85-year-old acrobat stays young defying gravity

Steve Seaberg stretches, contorts and flips his legs into a handstand as he warms up at Buck’s Sport Barn in Buckhead.

Later, he bends his knees slightly to steady himself as a much younger Nova Hawkins, 24, balances herself on his left arm and head.

At 85, Seaberg is the oldest acrobat of the Imperial OPA Circus, which was founded in 2009 and performs at nightclubs, corporate gatherings, private parties and community events.

“He’s a crazy guy,” said Tim Mack, OPA’s founder and artistic director. “Sometimes it’s challenging but it’s also very rewarding. He has such a rich history with his arts background, his music, his teaching and his life. He’s always inspiring us with new ideas.”

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Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

One recent night, Seaberg, dressed in a black-and-white top with khaki shorts over black pants (he confesses that he’s wearing women’s pajama bottoms because they provide a better fit), is practicing with other performers.

Seaberg, a former high school and college gymnast, helps another member of the troupe perform.

“This keeps me healthy,” he said. “Sure, I get sore and sometimes I get a sore muscle. There’s no way around that, but this is so good for my mind and body. I think as you get older, you have to keep using it or you lose it.”

Seaberg’s story is told as part of a project by LifeWise, a series of video interviews with dynamic seniors 65 to 95 living life to its fullest and sharing those experiences. The series is intended to serve as an inspiration to other seniors, while dispelling the pervasive negative images of aging in American society.

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Sondra Ilgenfritz, president and founding artistic director, received a grant from the Thanks Mom & Dad Fund, which is a charity created to honor parents, grandparents and mentors by supporting programs and services for the aging population.

Seaberg was among them.

Ilgenfritz said she saw Seaberg perform and was intrigued. “Imagine my surprise,” she said. “I didn’t know his age. He was so peppy and so much fun.”

Seaberg likes to consider himself the grandfather of the circle troupe. They sometimes come to him for acrobatic advice, which he eagerly gives.

In high school and college, he specialized in vault, parallel bars and flying rings. He has a master’s degree in art and art history from Northwestern University and has taught at Northwestern, Rutgers and Clark Atlanta universities. Before joining the Imperial OPA Circus, he taught at Carrie Heller’s Circus Arts Institute. He also was a founder of Circus Equilibris and between 1996 and 2007 performed with his wife, Ronnog, as Seaberg Acrobatic Poetry.

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

And when he isn’t doing this, he is also a musician playing keyboard, alto saxophone, accordion, guitar and tenor banjo.

Seaberg maintains a healthy diet. He doesn’t eat a lot of meat, and he drinks a lot of water and tries to eat salads with feta cheese and olive oil. Occasionally, he breaks down to have a glass or two of wine or a mixed drink. He gave up smoking some time ago.

Does he ever get scared that one bad move could end his career?

Sometimes, he admits, in the midst of a routine, “suddenly I think, ‘Should I be doing these things?’”