think logistically about, ‘How can this be replicated and seen by more people? How can it be put on a grander stage?’

Art almost never simply for art’s sake. There’s something grand about going down to the beach, drawing a masterpiece in the sand and then letting it get washed away before anyone sees it. But that’s not my kind of art. I don’t enjoy that nearly as much. I want to bring over a whole bunch of friends to have them all check it out, and then let the waves wash it away.

I think that art is something that can grow and that can inspire other people. So even if you think that your art isn’t the best in the world, put it out there as often as you can because it’ll inspire someone else that can do something better. I’ve never thought I was the best performer, businessman, entrepreneur, or anything of that sort, but I know that I’ve inspired a lot of people to create art that I’ve never been able to do and will never be able to do. And I love that. I love watching my students do things that I have never been able to do. I love watching my current business manager be able to take over my company and run with it than I was able to do for a decade on my own. I love knowing that one of the things I can help in this world is facilitating people’s growth and watching them find what their talents and skill are, and then run with them.

What advice could you give to artists who are trying to be more sustainable in their field? Mindset or actions they can take?

I think one of the biggest things that artists forget is that in every other profession, you get a shitty job and you work it for years before you ever like it. Artists rarely do that. They rarely put in the time and the energy to make it a JOB. You’re investing in a longer-term career, not: ‘I want to have the perfect job today because I’m doing what I love so it has to be perfect.’ You will, more often than not, find a lot of disappointment that way if you’re always reaching for something that never happens. So, say to yourself, ‘I’m going to go to work. I’m going to produce this piece of art every single day, just the same way I would for a boss, and I’m not going to be connected to the outcome. I’m not going to hold it back until it’s a perfect masterpiece before I show it to the world.’ Get your art out, give it away, then start to charge a tiny bit for it, and then charge a little bit more for it. If people aren’t buying it, then you need to switch it up.

That’s one of the biggest things that I think, artists forget is that if you want a successful, monetary gain, and if that money is coming from someone else, then you have to give them what they want. There’s a whole stigma about ‘selling out’ as though it’s a bad thing, but that’s such an amazing thing. If you can still create art and sell it, then do it. Make it a job so that you will have money to then fund your masterpiece. That’s great!

There’s a whole lot of people that feel they shouldn’t take that thing, that it’s below them or that it’s not you know the perfect show – all the excuses that you wouldn’t have given if you were working at Starbucks. When they ask you to sweep the floor and you say, ‘Oh that’s beneath me,’ you’re going to get fired if you don’t do it. So, treat your art like a job. Go to work every day, even the days that you don’t like it. Do the same task that you did yesterday when you loved it, even though today you’re not feeling it. It’ll slowly grow. Allow yourself to go to work as an artist, not just perform as an artist.

Who or what inspires you right now in your life?

Right now, one inspiration is definitely Momentom. What inspires me about this collective is the way that has taken so many passions of so many people and created this space for all of it. You can put yourself in a situation where you are forced to do these workshops every day, to put in the work, the time and the energy, and to have a family and a community to support you on the journey. I’m super inspired by the fact that Momentom is enabling people to live this performer life, rather than just visit it. It may only be for a specific amount of time – but it is immersive and it is creating a lifestyle that allows for real growth, not just momentary happiness. Happiness is great but it is fleeting. It is an emotion. There are lots of things that make me happy, but that will be gone tomorrow. There are a few things that once experienced, give you happiness for the rest of your life. There are an unlimited numbers of things that will give you growth that you will then keep for the rest of your life.

The question takes me back to the first question and what drives me, personally. One thing I’m absolutely seeking through travel, adventures, and new experiences is growth. I want to be able to look back at myself right before I did the thing and see what is ever so slightly different. Emotions are amazing but they’re not worth chasing. For example, the satisfaction of a perfect performance is amazing – the applause and the amazing feelings. However, if you didn’t learn anything during the process of creating that choreography…. if you didn’t gain a new skill or somehow improve yourself, the applause stops. The audience goes home. And you’re still the same person that you were before you got on stage, unless there was some kind of growth there.

Are you an alien?

No. If it’s of any interest, my firm belief is that I’m not only a human, but I’m on my first lifetime. This is all new to me, and I love it. I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m so excited to grow and learn. I’m not saying that reincarnation is untrue. I’m not saying that multiple lifetimes, or aliens are untrue. But I AM saying, I’m not an alien, and I’m a first-born human. And I really love my life.

What would you say to your 15-year-old self?

I would probably also whip out a list of all the Super Bowl winners for the next 20 years. That would be a brilliant thing to do – show up with a sports almanac.

In the year 2017-18, you’re going to get a random email from a bunch of weird hippies that are doing some stuff on islands on the other side of the world. It’s not going to make sense, but do me a favor just respond to them sooner.

I love you so so much. I’m really proud of you. I want you to just enjoy all of it. I love you and have fun.

Take a deeper dive into spirituality, circus, movement and at our Nicaragua Artist Residency and surround yourself with insanely talented and awe-inspiring individuals just like Cheetah.

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