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!