Thrilling, gravity-defying acrobatics and dazzling dance routines were how Southeast Minneapolis resident Erdenechimeg “Chimgee” Haltarhuu sought escape from domestic violence in Mongolia.
Haltarhuu, 45, was born in Mongolia, a country where domestic violence is commonplace and resources for survivors are scarce. Her late husband beat her so severely her jaw shattered.
She saw an opportunity to escape when Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus chose her to perform with them in America in 1991.
Now, almost 20 years later, Haltarhuu plans to return to her homeland to share her story and offer hope through a series of circus performances and outreach speeches.
“I want to tell women to stand up themselves,” Haltarhuu said. “We are strong. Be yourself; don’t be afraid. It feels good—so awesome.”
Haltarhuu grew up with acrobatics, studying gymnastics and auditioning for the Mongolian State Circus School when she was 16. Out of 550 children auditioning, she was one of eight chosen to study at the school, she said.
Now, she is a head coach at Circus Juventas in St. Paul and beginning to fundraise for her trip back to Mongolia in August.
The main fundraising event will be two performances on April 17 hosted by Circus Juventas. Tentatively, the performances will be at 5:30 and 7 p.m. and all of the ticket proceeds will be going toward the trip.
Haltarhuu plans to travel for one month through the countryside, entertaining villages with circus acts and speaking to the villagers about the issue of domestic violence. She plans to fly into Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar, with her family circus, Circus Manduhai. Her son, Tamir; her husband, Eron Woods; Stewart Lippe, a juggler from Florida; two students from Circus Juventas and five or six hired Mongolian performers will also be travelling with her. The group plans to fly into Ulaanbaatar, rent vans and drive deep into the northern rural areas of Hovsgul, which is close to Russia.
Marissa Dorschner, a student coach at Circus Juventas, plans to travel with Haltarhuu in August. The first week will be spent mostly being tourists in Ulaanbaatar and the next weeks will be spent travelling, performing, and spreading awareness of the issue, Dorschner said.
“It’s really important to reach out, give access,” Dorschner, 22, said.
With each performance, Haltarhuu plans to take time to address the issue of domestic violence, aiming to change cultural acceptance and reach out to the nomadic herders. She has been coordinating with the National Center Against Violence, one of Mongolia’s primary outreach centers.
Mongolian women have few resources to turn to because the law against abuse is newly established, Haltarhuu said. Women used to have to pay money if they called the police and their husbands were put in jail, she said. While there are some shelters, women in rural areas have little access to them.
“Try to get change so that the shelters aren’t necessary,” Woods, 40, said, explaining that the ultimate goal of Haltarhuu’s mission is to eradicate domestic violence in Mongolia.
Haltarhuu hopes that this trip will be a springboard for more trips to come in the future. She wants to go every year for a short time and travel throughout the entire country spreading her message, she said.
Though she is excited about the trip, she is concerned that some people won’t like to hear what she has to say. If she raises enough money, she said she would like to hire a police officer or other security escort.
Haltarhuu needs a minimum of $50,000 for the trip, she said. She has been considering taking a trip like this for years, but after paying for her son’s college education, dental surgery to fix her jaw and other expenses, she is just now getting on track to take the trip she has spent so long talking about.
“Its something she feels strongly about,” Woods said. “She needs to do it.”
“My dream is going to happen,” Haltarhuu said. “It’s going to happen.”