Meet Dyani, Junior Flyer

Finding Inspiration, Challenge & Greater Confidence Through Flying Trapeze

Dyani board smDyani first learned about SANCA from a friend who was taking classes. She thought that circus looked like a fun and way to get stronger and learn new skills. Watching other people perform circus skills was really inspiring to Dyani, and she wanted to learn it all. It wasn’t long before she started taking multiple classes – including Unicycle, Teen Aerial, and Flying Trapeze.

It’s hard to pick a favorite circus activity; Dyani says she likes it all, but one thing that stood out for her was the idea of wanting to be on the Junior Fly Team. She saw a flying trapeze performance at SANCA and that inspired her to give it a try. Dyani joined the team in the summer of 2014. It was awkward at first, she recalls, because she was new, and an outsider, but getting to know the team as friends and being able to talk with them made it comfortable and welcoming, and she realized that everyone there was working on their own skills and challenges and that they all wanted to get really good at flying.

Her mother, Liliana points out that SANCA has been a great environment for Dyani because it is diverse and there are many good role models to look to for inspiration. Liliana says that she is impressed with the quality of coaching. “The instructors are patient and understanding,” She says. “They give constant encouragement and positive support, and they are really good at helping students face their fears. They pay attention to all the kids they are teaching – not just the ones who stand out as better athletes.”

ft static splits smDyani’s first performance with the Junior Fly Team was in the fall of 2014. She recalls being very nervous and excited about the show, but she felt really good about herself when she heard the audience applauding. One of her most memorable moments, Dyani notes, was her first time flying without spotting lines. She says it was scary at first, but great adrenaline and a huge achievement for her.

“Conditioning was a big surprise,” says Dyani, “It’s really difficult but purposeful and helps you gain strength.” She notes that she also studies martial arts, and that conditioning at SANCA has helped her get better at Taekwondo. Although conditioning is hard, Dyani says her flying trapeze coach, Katie Wagman, really helps out with that aspect of circus training because “She makes it fun and keeps you going on the ground and in the air, and she helps you get better at what you do.”

In turn, Katie points out that “There’s been a huge improvement in Dyani’s skill and attitude since she first started flying with us – she’s very willing to work hard and apply herself, and she’s excited to learn new skills.”

Dyani’s mother, Liliana, thinks that Dyani benefits from circus arts by more than just physical ability. “She believes more in herself now. She has more confidence, and that shows up in all her activities. She got straight A’s in school these past two semesters.”

Dyani likes to tell her friends how much fun circus is – but she doesn’t mention the conditioning because she doesn’t want to scare them off, noting that once you realize the benefit of putting in the hard work, it’s not so bad.

Meet Randi – Active, Fearless, Creative, and Curious About the World.

Randi Morrison 4Randi Morrison discovered SANCA—Seattle’s only nonprofit 
circus school—in 2010 when a friend invited her to come to a circus class. She’s always been an active person, but she’d never done anything like circus before. Randi was delighted with the openness of SANCA and the mixture of people of all ages and abilities learning and working together. The atmosphere was very fun and happy—people everywhere were smiling.

The teaching style of SANCA’s instructors also impressed Randi. They gave good instruction in a safe environment with an eye to detail, and were able to quickly help students learn new skills that many had never imagined that they would be able to do.

“I want others to experience the same joy that I have at SANCA.”

In her career as a hospitalist physician, Randi also teaches residents and students, so it’s no surprise that she noticed SANCA’s instructional style. She says it’s been a great experience to be a student again — it reminds her of what it’s like to be a beginner at a new skill. She’s taken examples from SANCA back with her to the medical setting, and says that one of the most important concepts she learned here is “to imagine what a situation would look like if you introduced kindness.”

Randi Morrison 2Randi’s growth as an aerialist wasn’t always easy. She repeated the Introductory Aerial class until she had the strength and skill to progress to more advanced classes. As her skills grew, Randi had a hunger for progress that outpaced her once-weekly classes. She began taking private lessons twice a week, which eventually led to working with SANCA coaches Tyler and Carey to create a personal, two-week, intensive-training program.

Randi credits her coaches with helping her to work though physical, mental, and emotional challenges while providing a safe, happy space for her—a sanctuary from the stress of her medical work.

“What really excites me about SANCA is that they make this opportunity available to anybody regardless of financial circumstances,” says Randi. “I am so proud to tell people that ‘no one will be turned away’ from SANCA — that scholarships are available to any youth who wants to take circus classes. It’s important to me to ‘put my money where my mouth is’ by contributing to SANCA’s Youth Scholarship Fund.”

Circus is for everybody, Randi points out. She says she really enjoys being an older student (she took her first class when she was 44) because it shows there is no limit to age or ability. Everyone should take a chance and try circus, no matter what pre-imposed limits you think you have, your coaches will guide you to build new skills and experience success.

Randi says that building circus skills provides great lifelong benefits. Students at SANCA learn to be active, fearless, creative, and curious about the world.

Meet Amber, The Fatcrobat, SANCA’s hardest-working student

tumblr_inline_ni5hhgFxHT1r600ylWhen Amber Parker, a case manager with the UW Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute, first came to SANCA she expected to learn new things and get some exercise, but she never expected how rewarding it would be to join a community of supportive, enthusiastic people who would encourage her and help her discover abilities and interests she didn’t even know she had.

Amber was inspired to give adult circus classes a try because a friend in Colorado was learning aerial silks. From watching online videos, she thought it seemed like accessible activity for a heavier person. In her Aerial Fundamentals class, she realized that aerial silks were more difficult than she anticipated, but she found many other things that she could do that she hadn’t expected to be able to do. She discovered strength and flexibility that she didn’t know she had, and she fell in love with the Static Trapeze.

Many of the benefits of circus are measurable – she lost forty pounds, reduced her high blood pressure, and reduced her daily stress – but Amber says it’s the intangible benefits that really make the difference. She feels powerful and in control of her own body for the first time in her life. Her past eight months of taking circus classes has increased her self-efficacy and boosted her self-esteem.

tumblr_inline_ngyveb7U6h1r600ylAmber points out that her progress is measured and appreciated on its own merit, and at SANCA, she doesn’t feel compared to others. Every day she trains, she feels supported, encouraged, and acknowledged for her efforts. She credits her aerial coach, Leslie Rosen, and other SANCA instructors with making circus accessible by modifying exercises to accommodate the individual. Smaller, step-by-step progressions have made it possible for her to achieve more and build up to more advanced circus skills.

Amber wants others to know that “Circus is a great way to discover the full range of your own physical abilities. You are always put in a position to achieve success.”

You can follow Amber’s circus success on Tumblr – The Fatcrobat

Meet Elijah

Elijah Calhoun 2Elijah has grown up at SANCA, starting with Baby & Me classes with his mother Rebecca six years ago. At first, they came to SANCA for fun, but as Elijah grew he struggled with movement and balance — they discovered that he had Sensory Processing Disorder and motor delays. He took longer to learn movement skills such as learning to walk up stairs, and cross-body motions were harder for his body to understand. Elijah needed to be talked through how to move his body.

His physical and occupational therapists agreed that classes at SANCA offered great complimentary activities for his therapy. More importantly for a young boy who didn’t like traditional sports, circus classes kept him happy and having fun. With lower muscle tone than normal, it was important that Elijah stay physically active, and circus kept him engaged without the stress that comes from competitive sports.

As he grew older, Elijah enrolled in one-on-one classes through SANCA’s Every Body’s Circus program. This enabled his coach, Tyler, to spend more time working with him in a setting that kept Elijah more active. It also gave Tyler the opportunity to re-enforce Elijah’s occupational and physical therapy. Tyler even met with Elijah’s therapists to gain a better understanding of his needs and challenges.

Elijah says, “Circus is fun! I like aerial a lot, but only about a foot above the ground.”.

elijah-aerial-fabricElijah used to find jumping very difficult and he was afraid to try it. Tyler was able to break down the skill of jumping into very small steps that were easier to learn. Tyler could see that Elijah was able to jump, but that he just needed the confidence to do so. Starting with small jumps, Tyler held Elijah’s hand; they eventually progressed to several jumps in a row together. Then Elijah held just one of Tyler’s fingers while jumping, and later Tyler followed behind Elijah, holding the back of his shirt as he jumped. Tyler shows Elijah that he can do a skill, and teaches him in small steps, which helps Elijah overcome his fear and build his confidence.

Rebecca, Elijah’s mom says, “Even if you don’t think your kid is a ‘circus’ kid, give SANCA a try. Every kid finds something here that they love to do.”.

Now, Elijah participates in playground activities like climbing on the jungle gym, playing tag, and sometimes even soccer. He no longer needs occupational and physical therapy. His classes at SANCA keep him active, healthy, and learning new skills. Elijah says the thing that his circus classes help him with the most is having fun.

Family Circus for Father & Son

Paul & Dawson West smDawson & Paul’s Story

Dawson and his Dad Paul first learned about SANCA because several of Dawson’s friends were taking classes at SANCA. It sounded like a great place to do cool things, and they decided to take the Family Circus class together so that they could spend more time with each other having fun.

Dawson West smBoth Dawson and Paul wanted to get more exercise, and Paul thought it was also important to show Dawson that adults need to exercise and learn new things – it’s not just for kids. They both benefit from taking class, and say it’s a lot of fun to do it together. Each has different strengths and they are both learning new skills. Dawson’s favorite activity is trampoline, while Paul enjoys juggling and tight wire.

Discovering that they can do something that didn’t realize that they could do is a great confidence builder. When asked what he is getting better at, Dawson shouts, “Bug Jumps!” Bug Jumps are a trampoline skill involving  bouncing repeatedly on one’s back like an overturned bug. It requires a lot of abdominal control and strength, it’s not an easy skill! Paul West TW e crop smPaul says that learning to walk the tight wire was a big moment for him.

Both Dawson and Paul believe that people who come to SANCA will be surprised at what they can learn to do.

Paul says “It’s great to be around other people who are learning amazing things and facing their own challenges – working at their edge. We really enjoy being invited to watch others as they demonstrate a new skill.”

Meet Duo Straight Up

Nick & Rachel performing at SANCA's Annual Spring Showcase in May 2014.

Nick & Rachel performing at SANCA’s Annual Spring Showcase in May 2014.

SANCA Coach Spotlight — Duo Straight Up
Rachel Randall & Nick Lowery

Coaches Rachel Randall and Nick Lowery are the latest in a longstanding SANCA tradition of students and coaches who dream big and reach for the stars as professional performers. They first started crafting their Chinese Pole duo act in the fall of 2013, but prior to that they have both spent many years as circus coaches for SANCA.

Rachel joined SANCA in October 2007 after graduating from the University of Washington with a degree in Dance. She started as a Circus Tot instructor and quickly added a repertoire of teaching that includes unicycle, German wheel, tumbling, and general circus classes. She is also the dance instructor for SANCA’s Professional Preparatory Program.

Rachel says, “I teach students from ages 2 to 70. When I first started teaching Tot Classes at SANCA I was teaching a young 2-year-old named Nina. Now, seven years later, she is a Magnificent 7 youth performer, and I am once again her coach. It’s been amazing to see her progress. I am so proud of my students and how much they grow as individuals and performers through circus arts.”

Nick came to SANCA in 2009 from Oberlin College in Ohio, where he was involved in a student circus club. He took a few classes at SANCA, and was interested in becoming an instructor. After training as a coach and teaching general circus classes, he became interested in Chinese pole and started to specialize. Now Nick teaches SANCA’s pole classes; he also works as a catcher for flying trapeze, and does the coach quarterly schedule on the administrative side.

“I never expected circus to be my life. It started as a hobby,” Nick says. “Being at SANCA gave me the inspiration and opportunity to pursue circus arts in a way I never expected.”

Duo Straight Up performs at SANCA's Circus Festival in August 2014.

Duo Straight Up performs at SANCA’s Circus Festival in August 2014.

After the 2012 Staff Summer Show Rachel and Nick started dating, and not long after that they decided to create a duo act. Rachel says, “I wanted to spend more time with Nick, but he was always busy teaching and training Chinese pole. I decided to take his class, and it turned out that I picked up pole skills really quickly.”

“I asked Rachel if she wanted to create an act together,” says Nick. “We started working together in November 2013 and had our first performance at SASS – SANCA’s Annual Spring Showcase in 2014.”

Since then, Duo Straight Up has appeared at the Vancouver Circus Festival, at the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Backstage Bash, and SANCA’s Up, with a Twist at Teatro ZinZanni. They’re aiming to take their act to the professional circus circuit. They say that circus can be more entertaining and accessible to the public than other art forms, and that makes it more fun to perform and connect with audiences.

Keep an eye out for these up-and-coming Circus Stars!

Learn to ride a unicycle: It really works your legs and core

•  Fitness  •  Life  •  Pacific NW Magazine  •  Wellness
Originally published by Seattle Times April 3, 2015 at 11:15 am

Unlike riding a bicycle, unicycles require constant tension in the legs, a lot of core and staying in your seat for balance.


Fitness - Unicycling

SANCA instructor Nick Harden demonstrates a balance and a hopping exercise on the unicycle to Hannah Bittner, middle, and Aleksandra Kogalovski. (Benjamin Benschneider)

By Nicole Tsong
Special to The Seattle Times
AFTER 50 MINUTES on a unicycle, clutching rails and wobbling all over the place, I asked instructor Nick Harden if he promises people they will ride a unicycle on their own by the end of the 12-week session.
He smiled. “I don’t promise.” But you most likely will, he clarified.

After taking my first unicycle class, I could see why he didn’t make that promise. Nick’s skills as a teacher are lovely. My skills on a unicycle were decidedly not.

I went to SANCA (the School of Acrobatics & New Circus Arts) in Georgetown with fun, zany classes that unleash your inner child, generally alongside kids who pick up this circus thing fast. The unicycle class is for kids ages 8 and up. There was one other adult for each class I joined, and we were grateful for the company.

Before you can ride a unicycle, you have to get up on a unicycle. We worked at a set of rails lined up to make unicycling lanes. Each time I grabbed the rails to haul myself up, I wondered if it would get easier.
On the other hand, falling off your unicycle is not hard; luckily it’s easy to land on your feet.
Keeping your head up while sitting on the unicycle is also challenging. It’s tempting to look down to make sure the floor isn’t coming fast and furious.
After learning to get up and down, we practiced riding slowly between parallel rails, gripping the rails tightly. Nick mostly let us ride, while a much younger unicycle prodigy named Penelope rode around, grinning happily and without any apparent need for help.
Unlike riding a bicycle, unicycles require constant tension in the legs, a lot of core and staying in your seat for balance. It was tempting to stand out of the seat, and Nick kept reminding us to sit down.
We also practiced jumping the unicycle like a pogo stick. This was the one trick where adults had a weight advantage over kids. I was even willing to let go of the rails to bounce around.

We spent most of the class working on riding and trying to pick up speed. If we felt balanced, Nick told us to play with clapping our hands. He also encouraged us to go to the outer rail and hold just one instead of two. Surely that wasn’t going to be so hard, right?

By the end of the class, I was dripping sweat. My legs were exhausted from gripping to stay upright, and I was in even deeper admiration of Nick’s ability to jump rope on a unicycle.
I came back for a second class, hopeful that muscle memory would make it easier. I was right. Getting on felt easier, and holding only one rail became normal. I felt like I could even balance occasionally while riding.

Nick had us practice standing up balancing on the pedals, getting us accustomed to the various ways a rider must adapt to how the unicycle moves.
We practiced within the safety of the rails. Nick escorted each of us on a solo ride, holding onto his arm. While it was slow going, it was fun to consider some day I too could ride without assistance. Mind you, it will take a few classes to get there.

Nicole Tsong teaches yoga at studios around Seattle. Read her blog at Email: Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific NW magazine staff photographer.

In the News: UW’s The Daily writes about SANCA

Circus school offers competition-free alternative athleticism

March 3, 2015 at 9:56 PM | Emily Muirhead

Nick Harden (far left) leads students through a warm up to get their muscles ready before splitting off into the different age grouped classes.  Photo by Seth Halleran

Nick Harden (far left) leads students through a warm up to get their muscles ready before splitting off into different classes. Photo by Seth Halleran

You don’t have to wait for the Ringling Bros. or Cirque du Soleil to come to town to catch a glimpse of the circus. Even better, you don’t have to be a trapeze or juggling master to participate in circus life either.

The School of Acrobatics & New Circus Arts (SANCA), located in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood, claims to be the largest circus school in the nation. Founded in 2004 with only five students, SANCA has now grown to serve more than 1,000 students in weekly classes and has served almost 50,000 people in all.

Some of these students include members of the UW community, such as database developer Jason Page, who works in the UW Information Technology department. Page grew up juggling and after hearing about SANCA’s classes from a friend, said he found a perfect fit.

“As soon as I walked in I knew it was nothing like the rest of Seattle,” Page said. “It was so friendly and I immediately fell in love with it. It’s all positive, no ego, no competition.”

Page spoke of the competitive nature he experienced while participating in other “fringe” physical activities, such as climbing or cycling, both of which tend to have welcoming communities, but can inevitably become competitive — a mindset he says simply does not exist at SANCA.

“In Seattle if you don’t like team sports there’s not a lot of options,” said Jo Montgomery, co-founder of SANCA with Chuck Johnson. “We offer an alternative. Part of it is the culture we’ve created here. It’s OK to fail because the important thing is to try, and to encourage others.”

Montgomery said the facility serves people of all ages and there is no skill limit.

Montgomery also leads the Every Body’s Circus school within SANCA, designed for youth with disabilities like spina bifida or visual or hearing impairment. These students work on the same basic skills every student aims to accomplish, with the added benefit of enhancing social skills specifically adapted to their needs. Every Body’s Circus partners with Seattle Children’s Hospital, where Montgomery is a nurse practitioner.

SANCA offers more than 50 classes each quarterly session, including unicycling, trampoline, strength and flexibility, aerial trapeze, and Chinese pole. SANCA even offers a one-time “pay per flight” trapeze class Fridays.

“You just have to work up the courage to swing once and see if you like it,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery said she has seen countless times how acrobatics classes enable first-time participants to get over fears of heights and perceived limitations of their bodies.

Amber Parker, a case manager with the UW Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute, said SANCA has changed her both physically and mentally. She has been attending SANCA classes for eight months, with no plans of stopping.

Parker said after a life of poor body-image and self-esteem, she found solace in SANCA’s strength-and-flexibility and adult aerial classes, which encourage personal improvement instead of striving to be the best. She even started a blog called “The Fatcrobat,” as a testament to personal strides she has made in her physical ability and confidence because of unconditional support from SANCA classes and coaches.

“It’s changed my perspective on what I can actually do,” Parker said. “I never thought I could do anything like this, so now that I can it opens up the ‘I can do anything’ mindset. Nothing is off limits now.”

SANCA caters to professional performers as well. It often hosts gym time for performers from Teatro ZinZanni, or for artists in residence from groups such as IMPulse Circus Collective, The Acrobatic Conundrum, or Circus Syzygy.

Montgomery noted that when kids participating in classes see professional circus performers make mistakes, it shows them that struggling with a skill doesn’t have to be a disappointment, but can be inspiration for working toward personal goals at their own pace.

“Safety is huge here,” said Alyssa Hellrung, a part-time lecturer in the Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies department at the UW and an aerial trapeze coach. “But we do push kids physically and emotionally outside of their comfort zone.”

For those who have dreams of flying, the School of Flight program might be a good fit. Aside from SANCA’s main gym, which includes a tumble track trampoline, spring floors, climbing ribbons and poles, a “big top” and “tot room” for children, the trapezes are housed in an adjacent building designed for this literally high-reaching activity.

Hellrung sees SANCA classes as an opportunity for every type of person, regardless of body type or skill level, to learn what their bodies are capable of, and have some slightly unconventional fun.

“People assume that this is an insular world, but it’s not,” Hellrung said. “Not everyone feels sporty and this circus has room for everybody, even if you just want to learn to juggle. It still gives you the benefits of athletic activity without the pressure of having to compete at the end of every week.”

The circus often carries the stereotype of being a place for only those with strange skills such as contortionism, or having bizarre personalities. But SANCA strives to foster not only excellence in performance for most of its participants, but a personal confidence and welcoming environment over all else.

“I love telling people I’m in the circus,” Parker said. “Misconceptions open up dialogue. SANCA is really about fitness and community and connecting to other people.”

SANCA is located at 674 S. Orcas St. Visit their website,, for more information.

Reach writer Emily Muirhead at Twitter: @e_muirhead

Original story here:

Seattle Times article: Circus festival marks SANCA’s 10th anniversary

“Circus festival marks SANCA’s 10th anniversary”

Seattle’s School for Acrobatics and New Circus Arts celebrates its 10th anniversary with a Summer Circus Festival, Aug. 15-24, 2014, that highlights its move in professional circus production. The school also maintains its commitment to serving youngsters from every background.

By Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times arts writer

Ten years ago, Seattle’s School for Acrobatics and New Circus Arts (SANCA) opened in a 1,100-square-foot warehouse space in SoDo. In its first few weeks, it attracted a dozen or so pupils.

By 2013, SANCA — the only all-ages circus school in Seattle offering instruction in a wide variety of disciplines — had expanded to a 25,000-square-foot campus in Georgetown, with 3,300 registered students.

That makes it, by some estimates, the largest circus school in the country.

To celebrate that amazing trajectory, SANCA is holding its first Summer Circus Festival, Aug. 15-24. David Crellin, better known on the local vaudeville circuit as emcee Armitage Shanks, is directing the festival, which features Acrobatic Conundrum, IMPulse Circus Collective and numerous other talents.

Also being celebrated: the completion of the first year of SANCA’s professional training program.

“Seattle has actually become a major circus town in the States,” says Crellin.

But when SANCA co-founder Jo Montgomery came up with the idea for the school in 2003, she didn’t have professional circus possibilities in mind. She simply wanted “to keep people moving,” she said in an interview last month.

Montgomery, then 44, was a nurse practitioner at Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic, where she still works three days a week. There she kept encountering kids who, she says, were struggling with “being inert and overweight and not having the money to go to cool places, camps or sporting clubs.”

The circus idea came from an adult gymnastics class Montgomery started taking in 1999 that, she says, was “feeding my soul like crazy.” In that class she met members of Circus Contraption, a Seattle troupe that ran from 1998 to 2010. Their brand of “new circus” offered theatrical shows focusing on human skills, without any animals involved. Until then Montgomery had only been familiar with traditional Ringling Brothers-style three-ring circuses.

Her instructor Chuck Johnson, a 50-year-old former high-school gymnast and lifelong circus enthusiast, impressed her so deeply that, four years later, she invited him to be SANCA’s co-founder.

One thing they agreed on: No kids would be turned away from SANCA’s doors for lack of funds.

“If kids can’t pay,” Montgomery remembers thinking, “we’ll have a scholarship fund.”

To make that possible, the two of them took no salary for the first years of the school’s existence, relying instead on income from other jobs.

“I was so naive, but I was determined,” Montgomery says, adding, “We balance each other. Chuck has great vision, and I’m a tightwad.”

It was never their goal, Johnson says, to be the biggest circus school in the country. Instead, it expanded as demand for classes dictated.

SANCA’s new professional-track program evolved naturally from that expansion, Crellin says. While the school was grounding its students thoroughly in “the athletics of circus,” it wasn’t providing them with instruction on stagecraft, character development and other theatrical essentials. The task of Crellin, a co-founder of Circus Contraption, was to work with students on “actually making shows.”

Aiding in that effort are Acrobatic Conundrum and IMPulse. Most members of these two performance-troupes-in-residence are coaches at SANCA. Some are former SANCA students who literally joined the circus.

Case in point: IMPulse co-founder Arne Bystrom, who started taking classes at SANCA at age 16, went to circus school in Quebec City and now is a dazzling professional juggler.

Given the students’ passion for circus, Crellin notes, it made sense to create a program where they could do “intensive training with an eye towards performing.”

The festival is part of that performance agenda, and Crellin hopes it sets the template for “an in-earnest circus festival” featuring local and itinerant talents.

Johnson and Montgomery’s commitment to younger students remains firm. SANCA’s student body is roughly 75 percent kids and 25 percent adults. It has 10 full-time staff and 40 part-time coaches.

Perhaps the most unusual thing about SANCA is the way it accommodates special-needs kids.

“It wasn’t in my thoughts at the beginning,” Montgomery says. “Then I was approached by someone who said, ‘My son has spinal bifida. Will you work with him?’”

Another of her students is a young man who’s blind. “He came to me for a physical. I asked the parents, ‘What are you doing for exercise?’ And they looked at me like I was crazy. I was like: ‘What? There’s nothing wrong with him except that he can’t see.’ And he’s very good.”

Safety is the number-one priority, Johnson says. “All of our staff believes in a philosophy of safety — emotional safety — and in cooperation. And we have key words that we never use.”

Among those words are “can’t,” “don’t,” “bad” and “wrong.”

If a child says, “I can’t,” the response will be: “Well, you can’t yet.”

“Circus,” Montgomery concludes with a smile, “is very adaptable.”

Michael Upchurch: