Who is Helena the Foot Juggler? How a language barrier mistakenly landed an ‘AGT’ Season 19 star in the circus

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA: From the 19th season of ‘America’s Got Talent’, Heather Wonjila, known as Helena the Foot Juggler, is a news anchor specializing in foot juggling. Foot juggling is a traditional circus technique originating in China and Russia, less commonly seen in the United States.

“AGT” Season 19 contestant Helen the Foot Juggler won foot juggling at a school outside Beijing, China (Instagram/@helenthefootjuggler)

Helen, an Ethiopian-born entertainer, learned to juggle at a school outside Beijing, China. She describes it as a “happy accident” and has performed at NBA and hockey halftime shows, among other venues.

Helen was raised in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. She was a champion gymnast known for excelling in floor exercises and balance beam, competing for her country’s national team.

Several champion gymnasts, including Helen, received scholarships to China. Despite their hope for a gymnastics scholarship, they were mistakenly awarded circus scholarships due to a language barrier that could not be corrected.

“There was a misunderstanding,” Helen told Nola. “It was a circus school, not a gymnastics school. Ethiopia sent the best gymnasts they had. We got there, and we didn’t speak Chinese, and they didn’t speak Amharic. . So we started training.” Helen was selected for foot-juggling studies because of her long legs.

“AGT” Season 19 contestant Helen the Foot Juggler works at a safari park in San Diego (Instagram/@helenthefootjuggler)

“AGT” Season 19 star Helen the Foot Juggler found her career break in a circus in Germany

Lying on her back, she learned to juggle large pots, tables and various other objects. She also mastered other stunts such as spinning plates and juggling hats.

No other country sent competent gymnasts to the school, giving the Ethiopians a significant advantage. Helen remembers that after their return to Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Gymnastics Federation greeted them with flowers at the airport.

Despite not training in gymnastics for the past two years, they were still expected to compete at the All-Africa Games. Helen chose to pursue her career as a circus performer in Germany, while others returned to China.

She later found employment in the Middle East and Turkey before being recruited to work at a safari park in San Diego, where she currently lives with a number of other former Ethiopian gymnasts.

“AGT” Season 19 contestant Helen the Foot Juggler is currently a full-time mother living in San Diego (Instagram/@helenthefootjuggler)

“AGT” Season 19 star Helen the Foot Juggler has a decades-long career as a circus performer

Helen is currently a full-time mother living in San Diego. Recently, she has entertained at halftime shows for sports such as hockey and the NBA. Helen feels fortunate to have moved on from gymnastics, considering it a very competitive sport. Later, she was hired by LadyBEAST to join the Venardos Circus on tour.

In January, Helen completed her contract. In 2007, she started foot juggling with Afrika Afrika Circus. Later, she moved on to the Mother Africa Circus, where she also started hula hooping.

The “AGT” star began performing as a foot juggler and hula hoop performer at Circus Circus Casino in 2012. Later, she moved to Circus Zuma Zuma, where she worked for almost two years.

Helen started working for the Norwegian Circus Line in 2014 and stayed there for about seven months. She has worked as a freelance artist for over 13 years, accumulating almost 10 years of experience in the field, leading her to Cirque Dreams.

“AGT” Season 19 contestant Helen the Foot Juggler is a full-time mother to her daughter (Instagram/@helenthefootjuggler)

“AGT” Season 19 star Helen the Foot Juggler’s act includes more than juggling

Helen’s main performance consists of juggling a Japanese drum that she paints to resemble a slice of orange or watermelon, turning a table on her feet, and throwing it end over end. She recently made her stage debut in New Jersey, where she practiced a new act in which she spun small rugs while hanging in the air.

“AGT” Season 19 contestant Helen the Foot Juggler made her stage debut in New Jersey (Instagram/@helenthefootjuggler)

Tune into ‘America’s Got Talent’ on July 9th on NBC at 8pm ET to watch Helen the Foot Juggler perform.

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