This weekend, Illinois State freshmen Jacinda and Jenika Smith will rise nearly 30 feet in the air at Redbird Arena and attempt a series of tricks on a rotating cube. The task may seem daunting considering the sisters have been participating in Gamma Phi Circus for less than a year, but they will be able to draw on a special bond to pull off their precarious act.
“We’ve never been up that high,” Jenika conceded. However, she and her sister quickly added that they weren’t afraid of heights or performing in front of crowds. The identical twins acted in musicals throughout high school and have been dancing together since they were 4 years old.
Their natural and nurtured connection has meant that they’ve adapted quickly to the circus, allowing them to forgo the type of practice performers must normally do to develop chemistry.
“They’ve worked together all their lives,” said Gamma Phi Director Marcus Alouan ’01, M.S. ’11. “They are really in sync.”
The duo will also dance during Gamma Phi Circus’ annual shows, April 12–13, over Sibling Weekend. The performances and a related carnival will celebrate the circus’s 90th anniversary at Illinois State University.
The sisters from Morris have more in common than the aerial cube. They share a car, a room in Hewett Hall, a wardrobe, a haircut (now that Jenika stopped dying her hair blond), and the same hobbies. They are also both majoring in international business so they can eventually help their father expand his finance and insurance business.
“We don’t mean to do everything the same,” Jenika said. “We just like all of the same things and being together,” Jacinda said.
OK, so how do you tell them apart? Even their own mother mistook Jenika for Jacinda last month on FaceTime. There are a few subtle tells. Jacinda is slightly taller, and Jenika has a birthmark on her upper back that their grandfather checks to make sure he knows who is who. Also, Jacinda’s favorite food is bell peppers, whereas Jenika prefers Jell-O.
There is one line they won’t cross: wearing the same outfit at the same time. They committed that faux pas once in high school and were accused of “twinning.”
Alouan said the Smiths are the first twins he has had in the circus during his tenure. He plans to develop some material in the coming seasons playing off their sibling bond.
The pair knew when they arrived in Normal they wanted to try the circus. Their high school musical director, whose son attended Illinois State, told them that Gamma Phi would be perfect for them. She was right.
They enjoy practicing five times a week and say all their friends are in Gamma Phi. Jenika said the most difficult part has been working on her strength training. “I never thought I could do this. I could barely do a pullup when we arrived.”
“We are challenging ourselves like never before,” Jacinda said.
Besides practice, the sisters have performed at special events, like a hospital benefit held at Navy Pier in Chicago, where they did tricks and met with guests. This weekend’s performance, however, will be the first time they will be performing under the proverbial big top, and they will have their parents and other relatives in attendance.
The sisters know they will not be alone when the spotlight shines on them.
“I couldn’t imagine anyone else as my partner,” Jenika said. “We are always strongest together,” Jacinda echoed.
Kevin Bersett can be reached at kdberse@IllinoisState.edu.