Welcome SANCA’s New Executive Director – Kristina Wicke

I am pleased to announce that Kristina Wicke has accepted an offer from the SANCA Board of Directors to become Executive Director. She will begin full-time on October 31st, and is already meeting with SANCA program managers and lead staff.

kristinawicke-cornicello-2309-sq-smKristina has a long history of excellent and dedicated service to SANCA. She served on the board for ten years of SANCA’s twelve-year history. Twice, Kristina has answered the call to serve as President of the Board, most recently during the past year. Kristina also has an excellent presence in the local and national arts community. In the past 20 years, she has served as company manager of the 5th Avenue Theater, general manager of ACT: A Contemporary Theatre, associate general manager of A Christmas Story: The Musical during its move to Broadway, and tour manager for The Flying Karamozov Brothers. Kristina brings a wealth of business acumen to the position of Executive Director, having served for three years as the store manager of the thriving local business Title 9 Sports at Greenlake — the company’s most successful location.

Kristina is thrilled to bring her passion for circus to this next stage of SANCA’s growth. She says, “I am honored that the Board of Directors has placed their confidence and faith in me to lead SANCA into its next chapter. SANCA is an amazing organization doing singular work in the community, and I’m excited to begin the journey. I am looking forward to the challenges and the fun!”

SANCA has experienced incredible growth and success in its relatively short life. Kristina is the Board of Directors’ unanimous choice to lead the organization’s continued success. The Board has the fullest confidence that Kristina will continue to be an excellent steward of SANCA’s mission to improve the mental, emotional, and physical health of children of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities by engaging them in the joyous creativity of acrobatics and circus arts. We are confident that in Kristina Wicke we have found the right leader to help us all write the next chapter of our important work. Please join us in extending her a warm welcome in her new role at SANCA.

SANCA’s Board of Directors and staff would like to extend our utmost gratitude to Carl Bystrom for his service as Interim Executive Director. We are grateful for his contributions in managing SANCA through a time of transition. Carl’s dedication to the staff, students, and the greater community of SANCA are deeply appreciated, and SANCA continues to be a thriving organization because of Carl’s leadership this past year.

Gaye McNutt
SANCA Board President

When $13.21 makes all the difference

“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. We cannot thank you enough!” —Kayla Blau, Broadview Shelter & Transitional Housing Program

Ready to take that leap!

Ready to take that leap!

A contribution of just $13.21 is all it will take to make a huge difference for our Flying Trapeze Program!

SANCA’s Flying Trapeze Program is a crucial part of our work with underserved youth like those who visit us from the Broadview Shelter, Street Youth Ministries, Refugee Women’s Alliance, and so many more.

For many of these kids, flying trapeze is their first experience of building their own confidence and self-esteem in a safe and supportive environment where they can also have fun and take a break from their daily struggles.


Rene, a blind student, learns to fly.

Classes for these youth are ALWAYS FREE. A guiding principal of SANCA’s mission and vision is that no child will be turned away due to lack of funds. We never want to say no to a kid who wants to experience flying trapeze and the boost in confidence it brings.

At the same time, the flying trapeze program is SANCA’s most expensive program. It requires more highly specialized equipment, and the largest coach-to-student ratio out of any program we run.

Helping to fund the equipment we need for flying trapeze is a huge part of what keeps our program running for these kids.

A ventilation fan for the tent will keep our students cooler and drier when flying, and will preserve and maintain expensive equipment by preventing damage due to moisture and mold.

We need to raise $10,703 by August 31st to purchase the fan. Will you help us?

Just $13.21 from you, and each of our other currently enrolled students and families, will meet this goal! Please make a contribution to the Fund our Fan campaign today!

Carl Bystrom headshot smThank you,
Carl Bystrom
Interim Executive Director

Fund Our FAN! – A campaign to install a ventilation fan in the Flying Trapeze Tent

We just launched our Fund Our FAN campaign to install a ventilation fan in our Flying Trapeze Tent – and I want to send out a huge thank you to our first six donors who took the swing on the first day!

Thank you Velibor Peric, Autumn Sakai, Lori Adams, Kevin Nelson & Raina Domek, Nikki Watters, and David Greenspoon!!

Flying trapeze is a huge part of the circus experience – it’s an amazing confidence builder, an exciting and fun way to overcome fears, and a wonderful way to build team spirit and camaraderie in a non-competitive environment.

Every year at the SANCA School of Flight we:

  • Bring underserved and at-risk youth from communities and organizations like the Broadview Emergency Shelter, Refugee Women’s Alliance, Powerful Schools, and others to experience flying trapeze. In learning to fly, these youth have positive and meaningful experiences with peers and mentors that can be life changing.
  • Give hundreds of summer camp youth a flying experience they will never forget.
    Run classes for more than 3,000 flyers.
  • Hold spring and fall shows with four teams of performing flyers ranging from ages 5 to adult.

We need to ventilate the tent. It is:

  • Too hot in the summer
  • Too damp in the winter
  • Equipment gets damp and moldy and needs extra maintenance
  • Flyers must use a lot of extra chalk to stay dry and safe

A ventilation fan provides:

  • Airflow and cooling on hot summer days
  • Reduces condensation and moisture in the winter
  • Keeps equipment dryer and in better repair
  • Makes the environment safer, cooler, and more comfortable for our flyers
  • A huge savings in ongoing equipment maintenance time and costs

This equipment installation will cost SANCA $13,843 – but your contribution today will help defray those costs and invest in the future of flight for all our students.

By supporting the installation of a ventilation fan, you’re helping SANCA to continue to share the joy of flight with thousands of children, youth, and adults in the years to come.

We can’t do it without you! Please join our campaign today.

Carl Bystrom headshot smThank you!
Carl Bystrom
Interim Executive Director

Blue Angels are back again!

The Boeing Seafair Airshow featuring the Blue Angels is August 5th-7th.

Blue-AngelsThe Blue Angels are expected to arrive between Sunday July 31st int he late afternoon and Monday morning August 1st. Please be prepared for the noise, be patient during times when you cannot hear your coach or classmates, and if the noise is distressing please let someone know if you need a moment in a more quiet room.

The US Navy Blue Angels will be practicing on Thursday August 4th from 9:45 a.m. – noon and 1:15 – 2:40 p.m. They will perform August 5th-7th from 1:15 – 2:30 p.m. Seafair takes place at Genesee Park, but the Blue angels take off and land at Boeing field (just south of SANCA). The take-offs and landings can be incredibly noisy.

And they’re off!

-by Amber Parker


Nick & Wendy in New York City performing with Cirque Mechanics Pedal Punk

It’s nearly summer and there’s lots of changes around SANCA! Our P3 students are graduating, students of all ages are enrolling for new classes and summer camps, and some members of our community are leaving for the season to go on amazing adventures. Among those going on summer adventures are Cirrus Circus members Lyla, Lea, Anna, and Cheya, as well as coaches Nick and Wendy Harden. They are all heading to Circus Smirkus Camp, a youth circus program, for three months of training, performing, and immersion into traditional traveling circus life.

Circus Smirkus is in “the middle of nowhere,” as Nick Harden said when I sat down with him and his wife and co-performer, Wendy Harden, to talk about this incredible journey. Located on a 35 acre pasture in rural Vermont, Circus Smirkus camp is truly an experience of the old circus life. Replete with large, European style Big Top tents, Smirkus accepts approximately 30 students between the ages of 11 and 18 each year to enhance their skills in acrobatics, juggling, aerials, and performance for one month before beginning a 2-month tour all over the northeast.

Nick, who has participated in Smirkus camp in previous years, will be a main acrobatics coach for this year’s campers, and Wendy will be staying in the dorms with campers as their den matron. When asked what they were looking forward to most, Nick reported that, in addition to how rewarding it is to work with youth, having an opportunity to be immersed in circus culture (free from cell phone reception!) and carry on the tradition of the traveling circus is something he loves most about this work. And it is a lot of work! Nick says of their training, “We spend a month in rehearsal putting together the show, and then tour the show around the northeast for about two months. The kids are the show, there’s only one adult in the show. We spend three days in one spot, and then move on to the next town. We go to 10-15 different places and perform between 2-5 shows in each location, but no more than 2 shows a day. It’s a full circus, they have set up duties in addition to their performances. All together we call it 60 shows. In rehearsal we say, ‘remember, you gotta do this for 60 shows.’ ”

smirkus-tent2-1sm-with-logoThis is Wendy’s first year with Circus Smirkus Camp, and she’s excited to be with the campers during such a rich, transformative time in their lives. She says, “Something I’m looking forward to is the bond with all of the campers, or the troupers as they call them. Spending an entire summer with these 30 kids who are away from their parents for maybe for the first time, who are going into high school for the first time, having their first crush or have their first bout of insecurity… that’s a really rich time for these kids going in and out of adolescence and I’m excited to be around that, to bond with them and help them deal with those challenges.”

The campers, or troupers, at Circus Smirkus Camp are indeed entering into a rich time in their lives, a time that will only be enhanced by the supportive, creative, and talented team leading them on their circus tour. We’d like to wish the very best to Nick, Wendy, and the group of Cirrus Circus youth performers as they work hard, learn new lessons, and carry on the grand tradition of the traveling circus! 

Persistence and Support in SANCA’s Circus


Hello everyone! My name is Kit and I am interning at SANCA this summer to wrap up my MFA degree in Arts Administration. I drove all the way from Utah and will be here until the end of July. As a belly dancer and hula hooper, I have always had a love for performing and creating. I have wanted to work with the circus since I was a little girl, but never had the resources to do so. When I started researching potential internships I specifically looked for a circus organization. It worked out nicely! SANCA welcomed me with open arms.

SANCA offers a very supportive environment for a newbie like myself. Each coach takes the time to encourage me to keep trying and help me succeed. I’m currently taking hooping classes with Mary and hope to start a path to the aerial arts during the summer session. During the day at SANCA there are so many professionals in the gym, which can be very intimidating, but I have felt welcomed in each class and leave feeling excited that I learned something new. I am eager to see what skills I gain throughout the summer!

My first week at SANCA ended with the opening night of SASS. I was able to see the Friday night show, which I thoroughly enjoyed. With a juggling t-rex, 80s aerobics acrobatics, and a tightwire act involving pizza, all the acts had so much energy that I found myself laughing and smiling throughout the show.

Photo: John Cornicello

Photo: John Cornicello

One of the acts that stayed with me was the bounce juggling by Audrey Greaves. She opened her act by coercing three white balls to roll to her from the right side of the stage. Doing tricks with contact juggling, level changes, and adding her hat to the mix was so much fun to watch.

Audrey’s juggling act was playful and lighthearted; I couldn’t help but smile along with her throughout her performance. She kept calm and nonchalant when the last trick didn’t go quite the way she expected, and the audience continued to cheer her on and support her. I have heard time and time again that physical skills take practice, but to see her amazing bounce juggling live on stage was remarkable. I later found out that this was Audrey Greaves’ first time doing a solo act at SANCA. I had no idea! Instead of walking off stage with an unfinished trick, Audrey stayed to finish it. Her persistence to land the last trick paid off; seeing that determination made the whole show for me.

The thing I loved most about this show’s atmosphere was the audience’s encouragement and support. The audience cheered and applauded for every performance and rooted them on, even if there were mishaps. It’s now my third week at SANCA and seeing that love-encouragement- support thrive throughout this environment has been awe-inspiring. Everyone here at SANCA seems to carry that attitude of keep trying and don’t give up. It’s one of the things that drew me to interning here; having that positive, bright atmosphere is an essential to creating.

Join me this coming weekend for the next show this weekend, The Other Side of the Unknown, a presentation of a year’s worth of work by the Professional Preparatory Program students.

-Kit Kendall

Off to Quebec!

by Amber Parker

Last fall, I was hanging off the trapeze trying as mightily as I could to not let go. I was working towards a 50 second hang, a goal I had been pursuing all quarter. As I hung there, listening to my classmate tick off the seconds I’d been hanging, my eyes scanned the main gym for something to focus on. The clock? No. Kids playing on the tumble track? Nope, that’s not going to work either. Just as I was about to let go I saw a young woman in a handstand, one of her legs in a huge cast. I’d noticed her training in  her cast all week and hadn’t thought much of it. But, in that moment on the trapeze, I was struck by the sight of her, by how amazing she was. I thought, “If she can come here every day and train in a cast, I can get through another 20 seconds. This is what it means to be a circus artist.” I kept my eyes locked on her and gripped tighter. Then, before I knew it, it had been 50 seconds.

This acrobat was Clara Scudder-Davis, a graduate of SANCA’s Professional Preparatory Program and current coach here at SANCA. You can find Clara at SANCA almost any time of the week in a handstand, juggling, stretching into impossible poses, or hanging off the trapeze, working away for hours to perfect her form and hone her skills. When I heard that Clara had been accepted to L’École de cirque de Québec (a prestigious circus school in Canada) and I had the opportunity to interview her for our blog to report on that news, I was excited to have a chance to learn more about this incredible member of our community.

307a79a5-aaf5-45a2-b475-8700eddfce54Clara came to us in the fall of 2014 from Oberlin College in Ohio, where she interested in learning aerial fabric in Oberlin’s circus program. She didn’t have the prerequisite of 30 hours of training to join that program, so Clara turned to SANCA’s Professional Preparatory Program– “I realized that if I wanted to do circus, I was going to need to go some place where I could just learn a lot of information in a short amount of time. So I applied to the P3 program. It was so physically challenging…when I got to P3 it was eye opening.” Clara said that although she had a background in ballet and dance, learning circus skills was a whole other level of artist and physical expression. I sat down with Clara to explore both her experience in the P3 program and the exciting next steps she’s taking as a circus artist.

Amber: “What was the most challenging part of the P3 program?

Clara: “It was hard for me having not been so fit or strong or ever having thought of myself as being strong, to do something where I really needed to be strong. To go through the learning process of how to make that happen in my body was experimental and challenging and very painful. My body went through so much stress that first year, especially because I was training so much where I hadn’t been training before. But, it was totally worth it.”

Amber: “What kept you going during that time?”

Clara: “I was so challenging but also just so magical. Circus is so compelling for me as an art form because it combined every mode of expression that I’m drawn to. I grew up doing dance, I was a singer in middle school and high school, and I did acting and theatre as well. Also, just being super physical is something that really inspires me. Circus incorporates all of that. I’m drawn to other kinds of expression, like writing, but I feel most inspired when I’m being physical.”

Amber: “Oh, definitely. I feel the same. So, tell me about the next step in your career?”

École_de_Cirque_du_QuébecClara: “I’ll be going to the circus school in Quebec, it’s called L’École de cirque de Québec, or ECQ. I got into the prep year so I’ll re-audition for schools next year, which I’m excited for. It’s like circus school at Hogwarts, it’s awesome. It’s in this huge old church with stained glass windows. When I came to SANCA, it was so magical because I had never seen anyone do handstands or drops on fabric or tumble on a tumble track, I didn’t even know what a tumble track was. When I discovered that people could do one arm handstands my mind was blown. I couldn’t even believe that was possible. Stepping into the Quebec circus was like that first feeling I had when I came to SANCA, but even more so. When I walked in there was someone doing swinging trapeze and another on flying trapeze, and then there were people doing double backs on the trampoline. It’s a very lovely and supportive community, and very creative. I really appreciate that. And I’m very excited to learn french.”

Amber: “So, do you have a major at L’École de cirque de Québec?”

Clara: “Yes! In my program I have two disciplines, then there’s a three year program that I will audition for where I will have three disciplines. My first discipline is hand balancing and my second is contortion. I’m hoping that when I get there I will have the option to add classes and build my own program. I want to do some Chinese Pole or some group acrobatics or trampoline. Basically, I just want to do as much as I possibly can.”

Amber: “Wow, so that’s about 4 years of circus school. What do you see happening for you after you graduate?”

Clara: “Right now it feels like a whirlwind to me because I started so recently. I’ve just been putting one foot in front of the other and not allowing myself to be attached to anything. Any sort of opportunity is exciting at this point. But, at the same time, I would love to be able to travel and perform with circus companies like The 7 Fingers or smaller circus companies. I’d like to go Europe and travel and perform, and I’d love to have the opportunity to train in different places. If I could ever go to Mongolia or Russia or China, I would love to be able to train with other teachers and have the be part of the experience that informs my performance. There’s a lot of knowledge out there, and I’m very interested in technique and artistry. I haven’t combined those two things very much yet, so I’m excited to do that. I can see so many ways that circus will be part of my life no matter what happens. Back in September I broke my fibula and that was a big moment of deciding that no matter what happens, circus is something I want to continue doing. In whatever capacity I’m doing it, circus nourishes me and feeds me and is something I just adore. It’s a huge part of my life.”

I was so grateful to have the opportunity to sit down with Clara as she stands on the precipice of this next step in her life, both as a woman and as an circus artist. It was such a privilege to be with her in this moment of transition and I can’t wait to see how far she goes and what lessons she learns during that journey. Along with Clara, one of our current P3 students, Cameron Clarke, will be moving on to L’École de cirque de Québec. SANCA does many amazing things, but one of the biggest things we do here is nurture new artists as they move forward with their goals, whatever those goals may be. What a gift that is to have a whole community behind you, supporting every step you take. SANCA would like to wish both Clara and Cameron the best of luck in Quebec!

Please look for an upcoming piece about our very talented P3 cohort as they prepare for their show, The Other Side of the Unknown, which will be running June 3rd-5th.

Social Circus: Community, Empowerment, & Play


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).

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.

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 the Refugee Women's Alliance learn to work together balancing and sharing body weight in preparation for acrobatics.

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!

Meet Julaine – Cirrus Circus Student Spotlight

amber headshot sq

Interview by Amber Parker,
Every Body’s Circus Coach


In March our youth performance company, Cirrus Circus, held try outs for students to display their skills and earn a coveted spot in the dynamic ensemble. Cirrus welcomed several new students to the troupe, one of whom is 12 year old Julaine Hall. I sat down with Julaine to talk about her experience at SANCA, her devotion to circus, and this exciting next step in her career as a performer.

Julaine (center) basing a pyramid of Cirrus Circus acrobats.

Julaine (center) basing a pyramid of acrobats.

Amber: How long have you been at SANCA?

Julaine: I’ve being doing circus since I was about two-and-a-half years old and I’m 12 now. I’ve been performing since I was five, and I’ve never taken a quarter off. Not even summer.

Amber: Wow! You’ve been coming here since you were a toddler. Can you remember a time when you didn’t have circus in your life?

Julaine: No!

Amber: You’re having the coolest childhood! So, after you began at age two, what happened next?

Juliane: I started with general circus classes and then I went on to the Amazing Circus 1-ders, then on to the Magnificent 7, and I just got into Cirrus Circus on March 4th.

Amber: Congratulations! That’s a great achievement. So, what do you love about circus?

Julaine: Well, when I was little, before I began at SANCA, my mom tried putting me in gymnastics but they had too many rules. Circus is much more about of the box, it’s more fun. I’ve always loved doing tricks but when I got to perform and make acts it was even cooler!

Amber: What was the first circus skill you ever felt really good at?

Julaine (bottom left) performing with other members of Cirrus Circus.

Julaine (bottom left) performing with other members of Cirrus Circus.

Julaine: Forward rolls probably, when I was really little. Now I can do front flips, back flips on the trampoline, and if I warm up enough, I can do a back flip off the edge of the tumble track. I also do Chinese pole, tumbling, and juggling. Those are some of my strongest skills. Now I’m learning a sequence – round-off/back handspring/back layout/half twist on the tumble-trak, and new tricks on Chinese pole.


Amber: What do you think is challenging about circus arts?

Julaine: Well, I’ve never gotten seriously hurt, but if something seems new and scary, sometimes you just have to power through and keep on doing it. That’s a challenge when you’re scared, it’s hard to just do it again.

Amber: What do you imagine for your future in the circus?

Julaine: I think it would be fun to go all the way through Cirrus Circus and then become a circus coach. I really want to be a coach in my 20’s and maybe in my 30’s. I think it might be fun to be in something like Acrobatic Conundrum as an adult. But mostly I want to be a coach and work with kids. It’ll remind me of the good ole days!

When speaking with Julaine, her passion and excitement for circus and her career at SANCA was palpable. It was amazing to meet a young person with so much commitment, discipline, and vision for the future. Julaine was a scholarship student for a period of time while her family dealt with expensive medical bills on a tight income. Because of SANCA’s scholarship program, Juliane did not have to give up with her passion for circus. Her commitment and achievements speak to how vital SANCA’s scholarship programs are in our community.

“Running Away to Join the Circus” – and dealing with Parkinson’s

From http://www.parkinsonalliance.org/weblog by guest blogger John Cornicello, a Seattle-based portrait photographer Cornicello Photography and a person with Parkinson’s

It all started a few years ago. I was working for a well-known software company. My job had me at a computer, typing, most of the day. I started noticing some “issues.” My left hand was becoming less accurate — DOuble-caps, repeating letters, things like that. I also noticed that my left arm was pulling in towards my body when at rest and it didn’t move/swing as I walked. My piano playing had been actually getting better for a few years, then all of a sudden it started a dive, too.

My first thought was that I suffered some sort of mild stroke. I got a referral to a neurologist, had an MRI, and things looked good. He had me do some basic movements. Then, as he observed me, he suggested that I might have Parkinson’s. I had no tremors. Just the stiff left arm and some cogwheel type of movement in my left wrist.

I had already been taking Ropinerole for restless leg, so we didn’t change anything there. My diet has never been that great, so my wife and I tried to go radical (for me) for a few months with no sugar, carbs, or gluten. I did lose about 20 lbs very quickly. However, I was starting to get some tremors in my left hand. After three months, I went back to dairy and gluten but have managed to keep away from sugared soft drinks.

Concurrently with all of this I had been photographing for a circus school here in Seattle. SANCA is the School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts, one of the largest such schools in the world. I became friends with the owners and at the end of a benefit show in February 2015 I casually mentioned that I had Parkinson’s and asked Jo Montgomery if she had ever worked with Parkinson’s patients. She said she had not, but that I should stop in at the school next Monday. And I’ve been there just about every Monday, since.

I was 57 and pretty sedentary when I started this. Jo started me up slowly with stretching exercises. And then gradually started asking me to try more activities. My initial reaction to most of these has been, “You want me to do what? OK, I can bounce on a trampoline and do some jumping jack type of movements, But now you want me to do a seat drop? And then come back to a standing position?” I dreaded the trampoline for about 2 weeks.


Then it clicked and has become a favorite part of our routine. Next came walking on a balance beam. About 3″ wide and 6″ off the ground. More difficult than expected, but not so bad. I could do that one. Until one day she suggested a tight wire instead. A steel cable about 1/2″ or so wide. Barefoot, Jo would be holding one wrist as I walked back and forth across the wire. I never measured it, but I’m guessing it is a 12 foot distance. Amazingly I did it. And I enjoyed it.

All of this has built good core strength and improved my confidence.


So next came juggling. I’ve never been able to juggle. Maybe it is from lack of discipline and practice.


But I try. Balls, clubs, rings. On my own, I’m really bad. But I found that I can toss 2, 3, or even 5 rings with another person. I believe this routine is helping to make new brain connections that might help with Parkinson’s.
Then back to stretching. When I first started I couldn’t move my left shoulder. I would hold my left arm out to the side and grab a bar and tell it to move up/down and forward/back. And nothing would happen. I could tell my right shoulder to make all sorts of movements and it would. But the left shoulder would just sit there, completely ignoring my commands. I don’t know if is the medications (I started seeing a movement specialist in June 2015, and started Carbo/Leva in September), or all the other exercises, or a combination, but my left shoulder is finally starting to follow instructions and move around in circles when I want it to.

We also do some strength training by doing pull-ups on a trapeze bar and an exercise where I grab a bar above my head against a wall and pull my knees up to my chest 20 times.

Outside of circus school I have set up my home “triathlon” routine where I do a 30 minute routine that consists of a mile on a treadmill, then spin at 80-90 pedal rpm on a stationary bicycle for the balance of the 30 minutes. Then I take a shower.

All of this has helped me maintain a healthy and positive attitude. I consider myself lucky that my tremors are mostly mild and confined to my left hand so they don’t affect my photography. Yes, I’ve started using a tripod more often, but not all the time. I do worry that my left hand tremor might be a distraction to my subjects if my hand starts banging against my tripod. But I do explain the situation if that happens and all seems good.

This past week I found out that one of the members of SANCA’s board of directors has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and she has joined in on the Monday class. Our first try at juggling rings with each other went remarkably well.

Some days I wonder if I should be more concerned with my Parkinson’s. But so far I have managed to maintain a very upbeat attitude. I really look forward to both the SANCA and the home workouts. And I am somewhat amazed as I learn about more and more friends and colleagues who have some sort of tremors, be they essential tremors or Parkinson’s. This makes me have hope that more people will be learning about these issues leading to more research and the possibility of cures and even prevention. In the meantime, I am now starting to think about boxing lessons with a program like Rock Steady Boxing.

Thank you, John, for sharing your story with my assistant and blogging partner, Gloria Hansen. You are very creative and we applaud your unconventional approach to exercise, which we know is the best medicine for Parkinson’s. — Margaret Tuchman, President of  The Parkinson Alliance