Arne Bystrom: The Whole Enchilada

If you can do it at SANCA, Arne has done it. He started as a student back in 2006. His father, Carl Bystrom, had already taught him to juggle three balls and after being tipped-off about SANCA by Tara Jensen, Carl convinced Arne to try his first class: Wednesday night Circus Arts with Chuck and Jo. Arne started off being an acrobatic flyer with his father as the base.

Having never really found his place in team sports, Arne was excited about the physical outlet in Circus. It was fun enough to keep practicing; so he kept on doing it. He practiced handstands in the backyard and worked on his skills, and before you knew it he started to get better and circus started to get really fun. Nickolai Pirak joined the SANCA team in 2006 and became Arne’s first juggling teacher. Nickolai says he remembers encouraging Arne to start juggling 5 balls; now Arne is doing 7 balls with pirouettes.

SANCA needed summer coaches and Arne was recruited. It was a slippery slope from there. After that summer he started coaching regular classes.
He teamed up for hand to hand with Zora and joined the Youth Company. The next summer he and Zora toured with Circus Smirkus. That’s when he knew that circus was what he really wanted to do. Arne decided instead of attending a traditional college he would go to circus school. On a college scouting trip he went to Turbo Fest at Quebec City Circus School, hung out with Nickolai in Germany and got to crash in the Circus Dorm at Rosny in France.

In the end it was the Quebec City Circus School that called to him with its small, warm and supportive environment. So after three years in Quebec, Arne has graduated and is the flyer in an acro/juggling duet. He stands in a two high and juggles (7) balls with a partner by dropping them down from above. All ’cause it was fun enough to want to practice.

He is back in town for now and dreaming of working for Teatro Zinzanni.Friday November 30th was the very last day that he will be sporting his mustache that he grew out for “Movember” : changing the face of men’s health by raising awareness of testicular and prostate cancer with a month of facial hair growth.

VIdeo of Arne:

Arne and Jérémy from Arne Bystrom on Vimeo.


Arne and Jérémy from Arne Bystrom on Vimeo.

Learn trapeze, trampoline and more at circus academy

Originally published May 19, 2010 at 4:17 PM | Page modified May 19, 2010 at 8:05 PM

Seattle‘s School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts, SANCA, offers classes in aerial, tumbling, hoop, juggling, trampoline and more. The first Friday of every month is Casual Flyday, where each swing on the flying trapeze is only $5. This weekend, the school is producing a spring showcase for the public.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Demonstration show

SASS: SANCA’s Annual Spring Showcase

2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday; School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts, 674 S. Orcas St., Seattle; $19 for adults, $12 for ages 12 and younger (206-652.4433 or

If You Go

Circus arts school

Where: 674 S. Orcas St., Seattle


Enroll by June 22 for the next 12-week session of classes, starting June 27. Five-day summer camps starting June 28 for ages 6 and up. Half-day camp $190; full-day camp $360

Try it out

“Casual Flyday” is the first Friday of each month (next event: June 4). From 6 to 7:30 p.m., try the trapeze for $5 per swing. Ages 13 and older, on a first-come, first-served basis.


$35 annual registration fee, family cap of $100; classes run from $138 to $312, from 45 minutes to 115 minutes.

More info on SANCA

For a directory of classes and programs, see

More on Terry Crane


Hidden in Georgetown’s gritty factory terrain is a big top, of sorts.

A warehouse contains a world of colorful tutus, leotards and tights. Multiple trapezes hang from the ceiling, along with ropes, hoops and fabric. Mats, trampolines and tightropes hug the floor. Unicycles and balls line the walls. And as juggling clubs pass through the air, legs and arms swing by.

This is a place where anyone, of any age, can become a star. A circus star. “We’ll take everyone,” said Jo Montgomery, executive director of Seattle‘s School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts (SANCA), one of the few circus schools of its size in the country. “There is never a kid turned away.”

To give the public a glimpse of the action, the school is presenting a special showcase this weekend, called “SASS” (for “SANCA’s Annual Spring Showcase”).

SANCA’s offerings include aerial training, tumbling, jumping and spinning with hoops, juggling, trampoline skills, a circus band, and clown classes for all ages. For the little ones, there’s even a room with miniature versions of everything, such as a tightrope only one foot off the ground and a tiny trapeze, too. There are “Baby & Me” classes so tots can get used to being in a group, as well as summer camp for teens. And, the first Friday of every month from 6-7:30 p.m. is Casual Flyday, when anybody can try out the flying trapeze for $5 a swing.

Mesmerized by tricks

Montgomery, a pediatric nurse at Seattle Children’s hospital, started the school with Chuck Johnson six years ago. She’d taken a gymnastics class taught by Johnson for fun, and was mesmerized by the circus tricks her classmates were doing. The two started with five students and now head up a total of 706, from the ages of 3 to 67, including underprivileged and special needs students. As a nonprofit, the school gave out $45,000 in scholarships last year.

“Together, we figure out what they can do,” said Montgomery, who works with the students on their strengths.

There’s a staff of 27 teachers, who also take classes in their free time. They participate in the school’s performance troupes, made up of elementary ages to professional levels.

“I love the moment where someone comes in and says they can’t do something,” said Johnson, SANCA program director, who helped found Portland’s Cascade Youth Circus. “So I break it down to small pieces … and a huge switch turns on. They do something that they thought they couldn’t and now there are less things they cannot do.”

That’s how the trapeze was broken down for Gwen Gutow, 39, a stay-at-home mom who lives near Seattle‘s Madison Valley when she’s not in circus school. At 25 feet above ground, the trapeze was intimidating at first.

Wearing a pink T-shirt and black yoga pants, she climbed, rung by rung, up two wobbly silver hardware-store ladders tied together. Then she rose onto a skinny platform, holding on tightly, as she slapped on chalk so her sweaty palms could grip the bar.

The bar was surprisingly comforting, heavy and stable. With ten toes over the platform, it was a long way down to the string net, but when “Ready” was announced, she had to let go and leap into the air.

She recalls being told: “Turn off your brain … Hang there first and swing. Then hang by your legs to dismount and do flips.”

“These directions work. It’s amazing. You’ll feel a lot of adrenaline. … Start off small and week to week, it’s amazing seeing how much strength you’ll gain.”

Her husband, Brian Crawford, a 40-year-old software architect at Microsoft, and their two children have taken SANCA classes for years, first together in the “family circus” all-ages class, and now separately after the kids “dumped” their parents for their own classes. Corinne, 8, takes the circus class, where she gets to dabble in everything, while Cameron, 11, specializes in trampoline. His favorite: tuck jumps.

On the trampoline, Cameron jumps high, smiling ear to ear. Recently, he was brave enough to try trapeze as well. The sensation is like “flying,” he says.

“The routines help me with memory,” said Cameron. “They help me remember what comes after another, which helps me with math at school. I have to do math timings, sheets with addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. … It also helps me to relax.”

The parents first met in college, at Tacoma’s Pacific Lutheran University. He convinced her to hang out with him while juggling outside, and she missed classes to be with him. SANCA became a way to share with their children that flair for the fun side of life.

“It’s exciting to work side by side with the kids,” said Gutow. “I like them seeing that adults have to try, too.”

At SANCA, the Crawfords also practice side by side with professionals, sometimes from Teatro ZinZanni.

“We’re in the same space, they work out their act,” said Gutow. “It’s inspiring to see.”

A circus pro

One of these professionals is Seattle-based Terry Crane, who has performed from Helsinki to Beijing. He specializes in vertical rope acrobatics; he loves climbing to the top, winding his body around the rope, then spiraling down in a beautiful, fluid motion.

It all started with climbing trees as a kid, basically doing things that “scared his mom.” He attended Oberlin College and studied improvisational dance, but when he got into the prestigious National Circus School of Montreal, across the street from the famed Cirque du Soleil, SANCA provided him the support to survive the often cutthroat nature of circus.

“The world of circus is really competitive,” said Crane. “It’s about money, it’s about being the best, about being in festivals and winning the prize.”

In the face of that cutthroat environment, he said, “I felt defeated, but Jo and Chuck told me to hang in there and I saw the joy it would give kids.”

Crane started off teaching summer camp at SANCA. And from June 17 to 20, he kicks off his own show at SANCA with other acrobats from Montreal, France and Italy.

SANCA “is my home base,” said Crane. “It’s the place we come together and become family. I enjoy that exchange and I love seeing the kids slack-jawed.”

Craving the spotlight

Anna Partridge was one of those wide-eyed kids.

She started taking classes when the school first opened six years ago, when Montgomery, in her role as pediatric nurse, suggested it as a way to keep active.

“I’m always here — Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, five days a week,” said Partridge, 16. “My best friends are definitely from here.”

Once shy, Partridge now craves the spotlight. She loves audience members coming up to her afterward and saying how happy her act made them feel. Her teachers say she has a bright future in circus performing, and is well balanced across all the disciplines, though juggling is her favorite.

“I love to make the audience happy,” said the Mercer Island High School sophomore. “Everyone here wants you to succeed. … As long as you have fun, it doesn’t matter. You meet new people, learn new things, and then go home and show your new skills off.”

Marian Liu: 206-464-3825 or

Grab a front rug seat at Moisture Festival


Published 10:00 pm, Thursday, March 12, 2009

  • Sally Pepper is one of several aerialists performing at this year’s Moisture Festival. Most of the performances are family-friendly, but there is a series of late-night burlesque shows for the 21-and-older crowd. The festival’s producer said there is a live band at each performance. Photo: Michelle Bates
    Sally Pepper is one of several aerialists performing at this year’s Moisture Festival. Most of the performances are family-friendly, but there is a series of late-night burlesque shows for the 21-and-older crowd. The festival’s producer said there is a live band at each performance. Photo: Michelle Bates

It’s these dark days at the end of winter that have people crying out for something fun to do, and the sixth annual Moisture Festival delivers.

Combining traditional European vaudeville and variety acts such as aerial artists, jugglers, dancers, comedians and can-can girls, the Moisture Festival is a monthlong celebration of physical arts taking place at three different venues: ACT Theatre (700 Union St.), Hale’s Palladium (4301 Leary Way N.W.) and the SIFF Cinema (McCaw Hall, Seattle Center).

Most shows are family-friendly, but the festival does have a series of late-night burlesque shows for ages 21 and older. The family-friendly shows feature a variety of performers, such as bubble magicians, jugglers, comedians, musicians and others not so easily categorized.

“It’s a return of live, variety entertainment that builds on old traditions but is updated for current times,” festival producer Tim Furst said. “There is a mix of 10 different acts and a live band at every show and each show is different, so people can keep coming back and they’ll see something new and different every time. This is their only chance to see some of the world’s best performers in one place.”

Furst is no stranger to vaudeville, having been one of the original members of the Flying Karamazov Brothers. He is retired from full-time performing with the group, but occasionally fills in and will perform as Fyodor Karamazov at the Moisture Festival. Fellow former Karamazov performer Sam Williams, known as Smerdyakov Karamazov, also will perform and emcee at the festival.

When asked how to explain the Moisture Festival concept to a first-timer, Furst says it’s similar to Teatro Zinzanni — minus the dinner theater and high prices. Moisture Festival tickets range from $7.50 for children to $25 for adults, making it an affordable indulgence for a family.

Children and their parents can sit up front on a rug instead of in chairs, and some acts encourage audience participation.

“It’s great for kids just to have the experience of seeing live performance, and to experience a performance surrounded by hundreds of other people experiencing the same thing,” Furst said. “It’s sort of the antidote to television.”

The March 21 matinee is a collaboration with the School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts, which is providing all of the performers for that show.

Terri Sullivan, a former circus arts performer and now a part-time instructor at SANCA, says the school has 600 students of all ages, from age 2 to 60-something.

“We wouldn’t turn away anyone who was older, we’d just make sure they didn’t get hurt,” Sullivan said. “But the bulk of our students are in the 7 to 10 age range.”

The idea behind the school is to provide a noncompetitive atmosphere in which people can try new things — and the school doesn’t let finances get in the way. Last year, SANCA provided $35,000 in scholarships to students.

“It’s great fun, first of all, and anything that’s physical and fun builds self esteem and just joy,” she said. “Some kids are great at competition, but others are not and they won’t really blossom.”

Sullivan says circus arts are perfect for all ages and interests because there’s such a wide range of skills. You can do acrobatics, juggle or be a clown, or walk a tightrope or a rolling globe.

The March 21 performance will feature instructors and students from SANCA, including its Youth Performance Company (ages 8 to 18) and the Amazing Circus Wonders (ages 5 to 8).

“They are super, super cute and fun,” Sullivan said of the littlest ones.

“The kids who are at their shows go, ‘They’re the same age as me. I could do that!’ So that’s very inspiring for them, seeing someone who’s just like them.”

Circus school: Getting fit while having a ball

By Vanessa Renée Casavant, Seattle Times staff reporter

Using nothing but their hands, balance and trust, the two remain in unison for more than half a minute until Montgomery says she’s ready to come down.

The exercise demonstrates more than just focus and agility for their students at The School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts in Seattle. It shows what a little bit of trust, some hard work and a lot of fun can accomplish.

Montgomery, a former gymnast and pediatric nurse at Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic in Seattle, and Johnson, a professional gymnast and founder of the Cascade Youth Circus in Portland, opened the school in January 2004. Their goal is to get kids more physically active in a fun atmosphere that instills confidence.

With a trapeze, unicycle, two huge trampolines and a tightrope, it’s hard not to have a sense of childlike enthusiasm here. Kids are allowed to be kids in this space, Montgomery said.

“We don’t say wrong, and we don’t say don’t,” Johnson said. “Students don’t leave feeling punished, they leave feeling refreshed.”

Shiloh Ratcliffe, physical-education specialist for Seattle Country Day School, took her seventh- and eighth-grade classes to the circus school twice a week last year as part of a program to introduce students to nontraditional forms of exercise. She said 90 percent of the kids voted the circus school their favorite exercise.

The benefits of juggling

There are five types of classes offered at the circus school — juggling, acrobatics, trampoline, aerial (trapeze and hoop) and a combination class. Johnson and Montgomery rotate students among the different activities, to enhance their strength, flexibility and trust in others.

Ratcliffe said the classes helped her students get over their fear of trying something new. “Those who were more reserved definitely felt more confident at the end,” she said.

The teachers break circus stunts down into small pieces so students don’t feel overwhelmed, Johnson said. For example, a forward roll takes six steps.

“That moment they accomplish something, it’s a universal smile,” Johnson said. “It’s a privilege to watch that happen.”

Ingrid Hurlen, office manager at Billings Middle School in Seattle, said the circus training had a positive impact on 20 Billings students who attended the classes.

“It really put them on an even playing ground” and helped them learn how to work together, she said. “I think it brought a lot more focus to their academics as well.”

Juggling is one of few vigorous activities proven to enhance analytical skills, Johnson said. There is a rhythm that builds while juggling, and as students progress in their skills they can play around with it by adding more items to juggle or using different ones.

One student, whom Montgomery described as rather small and shy, came into his own through juggling. She said he gets lost in the activity for hours and has a new confidence from the muscle tone he’s gained.

Building excitement

Obesity rates among children and adults have been on the rise for the past 10 to 15 years, and getting kids excited about being active is essential to reverse the trend, said Dr. Lenna Liu, a circus-school board member and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington.

Without engaging physical activities, she said, children can spend too much time in front of the television and computer.

“When most people think about becoming active, they go straight to running and competitive sports,” Liu said. “What Jo’s vision was, is that a person of any shape or size should go to the school,” and that they don’t need to be physically fit right away.

It’s very important, she said, to get kids excited about being active at a young age because motivation declines as they get older. A survey conducted by the Washington State Department of Health in 2004 shows that as children get older, their amount of physical activity decreases. Over a seven-day period, 5.5 percent of sixth-graders reported having no physical activity, while 19 percent of 12th-graders did. If healthier lifestyle habits are instilled at a young age, there is a good chance children will carry it on with them as they grow up, Liu said.

Combating obesity

The circus school began with an “aha” moment. Montgomery was trying to come up with a way to address the growing problem of childhood obesity she saw at the Odessa Brown clinic. One day, as she was teaching an adult gymnastics class, the idea for a circus-arts school came to her. She wanted a place kids could go to become invigorated about physical activities, and not feel pressured.

She approached Johnson, who has taught gymnastics for 15 years. He’d been noticing a lot of negative coaching in competitive sports and liked Montgomery’s idea. He saw a need for replacing competition with creativity and putting the fun back into being active.

Once the idea for the school was formed, almost everything fell into place. “It almost had a mind of its own,” Johnson said. They didn’t do any advertising, and by the end of the year they had almost 200 students and needed a larger space.

The school is now located on South Orcas Street in Georgetown. From the outside, it looks like a huge storage facility with a loading dock. Inside however, the reds, yellows, blues and greens of the equipment and mats pop out against the bleak walls of the space.

At any given time, there can be a number of activities going on, whether it’s an instructor practicing juggling with bowling pins or a student taking one of the large colorful rolling globes for a ride.

While children were the primary focus when Montgomery and Johnson opened the school, adults are welcome, too.

Liu, who takes some of the adult classes at the circus school, said she’s addicted to them. “It gives a childlike enthusiasm,” she said. “The reason I can’t get enough of it is that I just turned 40, and I haven’t been able to do somersaults since I was 7.”

Nearly all of the classes are divided by age group accommodating anyone 6 and older. Johnson said there are age modifications for every activity. For children younger than 6, the school offers a movement class.

“We give out about as much as we get in,” Johnson said. The school was established as a nonprofit so they could have better access to public schools and offer scholarships to anyone who needs help.

Johnson and Montgomery said they knew going in that their work at the school would be a “salary optional” endeavor. Montgomery still makes a living as a nurse and Johnson said he’s living mostly off the profit from selling his school in Portland.

Circus-school classes are priced according to length, ranging from $70 for eight 45-minute classes to $168 for eight 120-minute classes. The goal is to provide scholarships for at least 30 percent of the students, Montgomery said, because she knows that if you can provide access to physical activities, half the battle against childhood obesity is won.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company