The Improbable Return of the Amazing Scotty Walsh!

With a magician, anything is possible, including reappearing at SANCA just in time for the school’s annual Staff Show – The Circus Animal: A Nature Documentary.

SANCA is delighted to welcome back Scotty Walsh – one of our earliest circus students and coaches. Scotty is visiting SANCA from Cork, Ireland during the month of August, working in collaboration with Kelsa Dine. Together, they will debut a new act called “The Smiths.” Scotty and Kelsa took time out from their busy training and performing schedule for an interview with SANCA.

Scott Walsh attempts to read Kelsa Dine's thoughts in their new mentalism act, "The Deans."

Scott Walsh attempts to read Kelsa Dine’s thoughts in their
new mentalism act, “The Smiths.”

SANCA: Scotty, you’ve been a performer for some time now, how did you get your start?

Scotty: I was eight when I saw my first magic show. It was Mike the Magic Janitor. He was the janitor at Pomeroy Elementary School in Pomeroy, Washington, but he also did magic shows for the school at Halloween and for the town’s Tumbleweed Festival and County Fair. I was really inspired and started inventing magic tricks to show him, and I pestered him constantly about learning more magic.

At one point Mike had a gig at the town Vaudeville Show, but he was unable to attend and asked me to do a magic show in his place. He helped me choreograph a show and taught me how to do it. That was my first magic show – for 400 people – when I was eight.

That’s one of the reasons that I love to do shows for kids, because Mike the Magic Janitor had such a huge impact on me as a kid.

SANCA: What came next in your magic career?

Scotty: The Market Magic Shop at Pike Place Market had been an annual pilgrimage for me for years when visiting Seattle from Eastern Washington. I started working in the Magic Shop and also working as a street performer at the Market when I came to Seattle to attend the University of Washington for a degree in Political Science.

SANCA: Political Science seems a far cry from magic and performance, what sparked that interest?

Scotty: I lived in Kosovo for a year and I’d become really interested in humanitarian issues, and Political Science seemed a natural fit for that kind of work. I was also very active in the performance and circus community in Seattle at the same time – busking at the Market and juggling with the Cascade Jugglers. I also founded the Emerald City Circus as a student club at U.W. to create more community on campus for circus.

SANCA: You were one of SANCA’s first adult students, and later even coached classes for SANCA. How did you discover SANCA?

Scotty: I saw the Cirque du Soleil show “Dralion” and was very inspired – especially by Joe de Paul’s clown act in that show. I wanted to go to the École Nationale de Cirque (ENC), and started teaching myself dive rolls from Hovey Burgess’s book, Circus Techniques.

At about the same time, Jason Williams and Evelyn Bittner (Dr. Calamari & Acrophelia of Circus Contraption) attended one of my shows where I was recreating Houdini’s Water Tank Escape. They told me about SANCA and I started taking classes to prepare for my audition at ENC.

SANCA: After your time at SANCA you went to study physical theatre in Italy. What took you there?

Scotty: I didn’t pass my audition at ENC, but SANCA was giving me everything I wanted to learn about how to perform acrobatics. There is a painting by Picasso which depicts the acrobat/clown Harlequin who descended from the Commedia dell’Arte – a copy of this painting, The Family of Saltimbanques, is hanging in Chuck and Jo’s [SANCA’s founders] office. That painting was always very inspiring to me and I felt my next step as a performer was to train in physical theater and the commedia. I discovered a school called the Accademia dell’Arte in Arezzo – in the Tuscany region of Italy. I was accepted to their 2-1/2 year MFA program in Physical Theatre.

SANCA: Kelsa, how did you get started as a performer?

Kelsa: I had an interest in theatre from an early age, and did performances in grade school, but the High School I went to didn’t have a drama department so I took voice lessons and sung in the choir. I went to college in Baltimore for a degree in Acting and Playwriting, and it was there that I also took classes in single-point trapeze.

SANCA: What took you to Italy to study at the Accademia?

Kelsa: During college I had the opportunity to do a one-month intensive at the Accademia dell’Arte. It was a really amazing experience that stuck with me. After college I decided to continue my studies at the Accademia.

Scotty: Around that time I was planning my next degree – a Doctorate in Drama and Theatre with a focus on performance in mentalism. After graduating the Accademia I went to University Cork College in Cork, Ireland to begin my Doctorate.

SANCA: Why mentalism? And what is mentalism?

Scotty: Mentalism is a performing art that uses, or seems to use, highly developed mental or intuitive abilities. Mentalism is traced back to tales of the supernatural – clairvoyance in Greek myths or legends of second sight and witchcraft which emerged from the Scottish Highlands.

I was very interested in the intersection of mentalism and physical theater because physical theater can develop heightened nonverbal communication to the point where it might be said to resemble “telepathy.” I want to reinterpret mentalism through the lens of physical theater.

Kelsa: Much of physical theater is the study of proprioception – total body awareness – understanding the space surrounding your body and where you are in that space. It’s a type of sensitivity training. It’s this type of heightened sensitivity that often connects to acts of mentalism, which people can confuse with ESP or supernatural ability.

SANCA: What brings you back to SANCA just in time for our summer staff show?

Scotty: Last year, Jo invited me to perform at SANCA’s 10th Anniversary Circus Festival, and I had such a great time returning to SANCA and performing last year that I wanted to do it again. I was on summer break from UCC, so I called and asked if I could come back for the month of August, and if I could take part in the staff show and they said yes. Working at SANCA is such a positive and rewarding experience. I knew I wanted to find collaborators for a new act and SANCA seemed like the right place for that.

My proposal to Jo was to have training time at SANCA to create a new act, and in return teach workshops for the SANCA community and the youth troupes. It is really important to me to give back to the community that has given me so much. Participating in the staff show is a bonus and I’m very grateful that they are letting us take part in the show.

SANCA: You’ve been training at SANCA for a couple weeks now. What’s that experience been like?

Kelsa: I’m really inspired by the collective circus groups you have training here – IMPulse and The Acrobatic Conundrum. Watching them create new work and how they are developing their acts through a group devising process is really exciting.

SANCA Smiths 5smScotty: SANCA is an incredible place. There’s nothing else like it, and it’s changed my life immeasurably. I am always astounded at how the school enriches the people that come through its doors. For us, it’s been a positive and welcoming training environment. We’ve been able to get feedback on the act we’re working on, and that’s a really important part of the process – having constructive audience feedback in a safe environment while creating new work.

Kelsa: Thank you for welcoming us. This is a fantastic place to work and train.

SANCA: What can audiences expect from your new act, “The Smiths?”

Scotty: A show equal parts comedy and mentalism leading to an unexpected and inexplicable moment of truth.

SANCA: How does it relate to the show theme – The Circus Animal?

Scotty: There’s been some interesting research recently about telepathy in animals, examining the potentiality of animal telepathy, or really, methods of nonverbal, nontraditional communication that we are only just starting to understand.

Kelsa: We’ll be representing that most unusual of animals: The Human Animal.

SANCA: Is there anything else you can tell us about the act?

Scotty: We’re liars, cheats, and frauds, and by the end of the show, you’ll wonder if we’re even telling the truth about that. You be the judge!

Scotty Walsh and Kelsa Dine will appear as “The Smiths” for two weekends, Fridays through Sundays in SANCA’s Staff Show – The Circus Animal: A Nature Documentary, August 21-23 and 28-30.

They will also appear at the family friendly August Vaudeville Revue at Kenyon Hall on Tuesday, August 25th at 7:30 p.m.
http://www.kenyonhall.org
7904 35th Avenue SW
Seattle, WA 98126

You can visit Scotty at his web page and learn more about mentalism at http://scottywalsh.com.

Meet the Flying Randles

The Flying Randles

The Flying Randles

The Flying Randles are a mother and daughters team of high flyers that includes Merideth, Evelyn (15), and Carolyn (12) Randles.

They first learned about SANCA when they were living in Helena, Montana and a traveling family circus, the Bindlestiffs, came to town and happened to mention a school in Seattle called SANCA. The family moved to Seattle in 2011 and in 2012 they discovered a coupon for SANCA’s School of Flight in the Chinook Book and decided to give it a try.

Mother and daughters all loved the experience, and really enjoyed doing the activity together as a family. They say it’s great to be able to celebrate each other’s successes. It wasn’t long before they were coming to classes every chance they could, and SANCA’s Flying Trapeze Program Directors Paul Peterson and Katie Wagman started referring to them as the Flying Randles, in the longstanding circus tradition of other family fliers.

For all three, flying trapeze has been a great confidence builder and it has inspired them to also take other circus classes, like static trapeze, aerial rope, and trampoline. One of their high points has been being able to participate in SANCA’s flying trapeze shows. Carolyn says, “It helped me overcome my shyness, being able to do something in front of others.”

Carolyn Randles, as Amelia Earhart in the 2015 summer Fly Show, is caught by Tom Hanna.

Carolyn, as Amelia Earhart in the 2015 spring Fly Show,
is caught by Tom Hanna.

Her mother, Merideth, says that she enjoys the practice for the mental and physical focus required. It helps her to relax and not worry about other things in life, while at the same time being a very engaging and stimulating activity.

“Flying trapeze inspired me to also go to the gym – it gave me physical goals so that I would be in better shape to do more in flying trapeze,” says Merideth.

Merideth performs a layout as a butterfly in the 2015 fly show, and is caught by Tom Hanna.

Merideth performs a layout as a butterfly in the spring 2015 fly show, and is caught by Tom Hanna.

Evelyn points out that she was really afraid of heights at first, but her Mom encouraged her to keep trying, and having Paul as a regular coach was also very helpful. He helped Evelyn to figure out how to overcome her fears and do new skills. One big challenge was learning to let go of the fly bar in order to be caught by a catcher. Paul says that Evelyn’s swings on the fly bar were great, but for a long time she was afraid to let go. For his part it was about providing patience and positivity until Evelyn built up the confidence to trust him as her catcher and let go of the bar. Of course, she not only learned to let go and be caught, she’s also recently been certified to fly out-of-lines (without a safety belt) for basic swings.

“Sticking with the trick until you learn it can be challenging, but it’s really important,” says Evelyn. “Flying trapeze is a great sport to commit to and level up in (gain new skills) because you can do it all year round.”

Evelyn Randles practices a stradle whip.

Evelyn practices a straddle whip.

Evelyn and Carolyn have both applied to and will be attending the International School of Paris for the coming school year. They’ll miss SANCA. Fortunately, Paris is the Capital of Circus in Europe, so they’ll have plenty of opportunity to keep up their circus skills. Merideth, meanwhile, plans to get in as much extra time on the trapeze as she can while the girls are in Paris with their Dad.

One of the things that they all like about circus is the style and the color, and the constantly changing experiences. Merideth says, “SANCA is a great place to have fun and grow stronger mentally and physically week after week.”

“It’s easy for anyone to get started and get better at flying trapeze pretty quickly,” says Carolyn. “Come have fun!”

What I did at Camp this summer

My summer at Camp Tanuga

This summer I took a sabbatical from SANCA and my day job of being a Registered Nurse in the ER, and ventured to Michigan and a camp called Camp Tanuga. There I got the opportunity to teach flying trapeze full time, an experience I’ve been longing to have since I started coaching at SANCA a few years ago.

DSC_0083Tanuga is located in northern Michigan, about 40 minutes outside of Traverse City, with the closest town, Kalkaska, about 15 minutes away. For someone that grew up in a big city then moved to the Seattle metropolis four years ago, camp was an adjustment. There’s no supermarket around the corner, no redbox down the road, and Internet service was sometimes a bit shaky. That being said, my summer was full of new and fun experiences not involving technology or stores down the road.

Camp Tanuga was established a little over 60 years ago and still carries on many of the traditions that were started back then. In fact, many of the kids are 2nd or 3rd generation campers. The majority of the campers, who are between 7 and 15 years old, live in or around the Detroit area, although there are also campers from Colorado, Florida, California and other states. Tanuga is also somewhat of a SANCA tradition as a few of the staff members from the fly tent have also worked there in the past, including: Paul Peterson, Chris Johnston and Spencer Stevens.

Every day at camp was an adventure, with the schedule often changing at the last minute. To my type A, gotta have a plan self, this was probably the biggest struggle of the summer. Most days, however, my schedule went something like this:

IMG_10768:30 Breakfast
10:00 Instructional 1 (Flying trapeze)
11:20 Cabin Activity (Flying trapeze)
12:15 Lunch
1:00 Rest hour
2:00 Optional (training time for us or sometimes teaching a class)
3:30 Instructional 2 (Flying trapeze)
4:30 Instructional 3 (Flying trapeze)
6:30 Dinner
7:30 Evening Program

Basically, I was immersed in our three-person trapeze team world most of the day. I loved getting to teach new and returning campers new tricks, see them grow as flyers, and see joy in their eyes every time they caught a new trick. In this way teaching at camp and at SANCA are very similar. Both have individuals who have been flying for quite some time, as well as brand new flyers. It has been incredibly rewarding for me working with both types of students.

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 11.03.56 AMThe other part of camp that I loved was getting to grow as a flyer myself. My cabin was about a 10 second walk to the trapeze (give or take a few seconds). It was a dream to be able to walk out my door and fly every day. This summer I faced a lot of fears that I have has a flyer. I was pushed by the people on my team to go to new heights (so to speak), and believe I grew a lot as a trapeze artist, coach, and person. I even caught my double out of safety lines for the first time, something I hadn’t even fathomed I would do this summer.

Camp Tanuga was an experience. Was everything perfect? No. Did I miss Seattle, my friends and the SANCA community? Absolutely. But, this summer at Camp Tanuga was a summer I will never forget. I got to teach some amazing campers, met some fantastic people, and got to explore beautiful northern Michigan.  I also got to do something that I love every single day – flying trapeze.

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?

Wrong.
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 papercraneyoga.com. Email: papercraneyoga@gmail.com. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific NW magazine staff photographer.