When Two Acrobats Fall Head Over Heels — for Each Other

Caitlin Skye Reichel was doing handstands at a corporate holiday party in Orlando, Fla., the first time Kristy Marie Graziano laid eyes on her.

It was not unusual for Ms. Graziano to see circus professionals balancing upside down on their hands or forearms — after all, she’s one herself, and on that evening in November 2016, she was managing the entertainment for the event. But somehow Ms. Reichel stood out.

“I didn’t know anything about her, but I wanted to be her friend,” Ms. Graziano said.

The two had a brief conversation that evening, and Ms. Graziano even entered her digits into Ms. Reichel’s phone. Ms. Reichel was dating someone then, so the phone number went unused.

Fast forward three years. In December 2019, it occurred to their mutual friend and fellow acrobat, Joshua Johnson, that they might be a good match.

“They are both phenomenal performers,” Mr. Johnson said. “It’s difficult for performers to match with non-performers, because even when not working, we still have to train, and few understand how much that imposes on our social lives.”

Plus, he added, “Kristy tends to be earnest and Caitlin more whimsical. I thought they would be able to balance each other and could grow together.”

When he told each about the other, including the fact that both are queer, Ms. Graziano wasted no time and sent Ms. Reichel a friend request on Facebook. But Ms. Reichel barely uses the social media platform. Mr. Johnson had to tell her to check her account.

Ms. Reichel, 29, spent the early years of her life traveling around the country and in Canada with the circus, until her Dominican-American mother, Mary Reichel, and Jewish father, Steven Reichel, established a home base in Orlando just before her ninth birthday. They were clowns in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, among other circuses. (Her mother still performs independently with fire; her father retired from performing and now works in construction.)

Ms. Reichel started training in acrobatics as a child, and studied classical ballet as a teen. Her specialty is spinning up to 30 hula hoops at a time on various body parts, or fewer while on pointe, juggling several hoops while doing splits and more. Her stage name is Caitlin Skye, and in addition to performing, she coaches and teaches circus arts independently, and just started working with Cirque du Soleil in Orlando in the props crew.

Ms. Graziano, 35, is an aerial performer, specializing in aerial silks and duo trapeze, performing most often with a partner as Duo Dames. Originally from Paducah, Ky., she has an associate degree in graphic design and commercial art from Nossi College of Art in Nashville.

She was introduced to circus arts while working in the costume department at Walt Disney World Resort. A colleague there had invited her to join her at a class, and she took to it immediately. She, too, coaches and works in the rigging department for Cirque du Soleil.

Their Facebook messenger chats soon turned to phone calls. When Ms. Graziano gave her phone number to Ms. Reichel, she realized she already had it in her phone.

Before going on a date, Ms. Reichel took Ms. Graziano’s aerial class in February 2020. While Ms. Graziano invited Ms. Reichel to stay after to watch her and her partner rehearse, neither knew it would be another two hours before she finished, around 11:30 p.m.

When they walked to their cars afterward, they each saw that the other drove a Mini Cooper, which Ms. Graziano took as a sign.

“She stayed that whole time just to have a couple minutes with me,” Ms. Graziano said. “Later, I called my trapeze partner and said, ‘That was really big. I like her so much.’”

While their training and performing schedules didn’t allow for a proper date for a bit longer, each visited the other at practice. It was on one of those visits that they shared their first kiss.

They went to a horror movie for their first date: “Gretel & Hansel.”

Successive dates took place at Universal CityWalk, part of Universal Orlando, and picnicking at a local cemetery. Ms. Reichel, in particular, likes cemeteries because they are peaceful, well-kept places; in Orlando, there are few places free of tourists. Also, she said, “because people are there to be with their loved ones.”

By the time everything shut down for Covid in early 2020, including their work, they considered themselves a couple.

Dates now consisted of elaborate meals at home in Orlando and craft nights. One night, Ms. Graziano brought soup to a sick Ms. Reichel. They put their favorite movie on, “It,” and Ms. Reichel fell asleep on Ms. Graziano. She had never before felt so comfortable that she had fallen asleep on someone, she said.

Ms. Graziano said she “just wanted to keep holding her” even though her arm was cramping.

Though they spent much of their free time together, they didn’t want to rush their relationship.

There was their age gap, and the fact that Ms. Reichel had less relationship experience. But by this point each knew she was in love.

“I was not overly emotional or sensitive before. I was a little cold,” Ms. Reichel said. “Kristy warmed my heart and showed me how to really love. She taught me how to love her, but also how to love my family and friends better.”

“In my past relationships, I had lost the ability to laugh and have fun, and I laugh with Caitlin every day,” Ms. Graziano said. “Caitlin is so talented and I admire her dedication so much, and I do the same for her.”

While combining a ground act with an aerial act isn’t simple, the couple are thinking about a duo act they can perform together. (Ms. Reichel often does poi spinning with her mother.)

In August 2021, Ms. Graziano moved into Ms. Reichel’s house in Orlando, where she lived with her terrier mutt, Samantha.

In October 2021, both women were hired to dress as fairies at a “Pirates of the Caribbean"-themed wedding at Paradise Cove, and to interact with the guests and be part of the bridal party, even though they didn’t know the couple. They both realized they could envision their own wedding at the venue, largely since it satisfied one of their requirements: There was space for a trapeze rig.

Ms. Graziano then got the Reichels’ blessing to marry their daughter. She then planned a trip to Las Vegas in November 2021. Ms. Reichel got her nails done in anticipation.

But despite Ms. Reichel’s mother’s regular texts to Ms. Graziano asking if it had happened yet, the proposal would have to wait, as Vegas wasn’t exactly the romantic backdrop Ms. Graziano was hoping for.

“Someone was throwing up in a corner, men were handing out fliers with naked women,” Ms. Graziano said. “It was gross.” They cut their stay short there and headed to the Grand Canyon. Days after they returned, at the Reichels’ house, Ms. Graziano put the aquamarine ring in a mesh bag tied to Samantha’s collar. When Ms. Reichel spotted it, Ms. Graziano got down on one knee.

“I had that ring for a year and a half before I asked,” Ms. Graziano said. “I waited until I knew this is what Caitlin wanted.”

Ms. Reichel wanted to propose as well. She bought a ring similar to the one Ms. Graziano had chosen, though with an alexandrite stone, and proposed at her parents’ house as well, on her own birthday in March 2022.

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They were married in front of 92 guests on Feb. 16 at Paradise Cove in Orlando by Ms. Reichel’s sister, Amy Wright, who was ordained by the Universal Life Church for the occasion. Both wore bridal gowns with long trains. Ms. Reichel was walked down the aisle by her father, while Ms. Graziano, who is taking Ms. Reichel’s name, was escorted by her older sister, Bobbi Billow.

“Seeing my sister not only being overwhelmingly loved by her bride, but also being embraced into a family who loves and accepts her, brought me to uncontrollable tears,” Ms. Billow said.

Both women wrote their own vows, which, unbeknown to them beforehand, referenced “The Addams Family.”

“I promise to love you fiercely and irrationally like the most romantic couple ever portrayed, Gomez and Morticia,” Ms. Graziano said, while Ms. Reichel said, “You’re the Morticia to my Gomez, but with better arms.”

At the reception, there were performances from the Duo Rose trapeze act, who are close friends of the couple, as well as Ms. Graziano’s trainers.

And then, in the “Don’t Say Gay” state, not only did their queer community show up with pride flags and other accouterments to bring a queer club atmosphere to the dance floor, but two drag queens, Chavela Belleza and Mr Ms Adrien, performed.

Ms. Reichel told their guests, “Being at our wedding shows you choose love in a world full of hate; you’re proving you have love in your heart.”

On This Day

When Feb. 16, 2023

Where Paradise Cove, Orlando, Fla.

The Rings The brides exchanged rings that were made from the wedding band of Ms. Reichel’s paternal grandmother, Hilda Reichel. It was split in half to make two.

Bit of Tradition Each bride broke a glass under foot in a Jewish ritual at the end of the ceremony. Theirs were in custom-made bags with rainbow drawstrings, put in place by Mr. Johnson, who played matchmaker.

The Bartender A retired circus burro named Jenny carried beer bottles in her saddlebag.

Table Toppers Ms. Graziano created four-sided illuminated boxes as centerpieces. Each side had a silhouette of either bride performing, or them performing together.

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