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Stunts and Circuses

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By Wendy Soderburg '82, Photos by Hugh Hamilton

Published Jan 1, 2010 8:00 AM


Color the ABC Family original series Make It or Break It Bruin blue and gold. Five former UCLA female gymnasts work on the show, on-screen or behind the scenes. They’re part of an ever-growing group of former Bruin gymnasts finding fortune, if not fame, as Hollywood stuntwomen and as acrobats in live shows like Cirque du Soleil.

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The Bruins of Make It or Break It, left to right: Tasha Schwikert, Ariana Berlin, Jordan Schwikert, Karin Silvestri-Coye and Natalie Padilla.

When we last saw them in August, the young female gymnasts of the ABC Family hit Make It Or Break It were locked in a fierce battle at the U.S.A. Gymnastics National Championships in Boston. Four of the best gymnasts at the Rocky Mountain ("The Rock") Gymnastics Training Center — Payson, Lauren, Emily and Kaylie — were competing not only against each other, but against hated rival team Denver Elite and its haughty star, Kelly Parker, for 12 spots on the national team.

Melodrama abounded, of course, both inside and outside the gym. Yet despite all the teenage angst, it's the athletic competition that forms the core of Make It or Break It and provides much of its appeal. And the show, which begins its second season on Jan. 11, relies on the help of some young women who are intimately familiar with that world: former members of the UCLA women's gymnastics team.

And they're not alone. There's an ongoing train for former female gymnasts that leads from Westwood straight to stunt work on the sound stages of Hollywood. Some Bruins have even carved out careers in the air as acrobats in Cirque du Soleil.

Keeping It Real

Five Bruins are currently involved with Make It or Break It, either on-screen or behind the scenes. Natalie Padilla '08, Jordan Schwikert '09 and Ariana Berlin '10 perform as stunt doubles for some of the lead characters; Tasha Schwikert '09 plays a gymnast on the show; and Karin Silvestri-Coye '98 serves as the show's gymnastics coordinator.

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Make It or Break It stunt double Ariana Berlin gets in some break-dancing practice on the floor.

"They've been such great partners for us," says Make It or Break It's creator/executive producer Holly Sorensen, "because they bridge a gap between not only real gymnastics and the illusion of Hollywood gymnastics, but between our show and the gymnastics world."

They also bring an amazing ability to flip, tumble and fly through the air. Natalie Padilla, 23, who bears a striking resemblance to the actress she doubles, Josie Loren ("Kaylie Cruz"), says it was Bruin Assistant Coach Jim Foody '97 who first got her and the Schwikert sisters on board with the show last December. Padilla has enjoyed the experience so much that she's decided to try her hand at stunt work full-time.

"I had no idea about stunt work as a career — when I watched movies, I didn't even think twice," says Padilla, who has put her plans to become a registered dietitian on hold. "I'm training in martial arts, and I'm trying to get into fighting. I'm also training for high falls, where you jump off a building onto an airbag."

When told how crazy this sounds, she laughs. "It's very fun," she says. "I would like to get into movie and TV [projects] that don't involve gymnastics so I can get a reputation for something other than gymnastics, but I'm glad I've gotten work from something I've trained my whole life for."

As far as show creator Sorensen is concerned, the girls are indispensable. "We refer to the gymnasts as the real stars of 'The Rock,' " she says. "They are so dazzling to watch that the most grizzled crew members have their jaws on the floor."

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