From performance injury evaluations to paper cranes: WVU Athletic Training alumna Val Bustamante discusses her journey with Cirque du Soleil

From performance injury evaluations to paper cranes: WVU Athletic Training alumna Val Bustamante discusses her journey with Cirque du Soleil

Cirque du Soleil shows are famous for their stunning aerial performances, world-class acrobatics, amazing contortion acts and captivating blend of theater, music and dance.

While the audience is mesmerized by the magic happening on stage, Val Bustamante, a West Virginia University School of Medicine Athletic Training alumna, works behind the scenes to ensure the performers remain healthy and injury-free.

“Working for Cirque du Soleil is as diverse as anyone would imagine,” said Bustamante, a performance medicine therapist for Cirque du Soleil.

“We are first responders; we perform injury evaluations, therapeutic rehabilitation and treatments; we send referrals to specialists; we monitor and flag workload; and we train our support staff on emergency action plan procedures.”

Bustamante has worked with Cirque du Soleil for nearly five years, traveling the world to work on the R.U.N., Mystere and Kurios shows. Currently, she is in London for the first leg of a European tour with their newest show, Alegría: In a New Light. Next, she’ll be heading to Spain.

Cirque du Soleil shows typically move cities every six to 12 weeks, bringing unique challenges and responsibilities to Bustamante’s job. She establishes medical networks with providers in every city the performers visit and also addresses environmental challenges specific to each city such as high humidity or low temperatures that can make performing difficult.  

While constantly being on the road can be difficult, Bustamante thrives on keeping busy. Growing up, Bustamante was always involved in sports. She knew she wanted a career that kept her moving but didn’t learn about athletic training until she moved to the United States from Chile after graduating high school.

“I ended up choosing a career in Athletic Training when I went to graduate school at WVU because of the diversity of settings AT’s can work in as well as all the available opportunities,” Bustamante said. “My experience at WVU helped me be outside of my comfort zone while also motivating my interest in working in a non-traditional setting.”

During her time at WVU, Bustamante researched functional movement in dancers, ultimately leading to her interest in working at Cirque du Soleil. She also gained experience in aquatic therapy and shadowed an athletic trainer for WVU Gymnastics.

Bustamante credits the WVU Athletic Training program with shaping her into the clinician she is today. She highlights the gross anatomy lab, certification prep and the ability to choose her research as her top reasons for choosing WVU.

“Every class, lab, clinical rotation, research project – it all contributed to the knowledge I needed to be a good clinician and gave me the foundation to grow in a field of study that’s constantly changing,” Bustamante said. “People think that it takes extensive experience with dancers and gymnasts to be qualified for a job with Cirque. However, this job requires clinicians with experience in various settings who can quickly adapt to change and are comfortable with problem-solving under pressure. I learned all of that at WVU.”

One of Bustamante’s favorite aspects of her job is the diversity – she never knows what she might be working on next. Part of the unwritten duties of the performance medicine department is promoting a positive environment for the performers, focusing not only on their physical health but also their mental well-being.

“One of my favorite activities we did to keep our performers motivated was asking the entire cast and staff to help us fold a thousand paper cranes in Osaka to celebrate our 1000th show,” Bustamante said. All that to say, you don’t need to work at the circus to have fun; it's all about the people around you and the impact you have on each other.”

To learn more about WVU’s Athletic Training degree, visit For more on the School of Medicine’s Dance Science area of emphasis, visit




CONTACT: Ally Kennedy
Communications Specialist
WVU School of Medicine