Cassie Sandou balances on a 14-foot-long pole supported by her husband and brother-in-law. She takes a deep breath, bends her knees and springs 30 feet into the air.
She falls into acrobatic flips and lands flawlessly on the narrow 4-inch-wide pole. Then she jumps into the splits and lands again.
This is the Russian Bar act. It’s rare because of its physical and mental difficulty. And it takes a lot of faith and trust.
“It’s something you have to do 100 percent every single time,” said Cassie Sandou, 34, a professional circus performer and Latter-day Saint who lives in Henderson, Nevada.
“Heavenly Father is with me every single time I do this act. Every time I step out on stage, I’ve said my little prayer for Him to be with me to watch over me.”
As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Las Vegas performing scene, Cassie Sandou strives to live her faith as a professional circus performer and mother of two young children.
“The gospel teaches us to be a light to others and to be an example, and so I try to live my life like that as much as I can,” Cassie Sandou said.
On a typical day, Cassie Sandou wakes up and gets her 6-year-old daughter, Kaylie, ready for first grade. She does Kaylie’s hair with a “hair of the day” hairstyle. They pray and read the scriptures before sending her off to school.
Then Cassie Sandou juggles her 18-month-old son, Kiril Severus (yes, a Harry Potter reference), and takes care of the house while managing the company Cirque Entertainment she started with her husband.
She performs five days a week at a new family-friendly show in Las Vegas called “Celestia,” which recently won awards for Best New Acrobatic Show and Best New Show in Vegas.
“In one word, she’s a supermom,” said Konstantin Sandou, Cassie’s husband. “She’s everything to us.”
Cassie Sandou, along with Konstantin and brother-in-law, Sergei Sandou — the Sandou Trio — have performed all over the world.
In 2009, they traveled the globe with Britney Spears’ Circus Tour. The group was a semi-finalist on “America’s Got Talent” in 2011 and was featured on “The Greatest Showman” starring Hugh Jackman in 2017. They have also performed for Cirque Du Soleil, various shows in Las Vegas and countless NBA halftime shows.
“I’ve grown a lot as a performer since I started,” Cassie Sandou said. “I’m very comfortable with who I am. I’ve very comfortable with what I do. I’m kind of like the ‘show mom.’ I love taking care of people, and they know that I’m reliable and trustworthy.”
Shelley Craig, Cassie’s mother, said, “She lives in the world but not of the world. … She talks about the Church and things she does. She’s very open with the people she meets. And it’s just a part of her — it’s just who she is.”
Two of Sandou’s most memorable experiences include talking with Britney Spears’ manager about the Church while on tour and a conversation with Hugh Jackman about life and family while in New York filming “The Greatest Showman.”
Cassie was born in Price, Utah, and is the middle of five children. As a child, “she was doing cartwheels off the couches,” Shelley Craig said. “She was very energetic. She was very competitive.”
At age 8, she began training as a gymnast. “When she set her mind to do something, she never stopped. … She’s a go-getter,” Shelley Craig continued.
Cassie’s father, John Craig, served in the Air Force, which moved the family around the country. Cassie was used to being “different” and standing out as a member of the Church.
“I think it was the best thing for me because it made me realize who I am and what I stood for and to not be ashamed of who I am,” Cassie said.
Cassie’s gymnastic coaches were always impressed with her values, Shelley Craig said. “She just maintained that value system that she was taught in the home.”
“She’s always very supportive of everybody, and yet, she lives up to her principles and the things that she believes are right,” added John Craig.
A pivotal moment in Cassie’s life occurred when she and her family were living in Biloxi, Mississippi, in 2005. Cassie had just started the first week of college when Hurricane Katrina hit. The family’s home was destroyed and her father was transferred to San Antonio, Texas.
“(In Mississippi) I was a high-level gymnast, and I was coaching. And so once I moved, my life turned upside down,” Cassie recalled. She enrolled in a new college but struggled to find purpose.
Not long after the move, Cassie’s sister told her about a sign she saw to audition for SeaWorld. “So, I figured, hey, why not?” Cassie said. She got a job at SeaWorld as an acrobat.
An unexpected journey
While working at SeaWorld that summer, Cassie met her now-husband Konstantin Sandou, who is from Moldova, a Eastern European country bordered by Romania and Ukraine.
“He was the main performer and did several acts in the show,” Cassie recalled.
It was the first time she saw the Russian Bar act. Konstantin encouraged her to try it. She caught on quickly.
“Not too many people can do it because it’s so difficult,” Konstantin Sandou said. “It’s a totally different acrobatic skill that requires mental focus.” In fact, Cassie is still one of few Americans who can do it.
In 2007, Cassie moved to Las Vegas to pursue opportunities to train and learn new acts. “I fasted and prayed about it, and I felt really good about it,” she said.
Cassie and Konstantin were married in 2008. Over the next decade, Cassie Sandou’s career took off. She has been performing professionally for the past 11 years and feels blessed to do something she loves.
Not every show has gone perfectly, she said, but she is grateful for the opportunities to perform in so many different venues. “It’s been a really amazing career,” she said.
She is also quick to recognize the Lord’s hand in where she is today.
“You never know where the journey is going to take you,” Cassie Sandou said. “My mother has always told me to ‘enjoy the journey’ so that has been my mantra in life.
“Life is crazy. It’s messy. And it can be super stressful at times. But I want to enjoy the moment and be present and be that example to my kids.”
The Sandou Trio Russian Bar Act will be featured on the second season of “America’s Got Talent: Champions,” which will air on NBC in January.