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

Circus school offers competition-free alternative athleticism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reach writer Emily Muirhead at Twitter: @e_muirhead

Original story here:

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

“Circus festival marks SANCA’s 10th anniversary”

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

By Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times arts writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Upchurch:

SANCA’s Summer Circus Festival opens August 15th

SANCA’s Summer Circus Festival opens August 15th

by Maia LeDoux last modified Sep 04, 2014 10:44 PM


Join us for our first Summer Circus Festival, August 15-24, 2014, including the SANCA Staff Show, “Everyday Miracles” and SANCA Goes Late Nite Variety Shows, curated and directed by David Crellin aka Armitage Shanks.

SANCA’s staff show, “Everyday Miracles”, transforms everyday actions through the beauty of circus, elevating the mundane into the marvelous. Circus artists are superheroes performing these little miracles every day, affecting other people, spreading mystery and joy.

Audiences will be treated to the beauty and athleticism of contemporary circus arts. Festival performers include: Tanya Brno, Kari Hunter, Acrobatic Conundrum, Adrienne Jack-Sands, Oliver Parkinson, Armitage Shanks, IMPulse Circus Collective , Sara Sparrow, Vivian Tam, Jill Marissa, Scotty Walsh, Lara Paxton, Mick Holsbeke and many more talented artists.

STAFF SHOW Everyday Miracles
August 15th – 17th with Acrobatic Conundrum
Friday 8pm, Sat. 8pm, Sat.y 10:30pm, Sun. 6pm

August 22st – 24th with IMPulse Circus Collective
Friday 8pm, Sat. 8pm, Sat.y 10:30pm, Sun. 6pm
WHERE: SANCA 674 South Orcas St. Seattle, WA 98108

SANCA goes Late Nite, an evening of raucous thrills with live music & special guests, including: Vivian Tam, Adra Boo, Duo Finelli, Marta Brown, Esther deMonteflores-Webner/Laura Burch, Bridget Gunning, Tanya Brno, Professor Scotty Walsh, Jenny Penny, Caela Bailey, Nash Fung, Florial, with music by Bucharest Drinking Team on August 15th and by Chaotic Noise Brigade on August 22nd.

WHEN: Friday 10:30pm, August 15th & August 22nd
WHERE: SANCA, 674 South Orcas St., Seattle, WA 98108

SANCA Summer Circus Festival is August 15th – 24th, 2014.

SPONSORS These shows are supported by grants from 4Culture and the Office of Arts & Culture | Seattle.

Beyond Intro to Aerials

If you’ve been to SANCA you’ve probably seen people climbing the rope and working on the trapeze. Looks easy when other people do it, don’t you think?

I’m going to tell you a secret and introduce you to some amazing women. The secret is that aerial work is hard. Almost everything hurts at first, and all the skills take practice and conditioning—especially if you get started as an adult without a background in gymnastics or rock climbing. Does that mean you can’t do it? Or that you shouldn’t do it? Dare you try? Of course you should! It’s fun, challenging and exciting. You can take your strength, flexibility and courage to new heights.

I want to you to meet the women of the daytime aerial class “Beyond Intro to Aerial”. These fit babes have all been in the aerial program for at least a year, and most of them have been working on the foundation skills of the Intro program for almost two. Not one of them could do a pull-up or straddle in the air when they got started.

“My brain would say pull-up. And I wouldn’t even move.” ~ Erin H.

Now Erin’s rocking pull-ups. On the first day of aerial class everyone learns the basics of how to climb. Does that mean we all climb to the top the first day? Nope. We learn the basic leg wrap to hold our bodies in the air and then we begin.

“You have to be excited about the little things. The first week I could do two climbs. The next week it was four!” ~Rachel D.

Now Rachel is doing two climbs all the way to the top of the rope as a warm-up activity. When she first started the class, Erin G. couldn’t hold her feet off the ground. At SANCAthon 2012, she climbed the rope 10 times in an hour to help raise money for our scholarship program, no sweat—and she could have kept going. Jenn says, ” I couldn’t do a straddle on the ground rolling back to touch my toes on the mat.” Now she’s doing straddles in the air.  Serenity joined the class in 2011. The biggest adjustment for her was getting used to hanging upside down. She loves the company of the other ladies and brags about all the awesome chicks from aerials. There is a lot of camaraderie in the group as everyone cheers each other along and enjoys each other’s successes.

“The turtle wins the race!” ~Lauren M

Aerials helped Lauren quit smoking and start a general lifestyle overhaul that includes running and multiple days of aerial training each week. She also got the surprise side benefit of added flexibility and is doing splits for the first time in her life.

Congratulations ladies!
Thanks for reminding us all that it’s never too soon or late to get started. There is always more to learn and you can always get stronger.

Beauty Blog: Hands

Want paws of steel that don’t crack or peel? This SANCA Beauty Blog will take you in for an extreme close-up on the digits of some of your favorite Aerialists.

Do you or someone you love adore aerials?! If so, you’ve probably noticed thick calluses and dryer skin. Want paws of steel that don’t crack or peel? This SANCA Beauty Blog will take you in for an extreme close-up on the digits of some of your favorite Aerialists.

Consider yourself among the privileged few that will get a peek at the proverbial ballerina’s feet. 

All that chalk keeps your hands dry when you work on the bars—but it also makes your hands dry in general. You don’t want them to be slippery on equipment, but you also don’t want hands like work gloves with calluses that crack or peel. What is a budding aerialist to do? Here is some advice from aerialists around SANCA.

Aerials coach and veteran aerial performer “Sally Pepper” (AKA Kari J. Hunter) prescribes, “Wash, lotion and use coconut oil. Before you train, wash your hands well and then wipe with rubbing alcohol on a clean towel. This will ensure that your hands are very clean and oil-free. Moisturize anytime your hands feel dry.”

Globe-trotting trapezist and SANCA coach alum Rachel Nehmer, the flyer of Duo Madrona fame, says, “Supple calluses are the key to long term hand health”, and uses moisturizer before bed. As the flyer in a duo she rarely touches the bar, but she has some mega-special muscles between her thumb and pointer finger. 

Ben, the base of Duo Madrona, has his own beauty regime: “After a hard day of training, hold a cold beverage in each hand.”

Tom Hanna, SANCA coach and resident one-man variety show (really, he plays guitar and accordion too—and you should see how he opens an apple!), has this advice: “Pumice your hands after the shower, it smooths the calluses without taking them off. It keeps them from tearing.”

Aerialist & flying trapeze coach Alyssa Hellrung recommends, “Never underestimate the magical power of rosin. No moisturizer for me, as the climate here in Seattle is very good for hands. But in Florida and humid climates the skin on my hands would rip often. I just deal with it.”

Thomas and Justin, who perform as Duo XY, shared with us some special flyer and base calluses they have from their hand grip. They advise to moisturize at night before bed. Thomas is sporting a sweet vacation mani/pedi, and Justin got a moisturizing paraffin wax dip while on vacation. It helped for a little while.

And finally, new aerialist Naami says…”Suck it up.” (It hurts for a while.) “When it gets so bad you can’t grip….stop.”

So there you have it:
Keep your hands clean and moisturize them.
If you have raised calluses then you should file or shave them flat.
Make sure you don’t have oil on your hands when you are training.
And you kind of have to suck it up.

Bellevue Girl Finds Success in Circus Skills

Saffi Watson brings oohs and ahs from the audience
— Image Credit: Courtesy Photo, Teatro ZinZanni
posted Sep 28, 2013 at 2:20 PM

By Gabrielle Nomura
Special to the Bellevue Reporter
For the majority of 12-year olds, extracurricular activities are all about self-improvement: mastering the art of shooting a ball through a basket, speaking a new language or mastering a dance move.
Saffi Watson, a Tillicum Middle School sixth grader and Bellevue resident, knows all about practice.
The talented contortionist and gymnast can hold her limbs in an ever-moving sculpture, like a living work of origami art. Saffi’s hands know the floor well; she’s used to resting her entire body weight on them in a variety of poses. In these handstands, her ballerina-like feet hover high above her head. With a smile on her face, she radiates warmth and poise during her performances.
Saffi has performed on a hoop suspended from the ceiling and been shot out of a cannon, just to name a few acts.
She’s also extremely practiced in the art of making audience members “ooh and ahh,” having taken this talent to the stages of Teatro ZinZanni, Moisture Festival and Cirque Dreams Illumination.
During a run of a ZinZanni family show, “In Tents” two years ago, Watson, only 10 at the time, left audience members waiting with baited breath.
As childlike music plucked like the metal heart of a jewelry box, Watson moved slowly and deliberately. Smiling serenely, she blew kisses, clutching a teddy bear.
Suddenly, her head began to fall backward. As if a magnet was connected to her pigtails and her tailbone, she arched backward, discovering the space behind her ankles. Planting her palms to the floor, the girl’s supple torso bent generously. With her entire body in an “O” shape for just a moment, Watson suddenly released her legs, which gracefully launched out behind her onto the ground, like “the worm” dance move.
Circus arts are a healthy and positive activity for all young people, even if they aren’t born with exceptional flexibility like Watson.
Unlike gymnastics or ballet, there’s less of an emphasis on competition or being the best. Here, it’s about affirmation and teaching kids a wide variety of skills. They can use these as performing artists, or simply to increase their self-esteem said Erica Rubinstein, a coach of Watson’s who teaches at Seattle’s School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts (SANCA).
“Every skill, every body type has a place and is valued,” Rubinstein said.
This appealed to Saffi’s parents, a singer and pianist who are both performers themselves.
Clifford Watson just hopes his daughter grows up to be healthy and happy.
“We signed her up for gymnastics because we noticed she would jump off the sofa and do crazy things,” he said. “With a kid like that, you can either get them to stop, or you can help them harness and use that talent.”
To learn more about classes in the circus arts for all ages, go to
Gabrielle Nomura is a former staff writer with the Bellevue Reporter. She lives in Seattle.

The girl on the flying trapeze

This blog post is a post from Dawn Parsons’ personal blog. Dawn’s daughter, Lucy, had a stroke as an infant leaving her with hemiparesis, a weakness in one side of her body

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The girl on the flying trapeze

Lucy has been attending SANCA (School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts) for one year. We first went there on a field trip while she was doing her constraint therapy camp last summer. She started working with Jo every Saturday for one hour and the progress that we have seen is amazing.

Lucy does everything from tight wire, trampoline, rolling globe to trapeze.  This past week she attended a summer camp for a week, 3 hours a day. On the fourth day the kids were told they would get to take a flight on the flying trapeze.

Now, the only trapeze Lucy has been on is 5ft off the ground..this would be the real deal!!

So, they harnessed her up, and she climbed the 30ft+ ladder without a moment of hesitation (I was a little freaked out as is obvious by the video 🙂

Lucy’s biggest concern was that she would not be able to hold on very long, as her weakend left side would cause her grip to slip.  When she first started doing trapeze she could only hold her left hand grip for no more than 3 seconds or so…as you can see in this video..she has come SO far in her strength.

This little peanut amazes me everyday with her attitude and determination!

all the kiddos doing a little warm up

Lucy blog post: warming up

there she is …first on the list!
Lucy blog post: list of names

making her way to the top!
Lucy blog post: climbing the ladder
Lucy blog post: flying
The smile right before this picture was the biggest I had ever seen!
Lucy blog post: in the net
She might not be willing to do this every week but she has done it once, and that’s more than I can say for myself 🙂

Circus Camp: Stella’s Story

SANCA’s circus camps come with two options, half days or full days. It was 6 year-old Stella‘s first time at circus camp, soshe signed up just for half days of camp for the week to see how she liked it. She arrived bright and early, and Stella and her fellow campers met their coaches Zach and Molly. All morning long campers got to explore many of the fun activities at SANCA: trampoline, tight wire walking, rolling globe, juggling with other campers, even acrobatics and aerial rope. At the end of camp Stella‘s grandmother arrived at Noon to take her home. “Grandma!” exclaimed Stella. “You’re here too early! We’re still playing!”Stella was smitten with circus. She signed up for full-day camps from then on, which means she got to spend more time doing all the fun activities in the SANCA gym. Best of all, Stella got to spend more time doing her new favorite circus thing- flying trapeze! She seems to have a talent for it, and she sure has a lot of fun doing it. She did great when her family came to watch her swing, and everyone cheered when she flipped into the net at the end.

Stella‘s enthusiasm and circus success are a fun inspiration. Thanks, Stella!