Author Archives: Maia LeDoux

SANCA – Home of the Spectacular

As we cross the threshold into a new year, I’d like to take a moment to look back in gratitude at a wonderful year of Social Circus.

The powerful impact of Social Circus is increasing in prominence all over the world and, as a result, researchers want to understand what Social Circus does, how it does it, and why it works.

In 2017, SANCA participated in the first evidence-based, national study looking at the socio-emotional benefits of Social Circus on young people in the United States. Organized by the American Youth Circus Organization (AYCO) and the Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality, the study collected thousands of data points over nine months, with information that includes participating youth reporting on their own lives, program staff observations of youth behavior, and external program quality assessments. To support the research, AYCO asked SANCA to contribute to the data collection efforts which resulted in AYCO sending me to experience the rich diversity of Social Circus programs and Social Circus organizations in Saint Louis, Oakland, and San Diego.

Beyond this major study, 2017 saw SANCA share our work out in the world unlike ever before. In June, SANCA participated in the 50th Smithsonian Folklife Festival, bringing our particular approach to adaptive circus to share with the 600,000+ visitors who attended the festival. SANCA was honored by the Smithsonian with being the only organization entrusted to directly engage the public in a variety of circus activities including: tightwire, acrobatics, trapeze, and aerial sling. During our time there, we introduced thousands of visitors of all ages, background, and abilities to their first experience of being a circus artist–it was fantastic!

Adding to this momentum, Social Circus was the theme of the AYCO Youth Festival in August. Hundreds of youth, coaches, parents, and administrators from all over America convened in Trenton, New Jersey for five days of circus, workshops, and performances. To contribute Social Circus leadership to the network, SANCA’s very own Every Body’s Circus manager Alex Clifthorne M.S.W. led a much-needed and very popular workshop on trauma and how to integrate trauma-informed practices into Social Circus work.

Coach Ian works with a group of teens from Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, teaching human pyramids.

Here at home, thanks to a major two-year grant from the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture and generous donations from community members, 2017 saw the RODA program expand into a school-year-long program. In partnership with the Rainier Vista Boys & Girls Club and the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, RODA is using circus as an arts-based tool to cultivate job-readiness skills, in addition to all the other fantastic socio-emotional learning that occurs while practicing circus and developing an ensemble. Did I mention participating youth get a stipend for their work? By creating meaningful pathways to employment, we aim to give young people tools of empowerment and autonomy. Also, did you see SANCA has hired our first employee out of this program?  Have a look at the blog article about our newest Social Circus Coach, Monte.

As SANCA’s Social Circus Program flourishes and grows, Cirque du Monde—the Social Circus program run by Cirque du Soleil—is taking notice. Emmanuel Bouchard, head of Social Circus training programs and partnerships for Cirque du Monde reached out earlier this year to ask if we would like to host a Social Circus training at SANCA. It was an easy “YES!”

Social Circus training includes interactive games

This past October, SANCA welcomed social circus coaches from the four corners of the continental United States to participate in a training on the Cirque du Monde style of Social Circus. Master Social Circus trainers Blake Lanier M.S.W. from Atlanta, Georgia and Julie Thébèrge from Québec City, Québec were flown in to give us a 35-hour training intensive full of discussion, laughter, and enrichment. We explored topics ranging from ethics to the evolution of group dynamics to creativity, and this was only the first of a two-part training!  Following this first training, participants are meant to apply what they’ve learned in the field and return in February 2018 for a second 5-day intensive with Cirque du Monde instructors.

SANCA is dedicated to being a leader of Social Circus and we are grateful for this opportunity to amplify the work on a national scale. Our partnership with Cirque du Monde is strong and they continue to ask us how they can invest in our future. Their investment in SANCA, combined with your incredible support, has sent us a clear message:  Keep it up.

Looking ahead at 2018, we show no signs of slowing down.

SANCA continues our commitment to develop as a leader in Social Circus, increasingly becoming a destination for students, practitioners and research.

The Every Body’s Circus roster is full with classes and camps that are beginning to draw students from across the nation. Social circus trainers from Louisiana, Arizona, New York, and Kentucky will return to SANCA for the Cirque du Monde Social Circus training intensive part II in late February. As for research, mid-January will see the publication of the AYCO & Weikart Socio-emotional Learning Study which will be a major step in understanding the powerful impact that Social Circus has on the lives of young people across the country.

By the way, Social Circus isn’t just for young people!  We are excited to expand our adult Social Circus programming in 2018. Starting in January the new Transformational Women’s Circus (TWC) program will begin with an 11-week session that combines Social Circus with Drama Therapy and a multigenerational ensemble of adult women led by EBC coach Amber Parker. Winter Session is already full, but TWC will be returning in Spring for a second session. Online applications for Spring Session will open in February.

In 2018, we will be joining the international circus community in a year-long celebration of the 250th anniversary of modern circus. Be on the lookout for events and performances celebrating the rich past, present, and future of circus. And in the spirit of Social Circus, we will be taking these festivities into communities all over Seattle!  We invite you all to join us not just in celebration of others, but in taking your own place in the spectacular, vibrant history of circus arts.

Ian Jagel works with a group of teens from Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA).

Around Seattle, our partnerships and connections to communities continue to thrive. With programs in schools, community centers, and nonprofit organizations, we are deeply committed to bringing the joys of circus not just to individual students, but to entire communities through classes, performances and events. As a heads up, we are in the early stages of working on an exciting new program with the Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA) Teen Program slated to begin in Fall 2018, more details will follow as they develop.

And this is only what is in our 2018 calendar so far. Who knows what other exciting developments will pop up?  For now, please join us in celebrating a new year and a fresh start the Social Circus way–spectacularly!

Circus is the home of the spectacular yet so much more than spectacle:  It is the universal, empowering potential of embodied circus practice. We invite you to share in our collective joy by trying it yourself. Have you signed up for your circus classes yet?

As always, thank you for enriching our community, and happy New Year!

Ian Jagel, Social Circus Director

The Acrobatic Conundrum return to Seattle with TWO new shows!

The Acrobatic Conundrum, the contemporary circus group founded by Terry Crane, have spent the last three months touring the western United States with their show, Love and Gravity. Now they have returned to Seattle presenting two new shows: a cabaret, “Volume 5,” and an evening-length performance, “The Fig Tree Waltzes.”

The Acrobatic Conundrum have been artists-in-residence at SANCA briefly this fall, in preparation for their shows at 12th Ave Arts, and we caught up with Terry after one of his training sessions at SANCA to ask him a few questions.

SANCA – “A circus artist trains and works so hard in bringing their art to the stage. Powering up with healthy food must be very important. What is the best snack to pair with your apparatus of choice?”

Terry: ” I just started learning multi-cord. Definitely pairs well with spaghetti. I guess that makes me the meatball.”

SANCA – “What do you take with you on the road to help you feel like you aren’t a homeless vagabond?”

Terry: “Not a homeless vagabond… what an idea. I take a posse of 5 other circus artists so I feel like a wandering saltimbanco. I also take an e-reader everywhere so my whole library can follow me. ”

SANCA– “Finish this sentence: At the end of a best day in circus I feel…”

Terry: “…like an underground rockstar. Top of the charts, but living out of my mom’s garage. I’m not really… I swear. Circus makes me feel like a happy human; strong, agile and with a subtle swagger.”

You can see The Acrobatic Conundrum perform in December, but don’t hesitate or they’ll be off again on a new adventure! Tickets for their shows can be found here.

 

Cirrus Circus presents “Acro-Biographies”

Meet Cirrus Circus at the library as they conduct research, hunt for a good read, and find all the books they can about the physics and mathematics of juggling. Along the way they discover that books are portals to new and different worlds.

When their bumbling professor stops by, he struggles to keep himself rooted in reality rather than follow his imagination. Can they convince their professor that these other worlds are wonderful places to visit, full of amazing adventures and artistic expression?

Acro-Biographies features contortion, Geman wheel, teeterboard, duo trapeze, and more. Join Cirrus Circus as they crawl up, balance on, and flip through the pages, using their imagination and circus skill to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.

WHEN
November 10-18th, 2017
Friday 7pm
Saturday 3pm or 7pm

WHERE
Broadway Performance Hall
1625 Broadway
Seattle, WA 98122

MORE INFO
206-652-4433
www.sancaseattle.org

TICKETS
IN ADVANCE: Adults $20, Youth 16 & under $12 https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3091187
1-800-838-3006
AT THE DOOR: Adults $25, Youth 16 & under $15

Brought to you in part with support from Seattle Credit Union and Choice Tea.

Coach Sam Joins Le Rêve!

SANCA’s hand balancing and acrobatics coach, Sam Lewis, recently got a part with Le Rêve – “The Dream” at the Wynn Resort in Las Vegas! Set on an aquatic stage, Le Rêve is a show about uncovering the subconscious, featuring aerial-acrobatics, water ballet, synchronized swimming, and comedy. Founded by the co-founder of Cirque du Soleil, Le Rêve has won “Best Show in Vegas” several years in a row. You may have seen Sam training in the South Annex working on his hand-balancing and chair-balancing routine, or even taken a class with him!

Originally from Spokane, Washington, Sam is a professional acrobat with more than five years of professional performance experience in both hand balancing and hand-to-hand acrobatics. He has trained under artists in Cirque du Soleil and world champion sports acrobats. He also has experience coaching hand balancing classes and teaching private lessons and workshops all around America. Sam has been coaching at SANCA for about a year.

In 2014, when a hand-to hand move went wrong, Sam snapped his bicep and required surgery. As fate would have it; his first day with Le Rêve will be the fourth anniversary of his surgery. As he prepares to pack up and head on to the next adventure, say hi if you see him training!

We know we’ll see him down the road.

Congrats Sam!

SANCA Staff Show: Summer on the Cirque Riviera

Fun in the sun and good times to be had for all at Summer on the Cirque Riviera! Take a stroll through the Mercado del Mar. Catch some rays poolside with buff babes and saucy sailors, but beware of pool sharks! Or just relax and beat the heat with a glass of wine, or perhaps something stronger at Cirkuski Kafić where you may even catch a glimpse of the Green Fairy.

Summer on the Cirque Rivera will keep you cool with daring feats of acrobatics, waltzing cyr wheel, trampoline, lyra, tightwire, aerial rope, and much more!

SANCA’s staff works hard all year long, bringing you the joy of circus! Now let them share with you their love of performance as they twist, turn, tumble, and twirl their way through a day on the Cirque Rivera.

Director: Milla Marshall
Choreography: Rachel Randall Technical
Director: Amanda Zwar
Performers include: Emma Curtiss, Jasmine Manuel, Faye Visintainer, Tom Hanna, Kaitlin Lindburg, KJ Saur, Aryeh Lax, Karellyn Holston, Jeramie Hardi, Zach Holmberg, Tania Nambo-Escobar, and Rachel Randall

WHEN
August 18th, 7pm
August 19th, 7pm
August 20th, 5pm

WHERE
Broadway Performance Hall
1625 Browadway
Seattle, WA 98122

MORE INFO
206-652-4433
www.sancaseattle.org

TICKETS IN ADVANCE:
Adults $20, youth 12 & under $12.
Please reserve your seat at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3042026
1-800-838-3006

Lyla Goldman Goes to Circus School – in Finland!

SANCA gives a heartfelt CONGRATULATIONS! to Lyla Goldman, who has been accepted to Salpauksen Sirkusartistikoulutus — The Salpaus Circus Center in Lahti, Finland, and hopes to major in unicycle and aerial fabric.

Photo: Amira Silverman

Lyla was one of SANCA’s earliest students and members of Cirrus Circus (originally known as the SANCA Youth Performance Company). She practically grew up at SANCA over the past ten or so years, riding around the gym on her unicycle, often in the company of the Zuckerman twins – Anna & Leah — with whom she formed a unicycle trio act – Tricycle – that was a mainstay showstopper in Cirrus Circus shows over the years. Lyla also took to aerial arts early on, and has performed solo and group fabric, trapeze, and lyra aerial acts. She has performed at Cirrus shows throughout the Seattle area including at Moisture Festival, Seattle Center’s Winterfest, Teatro ZinZanni, and of course, at SANCA.

With Cirrus Circus Lyla has traveled and performed in Europe at the London International Youth Circus Festival in England, at NoFit State in Cardiff, Wales, and at Island Circus in Sylt, Germany. She has also twice toured with Cirkus Smirkus  along the East Coast and worked at the Smirkus summer camp.

Photo: Amira Silverman

Salpauksen Sirkusartistikoulutus – The Salpaus Circus Center is a vocational school in Lahti, and offers the only vocational circus degree in Finland. The school helps their students to become unique, creative, versatile, and technically highly skilled artists with a professional attitude. A healthy ratio of humbleness, respect, and self-esteem are valued highly in the educational environment, and the school feels one of the sources of success in the daily work is the powerful dynamic of group collaboration in aiming toward mutual goals. Salpaus Circus Center enables the training of almost all circus disciplines, and provides the opportunity to create shows and perform in a professional environment. One of the main annual events is a unique student-produced Kukko Festival.

Congratulations Lyla! We wish you all the best in your future circus career!

Nutrition Basics for Circus Training

By Adrian Hillyer, LAc, LMP

We have all been there: getting out of work late, rushing to get ourselves or our kids to class on time and either skipping food or grabbing the fastest food we can on the way. It’s rather obvious that swinging through a drive-thru to grab a burger, fries, and a soda isn’t the best way to fuel yourself before or after circus class, but what are good nutrition habits in these situations? The easy switch in this scenario is of course swapping the soda for water and the burger and fries for a salad, but that is easier said than done. It is important to prepare beforehand so that we do not get caught making hasty unhealthy habits. Here we will delve into some healthy hydration and food ideas that you can start using today around your circus training.

An average circus class length is 1-2 hours, depending on the class. The following tips are all based around that time frame, as the rules change for those training over 2.5 hours. When thinking about hydration it is important that intake is balanced throughout the day, versus drinking a large amount in one sitting, especially right before class. Research shows us that hyperhydration (too much water) can be just as negative on our bodies as dehyrdation (not enough water).

Here are a few general concepts for drinking water both before and after class:

  • Drink water throughout the day. Trying to hydrate all at once right before class can be as bad as being dehydrated
  • Drink a light amount of fluids during exercise (about 100-200ml per 20 mins)
  • Increase water intake for 1.5 – 2 hours after your work out

When it comes to food, we want to pay attention not only to what we are ingesting, but also when we are ingesting it. The food we choose to eat is what is going to be broken down in order to fuel us for training and promote recovery afterwards. Food can be broken into three parts: Carbohydrate, Fat, and Protein. Each of these plays a vital role in our health and performance. We often give carbs and fat a bad reputation, but they are actually very useful. Carbohydates help to create instant fuel for our bodies and good fats such as Omega 3 fatty acids are essential for our cell membranes and can help decrease inflammation in the body. What we want to limit or avoid are simple refined sugars (such as soda) and high levels of saturated fats (specifically trans fats found in foods such as French fries and that greasy burger). Good sources of complex carbohydrates can be found in fruit, veggies and grains. Good (unsaturated) fat can be found in foods like nuts and fresh coldwater fish. Protein is the third component mentioned above and is fundamental in building and repairing muscle tissue. While the commonly known high protein foods are meats, there are also many plant based proteins, such as beans, legumes, and nuts to round out a balanced diet.

Here are a few general concepts on eating before and after class:

  • 30g of carbs within 30 mins of class
  • 5-10 g protein 30 mins before class
  • Small amount of fat before workout to promote satiety
  • 30g of protein within 30 mins after class (this is more for muscle repair versus mass gain)
  • 60-90g of carbs post workout (2:1 or 3:1 ratio with protein)

Considering these general concepts, we can look at a few food combinations to create healthy and easy to prepare snacks before and after class. There are countless combinations but a few simple examples of pre-work snacks could be:

  • An apple and a spoonful of almond butter
  • Banana and a ¼ cup of mixed nuts
  • 1 cup of yogurt, granola and fresh berries

When we look at post workout ideas, we can think more of a full meal than a light snack. It may not take a great deal of food to get through a 60 min training session, but we want more food for recovery.

Examples of some food combinations for balanced recovery could be:

  • 3-6 ounces of fresh salmon, 1 cup broccoli, ½ cup brown rice
  • 1 cup kale, 1 cup spinach, 3-4 ounces of chicken, olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing
  • ½ block of tofu, ½ cup quinoa, ½ cup black beans

The above listed tips are very general but can provide a start to a strong nutritional foundation to build on. Everyone’s nutritional needs can vary based on goals, training time, and level of fitness/health.

Nutritional supplements are another great option for reaching athletic and nutrition goals but should be used as a supplement to a healthy diet. Starting to pay attention to the foods we eat can drastically improve our level of performance, recovery, and overall well being.

SANCA’s Annual Spring Showcase

4 Unique Circus Variety Shows!

Every year SANCA presents a showcase of unique circus performances featuring students, alumni, staff, and friends. For one weekend only, we hold four shows, each featuring a different line up of spectacular local and internationally renowned circus performers alongside SANCA’s tremendously talented student performers. The SASS shows are the capstone performances for students and staff who have workshopped new performances and are ready to take to the stage in displays of pure awesomeness! Among the featured performers are Seattle favorites, the youth circus troupes Cirrus Circus, the Magnificent 7, and the Amazing Circus 1-ders. Audiences will be treated to daring displays of acrobatics, high-flying aerials, juggling, and much more!

Friday Night features Leslie Rosen and Mary Gargett – “Hottie Long Legs.” This stilt walking dynamic duo is comprised of performing powerhouses Leslie Rosen and Mary Gargett. Both having backgrounds in Hula Hoop, Belly Dance, and Fire Manipulation, they are sure to set the seats on fire opening night!

Saturday Matinee features Emma Curtiss – Cyr Wheel Extraordinaire. A swirling, twirling, dizzying blur of beauty and strength, Emma has been captivating audiences up and down the West Coast for over 5 years performing Cyr Wheel, Silks, and Clowning. Try to keep up as she spins around the stage at our Saturday Matinee!

Saturday Night features La Famiglia Gentile – Foot Juggling Family Troupe. We are delighted to have the internationally acclaimed La Famiglia Gentile as SANCA’s current Artists in Residence! This fantastic flipping family will have you on the edge of your seats as they juggling not only objects with their feet but themselves too!

Sunday Matinee features Saffi Watson – Contortion. Cirrus Circus student, Saffi Watson started her performing career at the ripe age of 6, performing with SANCA, Teatro Zinzani, as well as other various venues. Under the careful direction of such elite artists as Vita Radionova and Jacob Skeffington, Saffi has blossomed into the embodiment of grace, style, power, and control.

Hosted by The Amazing Juan! After discovering a natural talent for magic while living under the stairs at his Aunt and Uncle’s house, he decided to share his passion with the world. After making stops in Cairo, Greece, Cleveland and brief run in Tijuana that resulted in some interesting and slightly embarrassing photos, The Amazing Juan will be taking Seattle by SASSy storm, hosting all four shows. Prepare yourselves for a magical display of awesomeness as The Amazing Juan makes his SANCA debut!

Tickets at: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2886600

SANCA Welcomes Our New Experiential Programs Director Nathan Drackett!

We thought that we’d get a closer look at Nathan Drackett. He moved to Seattle and joined SANCA as a coach last summer, and recently became the Experiential Programs Director. We thought we’d ask a bit about his mysterious Chicago background.

SANCA: How’d you end up at SANCA?

Nate coaching at The Actors Gymnasium

Nate: I started training circus in college at The Actors Gymnasium, a smaller non-profit circus school with a mission very similar to SANCA’s. I taught and trained there as a coach for over 10 years and learned the inner workings of a circus school.
My wife Lauran and I wanted to move somewhere cleaner and prettier than Chicago to raise a family, so after a tour of the SANCA facilities led by Nickolai we were hooked.

SANCA: Why SANCA though?

Nate: Well, frankly SANCA’s size was the first thing that struck me on that tour with Nickolai. The sheer number of students and performers that walk through SANCA’s door every day is quite heartening. Then I learned that it was SANCA’s mission to make the joy of circus available to all ages and backgrounds, and I knew that this was kind of place where you could really make a difference in the world.

SANCA: How do you think you’ll make a difference?

Nate: As of this year I came aboard as SANCA’s Experiential Programs Director. I get to direct some of SANCA’s most exciting programs: Flying Trapeze, Camps, School Groups, Corporate Events, Parties, and Workshops. A lot of the students that come to SANCA for one of those programs have never been to SANCA before, or even experienced circus first-hand at all. First experiences can really be transformative, especially when you get to learn to do the seemingly impossible. I bet if you ask anyone at SANCA to tell you a story of their first circus experience, many would include phrases like “I never thought I could…”, “I was really good at _____ for some reason”, or “I LOVED IT”. These are words of empowerment, of self-discovery, and strength. If I can help bring these three to just one person a day, I’d call that making a difference.

SANCA: What do you like to do when you’re not “under the tent”?

Nate: I actually can’t get enough of games. Board games, video games, you name it. I also love anything outdoors: hiking, biking, running.  An ideal day for me is a hike in the mountains with my wife and my dog Balto. He’s the 7-month year old husky-mix currently in contention as the cutest dog at SANCA.

SANCA: Well we’ll have to hold back on judgment on that one for the time being…

Nate: That’s very generous of you.


And if you haven’t seen Nate yet, you can catch him in the King 5 Evening show’s Friday Field Trip. Nate not only helped the Evening Team work on their trampoline skills, he taught them the fanciest flourish for a finale.

Look at my pants!

 

SANCA Women’s Circus: Changing, Healing, and Growing Together

by Amber Parker   new-amber-headshot

 

Two and a half years ago, I was a recreational student at SANCA, studying aerial fundamentals and growing exponentially as a person through circus arts. I found things at SANCA I never thought I’d find: community, joy, healing, and a question that I couldn’t stop asking myself: Can circus be used as mental health therapy?

I shared this question with Jo Montgomery, SANCA’s founder, and she said, “I’ve always thought circus could be a great mental health treatment, but that’s not my area of expertise. I’m really excited you’re thinking about this.” Then she handed me a copy of Women’s Circus: Leaping Off The Edge, a book about a women’s circus troupe in 1990’s Australia that used circus arts education as a way to confront childhood trauma and heal as a community. After reading this book, I had an answer to my question: Yes, circus arts can absolutely be adapted and expanded to become a multidisciplinary creative arts therapy.

Today, I am a coach at SANCA in the Every Body’s Circus program and attend Antioch University where I am earning a dual Master’s Degree in Couples and Family Therapy and Drama Therapy. I work primarily with adult women, often plus size women, who want to use circus arts as a way to re-connect with their bodies and support their mental health. By studying and coaching congruently I am in a unique position to learn counseling and psychology theory and apply it in my coaching practice, which deepens my understanding and work at SANCA. However, it’s my students, and not theory, that teaches me most about what it means to heal. After two quarters of working to create SANCA’s very own Women’s Circus, I’d like to share with you the lessons my students have taught me so far.

Body work is emotional work

Every time we sweat, get out of breath, stretch, bend, or otherwise become embodied, we remember the stories of our body. For survivors of trauma, these body memories can trigger trauma related responses, such as panic, irritability, anger, or feelings of insecurity. In the 2014 novel, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma,  Bessel A. van der Kolk, says,

“Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves.” (p.97)”

When your experiences with struggle and pain are connected to past or current experiences of abuse, addiction, or mental health issues, and not healthy things like physical activity, we avoid pain and struggle at all costs. Thus, we learn to avoid the struggle and pain of exercise, too. However, struggle is an unavoidable truth of life, as is physical and emotional pain. Circus teaches us about healthy struggle, we experience pain that is normal and non-abusive. When my students become angry, frustrated, or triggered, we stop. We talk about what’s happening with them on an emotional level. Sometimes, we cry. It’s part of the journey.

Coach Amber works with her student Shannon on the trapeze.

A big part of the work we do in Women’s Circus centers around the idea that the way you do one thing is the way you do everything, thus, the way we approach circus is emblematic of the way we approach life. For instance, when a student is struggling with confidence in her ability to learn circus skills, we will take time to discuss how that struggle shows up in other parts of her life. One of my first students, Shannon Callahan, has used the trapeze not only to get in touch with her physical self, but her emotional self, too.

Shannon says, “The emotional piece really comes in when we talk about how the trapeze represents life. I keep going back to that. When I go through something emotionally difficult, I now ask myself, ‘How is this problem like the trapeze?’ And I always find a connection. So, now, I ask myself- how would I deal with this if I were on the trapeze? How do I overcome it? How do I work with it, accept it, embrace it? How do I evolve?”

With every lesson my students teach me more and more about the emotional messages that live in our body and how they come through when we move. I’ve found that by making space for emotional processing during lessons, we can unpack those messages in a supportive, non-shaming environment. Instead of living in fear of ourselves, circus teaches us mastery over struggle and lets us reclaim our bodies and hearts from trauma.

Adults Need Play, Too

It turns out the play is just as important for adults as it is for children. Play is a vital component to the process of learning and growing, and since we never stop learning and growing, adults need it, too. In an NPR piece about the importance of play, Dr. Stuart Brown of the National Institute of Health states, “Play is something done for its own sake…it’s voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time. And the act itself is more important than the outcome.”

Mary tries out a trick on the lyra.

Indeed, this reflects what one of my students, Mary Dempsey, said to me when I asked her why circus is healing: “I get to play here. I’m not just surviving.”

When I play with my students, I see them transform. The laugh, they yell, they delight in their bodies. A student who comes in heavy with sadness leaves bright, exhilarated, and beaming. When I watch my students play I see them write a new story about themselves — that they are resilient, they are strong, than can change. My student, Cassidy Sweezey, is a great example of how playing at SANCA brings her relief, happiness, and connection to her body.

Cassidy says, “Today I wasn’t very motivated to do anything athletic or fun at all, but just coming here and being in this environment, messing around and playing, all of a sudden we’re moving and learning skills and having fun. It’s contagious. Just being around everyone here is inspiring; no matter what they’re doing. I’ve never experienced any stress or discomfort here, so my body just goes into a state of feeling safe and comfortable. I felt awful when I got here, I felt really depressed and bummed out, but now I feel really good.”

Visibility is Revolutionary

Amber and Cassidy after a great circus class.

We live in a society that tells women they are not enough. Not thin enough, successful enough, valuable enough. When these messages are reaffirmed through traumatic experiences, we believe them to be true. If our culture, family, or intimate partners have told us these stories about ourselves throughout life, we literally do not have any other script about who we are. The way I see these messages come in students is most often through poor body image or shame about their size. I remember what it was like to be the token fat girl in my first circus class, how othering that was. I was lucky, though, to have other fat women in my life who showed me there’s not just one way to have a body. Similarly, through circus arts my students confront what it means to be in a body society tells us is unhealthy and shameful.

My student Shannon says, “Because of my size, I try to hide. I try to become smaller. But, when I leave circus, I hold my head higher. I take up space, I feel bigger. I deserve that.”

With every catchers hang, straddle back, or elbow bridge, they destroy the notion that fat equals unhealthy. Whether they know it or not, when my students dare to be fat, active, and visible, they not only give other women permission to do the same, they challenge a pervasive, destructive cultural narrative about size.

Recently, a child in nearby class watched a student of mine on the trapeze and said to his coach, “But…big people can’t do trapeze,” to which she replied, “Yes, they can. Watch them.”