After traveling the world, he’s teaching local gymnasts

Instructor is former Cirque du Soleil performer

Elite Gymnastics Academy coach Dima Khrapov is pictured with members of his boys competition team. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy
Elite Gymnastics Academy coach Dima Khrapov is pictured with members of his boys competition team. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy

After seven years of touring the globe in the world’s most famous circus, Dima Khrapov was ready to stay in one place for a while.

The road, he decided, was no longer the place for his wife – along with his two young children, each of whom was born in a different city while Khrapov performed with Cirque du Soleil.

The Russian-born globetrotter is now in Burnsville, teaching boys how to be gymnasts. Since Jan. 1, he has coached the boys competition team at Elite Gymnastics Academy, working with Level 5 gymnasts ages 5 through pre-teen.

While an acrobat with Cirque du Soleil, he performed in places such as South Africa, Brazil and Japan, and U.S. cities such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. On one trip to Los Angeles, his troupe met with the “Governator” – Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had put his acting career on hiatus while serving two terms as governor of California.

But the demands of performing and the constant travel took a toll. “I have so many fond memories” of the Cirque du Soleil, Khrapov said through his friend and interpreter, Alexey Kobrinskii, during an interview at Elite Gymnastics Academy. “To be in the Cirque du Soleil, that was like a dream. But there were days when we would have two performances and two training sessions, and that’s difficult on you physically.”

Why Minnesota?

“After I left Cirque du Soleil, we spent some time in New York,” Khrapov said. “We decided we preferred a place like Minnesota to a city like New York. This is similar to my home in Russia (Yaroslavl, about 160 miles from Moscow). There’s snow and cold weather, and even the forestry is similar. But there are a lot more lakes here.”

Like many young gymnasts in many parts of the world, Khrapov was hoping to be on the fast track to a spot in the Olympics. That didn’t happen, but a Cirque du Soleil presentation in his city changed the direction of his life. Cirque du Soleil was looking to recruit people with gymnastics backgrounds, and Khrapov fit the profile.

The company has several resident shows in Las Vegas and one in Orlando, Fla., but Khrapov went with a touring group. He performed various flips, lifts and other stunts, including a trick in which he jumped on to one end of a teeter-totter to propel a smaller performer into the air.

Things don’t always go as planned, of course. One day, Khrapov said, he stumbled while making his entrance to the performance area and almost fell. On the fly, he had to turn it into a trick that would look as if it was part of the show. Some of the other performers initially were confused, thinking that new choreography had been written into the show that they weren’t told about.

Khrapov is developing his English, but at a recent training session with his Elite Gymnastics students, he and the boys seemed to have no trouble understanding each other. Khrapov described his style of teaching as a combination of ideas he picked up in Russia and U.S.-style training techniques.

“It’s a competitive team, and the kids are competitive, but they’re still young,” he said. “With young athletes, you have to build their confidence. You have to be careful with how you present the material to them. There’s a danger of asking them to do too much, too quickly.”

There’s also a danger in making it seem too much like work. In his biography on the club’s website, Khrapov said his favorite skill is a back full twisting somersault on floor exercise. His students probably like that skill, too, but Khrapov said one of his biggest challenges is making the sport’s tougher skills – such as the still rings – something the students want to do.

His Level 5 team finished third at its recent state tournament. Maybe some of the students will decide to pursue gymnastics further. Maybe it’ll be something they do for fun. Who knows – maybe one of them will become a professional acrobat.

Whatever happens, Khrapov said, is fine with him.

“If we can develop their character and attitude, I’m happy,” he said.