Aerialist Spotlight: Max Torandell’s Journey to Cirque Du Soleil

As a recreational aerialist with a full-time job on land, I’ve always wondered…. What does it take to make it to Cirque du Soleil? What would it be like to throw away expectations of the 9 to 5 professional job and actually run away to the circus? Sitting down to chat with Max Torandell at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, I learned about how one artist found his way from Buenos Aires to the ropes of Cirque Du Soleil.

Max was a teenager in Buenos Aires when he started aerial arts, but it wasn’t his first choice. He wasn’t able to join the ballet or gymnastics school, so circus arts became the next best thing. He never thought he would become a professional. “I was going to school, doing computer science because all of my family was in that business. Then suddenly, I started getting booked for jobs.” He credits this to his natural flexibility; his lines have fooled many into thinking he has a dance background. “Then I never stopped; I left computer science on the side and became a performer.”

After performing successfully in Buenos Aires, Max moved around a lot, from Miami, back to Argentina, to Mexico where he settled for 3 years, then to LA where he performed and taught for Hollywood Aerial Arts. The most notable experience of Max’s pre-Vegas career working in a show called Fibonacci Project with Les 7 Doigts de la Main, a company he describes as one of the best in the world. After connecting with the company, Max would take on one of the most challenging and amazing experiences of his career performing in Fibonacci in Mexico City.

His transition to Vegas began when he was hired to perform with Cher, who according to Max is “one of the most amazing performers that you could wish to perform for.” Another amazing performer who Max worked with during this time was Jen Bricker. (A talented aerial acrobat and speaker who was born with no legs and who discovered at 16 that she was the biological sister of Olympic gold medal gymnast, Dominique Moceanu) They performed together at the Palazzo in Las Vegas.

But like all performers, Max faced some disappointments along the way. Like when he was on tour with Cher, but she got sick and cancelled the last leg, and when he became artistic director of light, but then Light split with Cirque du Soleil. “I was artistic director for 7 months, so I wasn’t up in the air for the longest time in my life. Now I was like, what am I going to do? It’s not that easy to be an artistic director. There are not so many open spots. So I went to train again.” When Cirque called him in for a rope audition, he had a week to put together a rope video on an apparatus he hadn’t touched for years. But it did the trick, and he was cast in his current role as a back-up soloist for Michael Jackson ONE.

Life as an aerialist in Vegas is tough work. In the average day, Max will go to the theater at 3:00pm, spend two hours doing make-up, spend a couple hours warming up, then get into costume. He performs two physically demanding shows a night, and leaves by 11:00pm. Now that times five is a week in the life of a Cirque du Soleil soloist, all the while most likely fighting injuries. Luckily, the performers have a strong support system of circus performers in Las Vegas. “Here there is a huge community of performers, and that’s the amazing part. We all know each other, and a lot of people are like me, coming from another country. In my show, so many different countries represented. We have China, Japan, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Russia, Cuba; it goes on and on, and every show is like that. That is our family.”

At this stage in his career, Max has a resume that includes performing, touring, creating, and teaching at the highest level in the business. Clearly, it’s more than just his nice lines that have brought him this far; it’s his attitude of rejecting complacency, of never taking for granted neither his talent nor the opportunities he is given.

“I think what it takes to be the best is not to think of yourself as the best. If you always think that there is room for improvement, you can be one of the best or be at the top of your game. A lot of people take it for granted. They think they are amazing. They may be, but some of them are not. That’s when you stop growing. I always feel there is always place for improvement and I always love getting feedback. Even when I have a solo with Cirque du Soleil, if I know someone who is an experienced coach that is in town, I try to get ahold of them for a private training. There is always someone better than you or someone who can help you from a different angle…so I think that is what it takes to be on top of the game. Don’t take if for granted and take classes everywhere.”

That’s how one performer made his way to Cirque du Soleil: putting his heart into the pieces he creates, and his sweat into the ones he performs; moving halfway around the world, and then continuing to go where the opportunities present themselves; fighting with injuries, but never stopping in the pursuit of professional growth. Professionals like Max are the leaders of the aerial community at-large, and it’s their gravity-defying athletic and artistic feats that inspire the rest of us. So on behalf of all the after-work aerialists who dream of running away with the circus, thanks for sharing your talent with the world, for passing along your circus knowledge, and for pushing the boundaries of this crazy art form we love.

Be sure to follow Max on Instagram @Maxintheair for great shots like these and the mosaics above. And check out Cirque Du Soleil’s Michael Jackson ONE!

UNCAAGED: Empowering Girls through Circus Arts

In my experience, aerial arts have proven to be a powerful tool in building skills that we benefit from even after our feet hit the ground. Time and time again, I’ve spoken with aerialists who relate to me everything they’ve gained by participating; skills like confidence, fearlessness, and determination. But Circus Arts is empowering in another way. As Coco Nostal’jah explains, “Just being in the circus community, I see what it does for women. No matter where they are in their personal life or in fitness, there is a place for them in circus. When you are doing all of these crazy things, you need support. So it’s a natural thing to form a community, you get really close and form very strong bonds.”

This Minneapolis Aerialist has dedicated herself to bringing aerial arts and the personal and communal benefits it fosters to empower young women in North Minneapolis. Through her youth development program, UNCAAGED (Unifying, Nurturing, Circus and Alternative Arts Girls Enrichment and Development), Coco will “help young girls and women have greater determination, focus and self-esteem by developing their minds, bodies and spirits through scholarship opportunities, UNCAAGED direct services, and the study of circus arts.”

Coco has been planning to open her own youth development center for years. And when she found aerial arts, she paired up her love of circus and her passion for youth development to develop UNCAAGED. “I’ve had a vision to have my own youth center since I was twenty, and it has been morphing and changing as I’ve grown in my interests. It has grown to encompass all of the things that I am interested in, culture, young people, education, and something physical.“ After two years of flying through to the highest-level aerial class at Expertease Fitness, she knew what that something physical would be.

Coco’s already introduced a group of girls at Park Academy to aerial arts. “At Park Academy, I worked with 6 or 7 high school girls during an after school program. It went really well. They were scared, more than I thought they were going to be, to try even the basic things. The elementary and middle school kids were sort of fearless… So it was really interesting to see how high school students are much more aware of the possibilities of danger and risk. They were more cautious. But they really stepped out of their box working with me.” In these initial experiences with high school students, Coco saw how the program can help young women build confidence and overcome fears.

“Circus arts tap into Parts of Your Being You Didn’t Even Realize You Had. This program will do just that for the young girls and women that I work with. “

But UNCAAGED won’t focus exclusively on building circus skills. Coco plans on connecting professionals in the community with the students of the program to help develop career aspirations and connections.

“The overall vision is to go into high schools and work with the young people in the inner city schools, especially north Minneapolis, to help build their skills and connect them with working women in the community that have similar field interests. Then I really want to start my own traveling youth performance troupe with all young, minority women, preferably, as well as young women who come from distressed backgrounds such as victims of sex trafficking, abuse, and battery. I’d also like to start a Somali girls troupe. I hope to travel regionally, then nationally, and eventually, internationally doing performances and workshops. It will be all about Girl Power!”

By adding travel to the program, Coco intends on expanding the horizons of the program participants, as it did for her when she moved abroad. “I know that growing up, I never thought that I would be able to live and work in China for a year. I didn’t think that would be possible with coming from my background. So being able to create that mindset, that it’s very possible, sets everything to a higher standard. With that mindset you can actually have a chance of meeting or exceeding those expectations.”

North Minneapolis is the community where Coco will focus her efforts for many reasons, but most of all, because it is where she calls home. “This is where I live, this is the community that represents me the best and represents where I grew up. Being the type of community that it is with the demographics that it has, it’s the type of community I want to work with. I’m a homeowner here, so this is where I want to start.”

In order to make this vision become a reality for young women, Coco needs our support. Being in the initial stages of her journey, she is looking to secure funding so she can take on the program full-time and obtain the equipment she needs to teach. She is also looking for community partners like schools, youth centers, and recreation centers. Please consider donating to the UNCAAGED Go Fund Me campaign and sharing the cause with your aerial friends.You can also check out the UNCAAGED website and like UNCAAGED on facebook. Help mobilize our community to bring the benefits of aerial arts to empower the young women of North Minneapolis!

 

Atlanta, Georgia: The Space

Constance Palmer, or Echo as she is known on stage, is constantly in the air. As founder of The Space Atlanta, she teaches and performs aerial arts. But when she is not at the studio, she’s jumping off planes as a skydiving instructor. Adrenaline junkie? Perhaps.

Constance started her journey to aerial arts as a ballerina in Germany, and her co-founder had a background in cheerleading. Both had experienced the negativity associated with the judgments of each activity, “There is a lot of judgment there, a lot. You get made to feel really badly about yourself.” For Constance, this judgment extended into the circus community. As she explains, “I found that early on in my aerial career I would train around people and they would make me feel really bad, they were just really judgy people. We decided that we never wanted this to be that kind of place, the place where there is competition. We decided that it would be a safe place for everyone to try what they wanted.”

An experienced skydiving instructor, Constance’s ability to make students feel safe in the studio is in part due to her ability to coach people falling through the sky. As an instructor, she uses psychological theories to help students remember what is most important, to make them feel more comfortable with the scary tasks they are performing, and to keep students motivated throughout the class. She’s brought the best teaching methods from skydiving and applied them at The Space. “I feel like if I can teach someone something in the air with no words in 60 seconds, which is how long a free fall is, I should be able to teach aerial.” I can vouch for that. After taking Constance’s intermediate class, I came away with new insights into old skills and accomplishing something I thought I didn’t have the strength for yet.

She is able to see the potential that her aerial students before they see it themselves. And her advice for us, get out of our heads! “Go watch a 6 year old,” she says, “when you teach adults, they just won’t go for it. And it’s not that they don’t have the strength. If you tell a 6 year old to do a tuck under the trapeze, they just do it. People just aren’t willing to try things in the beginning. Get out of your head and just play! Remember that you are doing it for fun. Especially when things get really hard and brainy, just remember why you are doing this.”

While many instructors veer away from advising students on rigging, Constance takes a different approach. “We wanted to be more proactive about safety and offer safety instruction to other people because the reality is, your students are going to go home and rig. They are going to rig in their house or their yard. They are going to hang from something. So it’s better that you tell them how you can do it safety. I even talk about rigging in my beginner class. I say, by the way, this equipment is rated for however many pounds, so they know they can’t just rig off of something that is rated for 500 lbs because they are smaller than that. We try and instill that really early.” For these reasons, The Space has already hosted three rigging workshops in the year it has been open.

As a traveling aerialist, barging into random studios around the country, sometimes I just feel like an outsider. But each time I’ve been to the Space, I’ve been welcomed with open arms to train at the beautiful studio. Constance has built an attitude of openness, an aerial studio with yoga vibes. And with lots of equipment and 25-foot ceilings, The Space community has space for you and your double star drop!

Follow The Space ATL on Facebook and Twitter or check out the website

Jersey City, NJ: Jivamukti Yoga

Aerial arts can be described in many ways, however, relaxing isn’t a word I generally use. That is, until I went to aerial yoga at Jivamukti Yoga in Jersey City. I left feeling stress free and more balanced both physically and emotionally. Aerialists and non-aerialists alike can find unique benefits that aerial yoga provides that can’t be found in just aerial arts or just ground yoga. This hybrid practice is worth a try.

Sarah Wollschlager, aerial yoga teacher and silks performer, guided me through the class and gave me insights into the benefits of aerial yoga. Sarah has been doing circus since she was a kid, starting at The Circus World Museum in Baraboo WI. Later, she started yoga discovered how she could combine the two things she loved most. “Most of my learning process is from self exploration combining the years of dance, yoga, and circus arts I have learned. I love to play!”

For Sarah, being an aerial yoga teacher just makes sense, “It combines everything I am as a human. Mover. Teacher. Healer. I love helping people attain their dreams or goals. I want them to feel better. If everyone felt better, we could live a much more happy and peaceful world.”

I noticed immediately what the hammock provides when added to a yoga practice. The stretches were deeper and more interesting; I felt muscles I didn’t even know I had. The gentle swing of the hammock was very calming, and it helped me get into a more meditative place for deeper relaxation. And in my opinion, it was way more fun than ground yoga (but I’m totally biased!). Swinging, spinning, and stretching in the beautiful space at Jivamukti with positive vibes coming from all directions was a winning combination for my introduction to aerial yoga. Sarah says there are lifelong bonuses of aerial yoga practice, “I will still be hanging upside down well into my granny years! They say you lengthen your life from aerial yoga and from being able to put your feet above your head for 10 mins a day. I am all about that. Give your heart some love. Let it not have to work so hard to pump the blood, and hang upside down!”

Then there are some benefits to aerial yoga that are specific to aerial acrobats. “Often in aerial practice we do “drills” trying to perfect one move or climb. Sometimes we stay on one side too long and after a while the body gets “crunchy”. That feeling of imbalance on one side.” In aerial yoga, you get a chance to strengthen and lengthen muscles, and find balance in your body. And holding the inversions for a long period of time with the support of the hammock was an amazing stretch for my spine and neck; I think I was even a little taller when I left class.

There are also ways that aerial yoga can help us aerialists calm our ambitious spirits. For Sarah, “Emotionally, there seems to be more peace in the aerial yoga practice vs. the nature of aerial training that can become competitive with one’s self or others around you. They’re just very different environments. I am speaking for myself here not for everyone…in aerial yoga I feel more balanced in my body and mind, more peaceful, and able to be compassionate with myself and others”

I experienced the same phenomenon during class. Practicing aerial yoga was a much more internal experience than other aerial arts. When I am doing silks, I’m thinking about the audiences’ perceptions of my body; but in aerial yoga, the only person’s experience I had to think through was my own. This enabled me to refocus my mind on experiencing every sensation and deepening my physical or emotional experience, without worrying about pointing my toes or having good lines. I can be hard on myself, so it was wonderful experience to let go of the performance and focus on the feelings.

So for the evening, I embraced my inner yogi and let her fly. What do you know; my inner yogi is an aerialist too!

Follow Jivamukti Yoga on twitter and find class info online!

Seattle: Emerald City Trapeze Arts

I have done my fair share of aerial arts, tumbling, and air travel, but never in my life have I felt as close to flying as I did last week at Emerald City Trapeze Arts in Seattle. I was told that I would never forget my first time flying, and that couldn’t be more true.

“I love to fly. I think for me it’s the mix of adrenalin and freedom” said Kari Kirkland, instructor and general manager at Emerald City Trapeze Arts. The flying trapeze is the most dynamic and exciting apparatus I’ve ever tried; it was like I was controlling my own theme park ride. The butterflies in my stomach started flying before I did. Standing up on the platform, I realized that I was higher than I’d ever climbed and I would be swinging more than I’d ever swung. With the instruction of the amazing staff at Emerald City Trapeze Arts, I learned to fly and make my first catch.

Kari’s first time flying was especially memorable. When she made her first catch, she also caught a husband! Her instructor was Gary Kirkland, the founder of Emerald City Trapeze, and one year to the day after taking that first class, Kari and Gary got married at the studio and were featured on TLC’s show 4 Weddings. You can watch Kari’s beautiful aerial entrance, gown and all, in the clip below. The exposure on the show gave the studio national and international coverage and a boost in local interest.

This isn’t the only love story to come from Emerald City Trapeze, “Our studio is very social. Our group, we lovingly call it a circus family. None of us would have met each other if we hadn’t been in this place. A lot of people get married, have babies, become boyfriend girlfriend, or just find really good friends who would never have met if it weren’t for circus, if it wasn’t for this place.” They even have a special date night circus class! I’d take that over dinner and a movie any day.

Today the studio is always full of eager students and passionate instructors. Emerald City Trapeze prides itself on providing outstanding coaching. “I think one thing that sets us apart is the level of instruction that people receive here. We truly pride ourselves on having world-class instruction. And whether that is people who have already done professional circus or well on their way to becoming professionals. That is what we strive for, having people in the space that its their life and there passion, its not just a job.” These world-class instructors teach just about every circus apparatus that exists. Emerald City offers Flying trapeze 7 days a week (on the only indoor rig in Seattle) aerial classes, cyr wheel, tumbling, trampoline, contortion, flexibility, strength and conditioning, hoop, rope, Bunge, chain, pole dancing, and the list goes on.

While I would love to take other classes next time I’m in Seattle, I don’t know if I can resist the temptation to fly even higher. The memory of the adrenaline rushing through my body as I jumped of the platform is already calling me back to the trap. I’ve found my latest addiction and I don’t intend on quitting. Forget legalized marijuana, flying trapeze is what gets me high in Seattle!

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Follow Emerald City Trapeze Arts on Facebook and Twitter!

Check out there website here emeraldcitytrapeze.com

Queen of the Night: The Sexiest Circus Show in NYC

What originally drew me to the show were the circus acts I heard were a part of it. But unlike the family friendly circus shows I’ve seen in the past, this show is sexy and dark. Poles, whips, and knives are mixed in with the performances, as well as touching and interacting with the audience. In this way, Queen of the Night isn’t a show, it’s an experience, and one that that is worth a trip to NYC. The acrobats are incredible and the performances very diverse. We saw lyra, German Wheel, Handstand, tumbling, partner acrobatics, dance, and pole performers. They told the audience the story of a princess and her lovers through their movements.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 4.00.48 PMAs audience members, we were not only viewers but participants in the performance. The moment I got to the bottom of the stairs at the Paramount Hotel, I was taken by the hand and pulled aside for a private dance performance that I watched with my back to the performer by holding part of a broken mirror. There I was told the only rule for the night, saying yes to everything. A total of four times during the evening I was pulled aside for private moments such as this. The show broke down what I knew to be the traditional barriers between the roles of actors and viewers in theater as I’ve seen it. The dancers touched us, talked with us, fed us, until we felt like they knew us and we knew them.

This is an immersive theater experience that you do not want to miss. It’s honestly the coolest show I’ve ever seen. And did I mention the lavish feast you get? So go! You won’t regret it. Just leave the kids and personal space at home 😉

 

 

Photo credit: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Hollywood Aerial Arts: Bringing the Stars to New Heights

What do Heidi Klum, Seth Rogan, the Sultan of Brunei, and the Playboy Bunnies all have in common? They all did Flying trapeze at Hollywood Aerial Arts! Founder of the studio, Ray Pierce, is a go-to man for circus production in Hollywood and has worked with all of these celebrities and more. But Ray himself is a star of the circus world. Magician, rigger, flying trapezes performer, cinematographer, director, stunt man, actor, his resume goes on and on. But it’s not only the culmination of a lifetime in show business that makes Ray successful. He radiates energy and a genuine passion for aerial arts, so much so that a movie, The Trap, was made based on his life, and Channing Tatum played his role.  

The day Ray discovered the Flying Trapeze is one he will never forget. “It was the coolest thing I had ever done. It changed my life. I loved the passion behind it, I loved the way it felt, and I loved the experience and the learning process.” After that first fly, Ray was hooked, eventually building his own rig. When people started asking him to teach he just said, “That’s stupid, nobody is going to want to do flying trapeze!” This was, after all, years before Cirque du Soleil had brought circus arts to the general public. But when Ray took a chance and founded Hollywood Aerial Arts, entertainers jumped at the opportunity to be a part of this creative, performing arts community in Los Angeles.

“So fifteen of twenty years ago, we started. And it was really a place for my fellow entertainers and performers to hang out. Because when you are on the road everyday is stimulating and exciting. Then you come back home and you sit in your room with nothing to do. So I said, I wish I had a place were all of the performers could hang out, be creative, and work out ideas. Forming the studio was a great way to do that. The payback was that they taught and inspired the next generation. So we taught and at the same time we got all of these cool toys to play with. It was amazing.”

Hollywood Aerial Arts grew and got a lot of attention during the process. The LA times did a full article on the school, the news started to do pieces on them, television shows started coming, all the dating shows in the world wanted to have a flying trapeze episode. As Ray explained, “This was way before anything was out. This was the cutting edge of what was to be this market. So it just grew organically. We didn’t advertise; it was just word of mouth. People were saying ‘this is the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life’ and it just started building.”

Besides being the foundation for what is one of the largest aerial communities in the country, Hollywood Aerial Arts is distinct because in addition to teaching, Ray and performers produce and package shows internationally.

“I directed the opening to the Rose Parade with Leann Rimes. I’ve directed and produced shows for theme parks around the world. We produce a huge show for the LA county fair each year; the largest county fair in the world. We don’t have one show, we produce custom events, and one may have 20-30 aerialists and another may have 2. There is no standard. Every show we do we try and breathe life into. We try to think what does this really want to be? It doesn’t matter what we’ve done in the past. All that matters is what it wants to be. And that is our process for creation.”

Ray also has the unique ability to transfer aerial arts to the big screen. Because of this experience in show business, he is able to speak the language needed on set and knows what it takes to put the directors vision on camera. “I know everybody’s role and how to get them what they want. And that is where my value comes in. Someone might be really good as a flyer, or circus guy, but they don’t necessarily know how to get the shot. There are tricks to it. So I know how to create the show so that in the magic of the camera, the director gets what he want which may have nothing to do with reality. And that is how we make it work.”

His talents behind the scenes have led him to build relationships with so many talented performers, among them Chelsea Handler (Watch the hilarious video below shot at Hollywood Aerial Arts!) and Heidi Klum. Ray and Heidi work closely together on many projects for Germany’s Next Top Model as well as various commercials. On working with Heidi, Ray explains, “It was really this magical relationship between Heidi and I, an odd relationship because she really is trusting me with her life. And we’ve worked together for so many years that now when I go on set for the show or commercial, it’s like ‘Ray is here, what are we going to do today? It’s going to be something exciting!’ It’s just a great way to work with all these amazing people and have a very odd intimacy. Because you are literally holding onto them with your life, making them look good and then hopefully vanishing into the background. It’s an amazing process.”

But Ray cares as much about teaching his students as he does international supermodels. “Teaching to me is everything. I love being a coach and not just teaching people but being their biggest supporter. Not just encouraging them, but understanding what it takes to crack the code on each particular individual’s growth.” When asked what he considers to be the best advice for aerialists, Ray sees the comparison between aerial arts and traditional craftsman.

“I was very lucky that I grew up in a time of journeyman. A journeyman is a very specific category of a worker, for example plumbers, bricklayers, carpenter, and welders. I love craftspeople. To be a craftsman is a long laborious process. You learn the reason behind each movement, the stuff you’ll only learn by the people who have mastered their careers, not from somebody who taught a course on how to teach you to lay bricks.”

For Ray, learning aerial arts is the equivalent of mastering a craft. Fully understanding the basics, building strength, and finding a knowledgeable mentor is key to a long healthy career.

“As I’ve always said, as an aerial instructor, its not enough to know how to do something, you have to know every way it can fail. So learn your fundamentals and learn from people that really know it. Allow yourself to learn. So many people just want the cotton candy, they want the desert, the tricks. I get it. I love dessert. But my job is to sneak the protein in so you get nutrition. So that your body is at a level where you are able to do this safely and support yourself. I’m looking at all of those things so I can help you go on to have a real career.”

While Ray may stand out to all of us outside of Hollywood for his work with the rich and famous, it is not the actors he knows or the movies he’s made that make him remarkable, it’s his life’s dedication to sharing this strange and awesome art form with those who are drawn to it, all the while making the aerial world a safer place to take some risks.

Check out Ray on the Chelsea Lately Show!

Be sure to follow Hollywood Aerial Arts on facebook instagram, and twitter!

Louisville Turners Circus

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The view from Turners Circus in Louisville Kentucky isn’t half-bad. In fact, it’s pretty amazing. You can actually see the sunset over the Ohio River from inside the studio. But the beautiful location comes with its own set of obstacles. The gym is literally built on 18-foot stilts to stay above the water during frequent floods. Imagine that…a Circus on stilts! But Cindy and other Turners instructors don’t let Mother Nature stop them. During a flood in March, the water was half-way up the door, cars couldn’t make it up the driveway, Noah would have been building his arc, but the aerialists put on their waders and got in their canoes to paddle their way to the silks. Just weeks before their biggest performance of the year, they did what it took to make the show go on. Their outstanding dedication to practicing their art inspired the hash-tag #CircusStrong.


These #CircusStrong aerialists are part of a circus community that goes back 67 years, making Tuners the oldest circus that I have ever attended. The gym was originally for gymnastics, but when a traveling circus troupe needed a place to set up camp in the winter of 1948, they exchanged circus lessons for the space and the circus arts were in Louisville to stay. Its long history gives it a very classic, three-ring circus atmosphere.

It’s a family affair here at Turners. Since the circus has been in Louisville for so long, parents have grown up in the circus and now bring their own kids, or vice-versa. Aerial silks instructor Cindy was introduced to circus after her kids; “ I came in to get my boys involved. I had no idea that it was something that I would want to do. I just fell in love with the costume and someone said, well, you have to do the act in order to get the costume. So I joined the circus.”

The family orientation of the circus is clear during the yearly circus, there are mother-daughter and mother-son performances (check out those adorable photos below!), as well as many other ways that families get involved. This yearly Circus has grown from 25 to 200 performers in the last 6 years, showing the tremendous growth of interest in circus in the area. Turners is the oldest of the two aerial studios in Kentucky and the only in Louisville, so we can give them all the credit for building the circus community in Kentucky.

For Cindy, her love of circus is because of the tight-knit community that Turner’s has built. “I love the group of people. We all work together and help each other. There is no competition. I feel like we all work at our own limits and accept each other for our limits, but we also push each other through them.” I saw this in action as I watched instructors Cindy and Jordan push each other to learn a drop I had never seen. Even though she now does the craziest of drops, making them look easy, Cindy was once afraid of heights.

Turner’s Circus and Cindy are inspiring examples of the dedication aerialists have to their art. For Cindy, it was worth overcoming her fear of heights. For the aerial instructors of Turners, it was worth facing the floodwaters of the Ohio.

Turners is a family, and being #CircusStrong is in their DNA.

Follow Louisville Turners Circus on Facebook and Twitter

Bahia, Brazil: Circo du Capão

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 Whether by fate of serendipity, while walking along a dirt road in the middle of the Brazilian wilderness, I found a circus. I was in Capão, a small town 700 kilometers outside of Salvador, Brazil. Capão sits on the edge of Chapada Diamontina, a national park they say is the size of Holland. And while I had originally gone there to go trekking in the wilderness, I spent the next two days playing at the circus instead, turning down the opportunity to see one of the tallest waterfall in Brazil. But can you blame me? It was a circus in the middle of the rainforest! I was elated.

 To set the scene, imagine a small, hippy town that thrives on the backpacking ecotourism industry. The town is surrounded by plateaus, rivers, and rainforest. Along the small dirt roads that connect the center to the homes along the edges of the town, there is a large red tent. This is Circo do Capão, the circus I happened upon in the middle of the rainforest. It’s a place that attracts circus enthusiasts from all over the world, a place for learning, teaching, and performing circus arts in a supporting and experimental environment. And sitting on the edge of one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen, this is heaven for anyone who has a passion for nature and circus.

My instructor for the two days was Marcia, a fabulous aerialist from Argentina. We both started aerial with the same instructor in Buenos Aires! What a small aerial world. She was an amazing instructor and taught at lightning speed. I learned more tricks than I ever had in 4 hours. But first, we sat down to chat about the space and it’s philosophy.

Marcia explained, “The idea is for this to be a school; that people who come from all over the world can teach and can train. They can take classes, exchange information, methods, and disciplines. There are very good vibes here, its very familiar, a friendly space where we all are teaching and learning at the same time.” Some of the disciplines I saw in action were acrobatics, handstanding, aerial arts, cyr wheeling (see below), and clowning.

The artists had come to the circus from all over the world. Some of the countries represented were Israel, France, and Argentina to name a few. “There are local people that train and give classes, and there are also people that come to train from other places. I came here because I went to a convention in Sao Paulo and many many people talked to me about this place. So there are people that come because of this circus and there are people that just arrive and fall in love with it then decide to stay.” And stay close they do; artists who train there camp behind the circus, sleeping in one tent and training in another.

The space also has a strong social and environmental consciousness. It warmed my heart to see a class that the circus provides to handicapped youth, something I had never seen before. It was impressive to see the ways in which circus arts can be used to help create new movements for those who may otherwise be limited. The students were having a blast. While Marcia and I were talking, a boy who cannot walk was able to stand up, play, and swing with the support of the sling knot in the silk. Another student was balancing on a ball, and another was learning to juggle, each with personal instructors and huge smiles on their faces.

The caring and generous nature of the director and his wife was really the foundation of the circus in the first place. Paulo and Mary had a circus school in Salvador. Every summer and winter holiday, they would come to Capão  and give free circus clinics to the children there, until one day 16 years ago they decided to make Capão their permanent home. As a result, they have made a home  for traveling circus performers from anywhere.

For Marcia, “Circus provides creative freedom. If you want you can go for it. You can use this tool to express yourself. To grow spiritually on some level if you are interested in that process.” This circus in the jungle is the place to embark on that journey. I can imagine a day when I go back to stay. I will hike and take in the breathtaking nature, train in a community of likeminded artists, and perform for the locals and tourists alike. What a wonderful day that will be.



Circo du Capao’s Website