A.J Blankenship, a 2008 graduate from Teays Valley, has always loved all things performing and dance; growing up, A.J was involved in competitive gymnastics, was a member of Prominent Rendition at Teays Valley, and was a varsity cheerleader for The Ohio State University. He always had a deep love of tumbling and acrobatics. He was thrilled to be hired as a circus performer for the 2017 original movie-musical, “The Greatest Showman,” staring Hugh Jackman.
When asked about how he got the role, A.J. said, “When performing at Radio City with the Rockets in the show ‘The New York Spring Spectacular,’ I had the pleasure of working with aerialist Mathieu Leopold who was hired as the Circus Coordinator for the film. He called me and asked me if I would be in a movie… no audition or anything, for a feature film? It seemed too good to be true. I stood at Steiner Studios in Brooklyn in my electric blue vintage circus costume and thought ‘Oh My Gosh! I’m going to be in a movie!’”
Blankenship performed during the song “The Greatest Show”, which starts and finishes the movie. The biggest obstacle A.J. faced was performing hoop-diving tricks; this was something he had never done before! He had only a few weeks to train.
After training on a spring floor and mini trampoline he got to the set and saw he would be tumbling on cement. The performers were given a small air-mat to use as a spring. He had to quickly adjust to the new environment! Blankenship said, “It was very cool to see myself on the big screen and to see my name role through the credits!” His favorite memory from set was getting to know all of the other performers, learning about different aspects of circus performing, sharing and teaching each other tips and tricks, goofing around, and sitting with Hugh Jackman when he gave the performers lottery tickets and told them stories.
A.J. does get to make it back home, and when he does, he says he has to visit Dairy Queen in South Bloomfield because that’s where he worked through high school. He almost always goes to Roosters in Circleville! “Prominent Rendition (PR) truly changed the course of my life. I had always been drawn to dance, but I don’t think I would have ever discovered my deep passion for the art if it wasn’t for PR. It allowed me to discover myself. When thinking about my time in PR, I just see flashes of smiles, laughter, music, movement, teamwork, friendship, and discovery.”
In addition to training, auditioning, and performing, A.J. also pursues two other passions: fitness and cheerleading. He operates his own cheerleading choreography business. At the end of every summer, he heads back home to Ohio from NYC and he choreographs high school cheerleading routines all over the state. He has been working with Jamie Kinzer at his Teays Valley alma mater for the past six years, and the Teays Valley Vikings recently won the state championship.
A.J. has now been on the big screen, done a Broadway national tour, performed with the Rockets at the Metropolitan Opera, been in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, been on Saturday Night Live, and still has a list of things he wants to accomplish. When asked what advice he has for kids who dream of performing professionally, he inspirationally said, “The industry is insane, competitive, and unfair. It’s not nearly as glamorous as you’d imagine, and it takes a lot out of you. Dreams aren’t a easily reached. Dreams take courage, vulnerability, discipline, heartbreak, and dedication and force you dig deep inside yourself to pull out who you truly are. My advice is this: do not let the “dream” itself define you. You are the process. Be patient. Accept the process. Continue confidently. Be silly. Be kind. Be grateful. I’m very grateful for my family who sacrificed an unimaginable amount so I could train at gymnastics, and when I chose to quit gymnastics to pursue dance. Both of those activities were uncommon for boys my age back then in rural Ohio, and my peers really let me know that. I was constantly bullied, every day. This behavior cannot continue today. We need to celebrate our differences, explore the unique qualities we possess and lift each other up for having the courage to be true. My family did that for me. Because of them, I know who I am, I get to be a dream-chaser, and I’m seriously happy. If you are a witness to bullying, at any age, please have the courage to stand up against it, and please, have the courage to be yourself.”
“I’m not scared to be seen, I make no apologies, this is me. “ – The Greatest Showman