Article by Ian Jagel,
Social Circus Director
There is power in circus.
It is an invaluable experience for the children in our shelter and transitional housing program to have a fun, active, invigorating field trip. The moms in our program are extremely stressed out and overwhelmed with court dates, housing appointments, food banks, parenting plans … the list seemingly never ends. As much as they wish they could provide fun activities for their children, it often isn’t realistic in times of crisis. The field trips to SANCA provide an extremely necessary outlet for the kids’ energy, [and their] desire to connect with safe adults and to try new things. [The] kids had such a sense of pride and accomplishment after they went on the flying trapeze. While a sense of accomplishment is important for every child, it is especially important for kids in our program who have been severely traumatized. Oftentimes, they were around violent or unsupportive parental figures who made them feel like nothing they did was good enough, severely impacting their sense of worth and autonomy. This active, supportive, positive environment was extremely impactful on our community’s most vulnerable children. Thank you so much for your skilled instructor’s support, encouragement, and above all for this opportunity. We cannot thank you enough!
—Kayla Blau, Children’s Advocate, Broadview Shelter & Transitional Housing Program
Ian Jagel works with a group of teens from Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA).
Yesterday’s class was AWESOME! The kids were really into it, and they all seem excited to move forward … The physical aspect of circus is what appeals to most of the kids. The [performance] aspect is much more scary, and it’s the part that I really hope we can get them excited about, since that’s where this program has the potential to be truly transformative … The great thing about this program is that words are supplementary and the body is the primary site of expression, which puts these kids on a different footing than they’re used to.
— Deepa Bhandaru, Lead Teacher and Program Coordinator, Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA)
The feedback from Kayla Blau and Deepa Bhandaru illustrates the transformative power of circus. It is an honor to work with the youth from the Broadview Shelter and ReWA here at SANCA — the circus school with the most regularly enrolled students in the United States. At SANCA we have a unique and exciting opportunity to be leader in the world of circus arts education and part of the Social Circus movement.
Social Circus is an innovative social intervention approach that uses circus arts to assist with participants’ personal and social development by nurturing their self-esteem, and help them to build trust in others, acquire social skills, become active citizens, express their creativity, and realize their potential. Social Circus is a powerful catalyst for creating social change because it helps marginalized individuals assume their place within a community and enrich that community with their talents. In nearly every country in the world, Social Circus programs are developing innovative, multi-disciplinary approaches to positively impact those most at-risk in their communities. Initially a grassroots movement, Social Circus is now a global network.
At SANCA we’re looking to circus programs across the world for connection with the global circus community and asking, “What is the most compelling work being done in circus education? What approaches are most effective in manifesting personal and collective transformation through circus arts? Who can benefit?”
Youth from ReWA learn to juggle and pass rings.
The more we ask, the more we realize that SANCA is already a leader. We are exploring new approaches to the Social Circus movement. Recently, the American Circus Educators (ACE) organization recognized SANCA in their new network of national Social Circus programs that meet the needs of at-risk populations and address social issues such as social isolation, the impact of trauma and violence, and the lack of access to arts and cultural activity.
As we connect with the broader world community of Social Circus, we’re busy cultivating relationships locally. You don’t need to go across the world to find refugees, trauma survivors, or homeless youth — they are all right here in Seattle. We know because SANCA works with hundreds of these kids every year. You’ll see SANCA coaches teaching regular circus classes in community centers and public schools in the Delridge, South Park, Rainier Valley, and Beacon Hill neighborhoods. In these community programs, we’re emphasizing youth development, social inclusion, and physical play. This spring, we’re expanding our ongoing partnerships with more classes and adding Garfield Community Center as a new partner.
Teens from ReWA learn to work together balancing and sharing body weight in preparation for acrobatics.
Another new partner, the Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA), is nearing the end of their first session and the participants are collectively developing a culminating performance to share with family and friends. We’re already looking forward to more classes with them this summer.
SANCA’s Every Body’s Circus program is also growing with several new students enrolled. Guided by SANCA coach and licensed Social Worker Alex Daves, we now offer individual and group therapy using circus as a therapeutic medium. To give you an idea of the extraordinary level of commitment to this work, every SANCA employee — about 70 of us — have become certified under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). That’s a $5,000 investment to ensure the privacy and security of individuals participating in the EBC program. SANCA is united behind this work.
This is only the beginning — there are countless unexplored avenues of circus transformation. Looking forward, we will expand our therapeutic and outreach work with adults, strengthen our connections with current students, and discover new communities interested in the benefits of circus arts.
SANCA is more than a school — it’s a community made rich by our broad cross-section of students. Thank you for making SANCA the wonderful community that it is!