Circus in the Pandemic

By Daisy Coleman

During the pandemic, we all experienced a radical change. Whether it was a newfound love for online shopping, devotion to cooking, or even, some new form of circus! I personally took up handstands because I was spending so much time surrounded by walls I might as well use them for something! Here are some experiences my fellow Hup Squaders and AYCO Staff had while they were stuck at home.

Lyra Gross

Lyra went from training circus 3-4 times a week to training almost everyday after the pandemic hit. She feels that circus was a huge help during the pandemic, because she was able to practice more often, as well as work on her solo pieces. She says that circus was great at keeping her busy when she was spending so much time at home. Lyra also discovered a new studio to train at – Le Petit Cirque – and she explains that this gave her many opportunities that she might not have found. 

Olivia Egerstedt

Olivia trained about the same amount before and during the pandemic – around ten hours a week! She feels that circus was a way for her to regulate her emotions and get away from an “uhealthy mindset.” She was able to grow and learn about herself while in the midst of a very different experience. She feels that she was able to stay positive throughout the pandemic because of this. In addition, Olivia was able to find the time during quarantine to get her teaching certification, and is now able to teach circus!

Annika Egerstedt

Annika trained 6 hours a week before the pandemic, but during and after it hit, she trained about 10 hours. She feels that her experience in quarantine during the beginning of the pandemic made her more independent and gave her a chance to focus on flexibility and ground skills. She was also find ways to be creative with circus, like performing at home for other families. She did about 20 shows in only a few months!

Emily Fulton

Before the pandemic began, Emily trained about 12-15 hours a week, or five days on average. After it began, she was training about 6 hours a week, but worked up to get back into routine, switching up by taking virtual classes as well as pilates training. Emily was able to use the time during the pandemic to train skills and find focus in circus when the outside world felt a little overwhelming. She had the opportunity to be the Festival Assistant for the “Circus International Film Festival,” which is an online festival hosted by Emily, Marisa Diamond, an AYCO board member, and Jonathan Meehan, a Cirque Du Soleil artist who tours with Alegria. In working at CIFF, Emily was able to host interviews with circus professionals, and she got to work behind the scenes and experience fantastic circus films! She feels that this opportunity helped her forge new connections with circus professionals that she might not have otherwise known.

Jocelyn Bridges

Jocelyn began training 8 hours a week before the pandemic, but during most of quarantine, she began to increase her training, and currently does about 12-13 hours a week. For Jocelyn, circus was a big help through the pandemic, as it gave her a creative space during quarantine, and she was able to channel her boredom into something unique. Specifically, during the pandemic, Jocelyn took many virtual circus classes, and she feels that that was a great way to find her love for circus.

Marah Cole

Marah trained about 2-3 hours a week before the pandemic, and after it began, she started training about 3 times a week, or an average of six hours. Marah feels that circus was a great way to stabilize her routine through a period of inconsistency, and by the end of the pandemic’s quarantine she joined her studio’s acrobatics team, increasing the amount of time she trained. She feels that doing both acrobatics and circus are a great way to feel better and keep her healthy at the same time! Marah improved greatly in her basic skills at home, and feels that this was a very interesting observation, because she would not have realized if she was not stuck focusing on the smaller details.

Daisy Coleman (Me!)

Before the pandemic, I trained on average 6-7 hours a week, but now I train about 12-15 hours. During quarantine, I focused a lot on ground skills and conditioning, and I was able to consistently juggle three rings, a skill I did not have before the pandemic! I also really came to appreciate circus, because it gave me a way to be active when I sat on zoom all day, and I came to realize that I wanted to continue training. I found a love for trampoline! I also got to train in my studio’s (Aloft Circus Arts) “Jolt” program, a circus intensive that ended with a performance of our solo acts. During Jolt, I trained about three hours a day, five days a week. This was a great opportunity for me because I had the chance to train with adults, and I loved that experience.

Audrey Spinazola 

Before the pandemic, Audrey (one of Hup Squad’s excellent directors!) trained about 5 hours a week, and by the end had increased it to 10, being able to train at home. Audrey feels that circus during the pandemic was both a help and that there was “a feeling of loss,” as well. Having the chance to train in a new way (over Zoom) and work with old friends was great, but it was also challenging for her to not be able to collaborate with others in person, or to be able to move around quite as much. Audrey did also have the opportunity to work as a creator and audience member of performances online, a new and exciting (if not a little challenging) adventure. Audrey also had the chance to make a stop motion trapeze routine video  that she says would not have been thought of if not for the pandemic. (you can watch it here! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQ4B0ZfYPg8)

Ashley Robinson

Ashley, Director of Communications for AYCO, trained seven days a week both before and during the pandemic. She feels that circus was in fact a huge help, and a chance to see how people got creative with their training at home, using their resources. She was also able to read more about the body and become educated on circus even more in depth! She also got to give back to the community by hosting an online training program for free, creating workouts everyday and sharing them for anyone to participate. Ashley says that this was a great way to stay connected and to lift each other up!

Marisa Diamond

By Annika Egerstedt

Marisa Diamond is an active board member for AYCO as well as co-founder of the Diamond Family Circus and created and directed the first International Circus Film Festival. Marisa began her circus journey at the age of 6 having done gymnastics 3 years prior. After seeing a Circus Smirkus tour show and taking a session with Tito Gaona through her Girl Scout troop, she fell in love with the circus. 

The aspects of freedom and how open the community is drew her to the sport. She states “The idea that everyone can find their place in the circus is so beautiful to me. I always tell my students that, whatever they are interested in or naturally talented at will have a place in the circus.” Marisa shares her love of the circus with her students through the Diamond Family Circus.

The Diamond Family Circus is a company offering weekly online circus arts classes, lessons, and events for youth and adults. They bring circus instruction and performance to the Boston area, as well as nationally and internationally. Marisa is cofounder of the circus which includes a youth troupe to inspire a new generation of performers.

The International Circus Film Festival started in 2021 during the pandemic and was meant to be an outlet for creative expression. Marisa considers the Film Festival to be her greatest accomplishment “There are already music video film festivals, dance film festivals, even rock climbing film festivals, but circus films were still left to try to fit into an existing category that wasn’t quite right.” The Film Festival is also a great place for performers and filmmakers to connect with each other and a way to bring our community closer.

Marisa would give the advice to “Speak up and speak loud (with actions or words). Reach out to your idols and role models; more often than not, they are just waiting for you to ask, and they would love to help you grow.”

Checking Your Aerial Fabric Rigging 

By Olivia Egerstedt

Note: Aerial rigging should only ever be done by a qualified, trained, and experienced professional. This article is only for educational purposes and to inform about the basics of checking rigging, and is NOT everything that is needed for safe rigging. If you want to learn more about the dangers of rigging as a beginner I encourage you to check out this article: 10 Good Reasons Why New Aerialists Should Think Carefully Before Rigging 

Safe rigging is essential to ensure aerialists stay safe in the air. While rigging should be done only by someone trained in rigging, it’s important for all aerialists to understand their equipment, basic rigging, and how often equipment should be checked and inspected. 

Basic rigging should be checked monthly and full rig inspections should be done by a professional. 

Carabiners:

There are many types of carabiners. The two most common are auto-lock gate, which twists shut automatically when closed, and screw gate, which must be screwed down in order to prevent them from opening on their own. Carabiners with screw gates must be flipped so the gate locks downward, so they don’t become unscrewed for gravity. An easy way to remember this is by using the expression “screw down, so you don’t screw up!” Carabiners with auto-locking gates won’t open when the gate opens upward, but it can be useful to orient them the same way as screw-gate carabiners for consistency and easy visual inspection if both kinds are being used.

Some carabiners have a wider side and a thinner one. The wider side often will be the side that should be facing down and should be connected to the thicker part of the rigging, for example, if you are rigging to a span set or eye on a trapeze, rope, etc. 

You should also avoid tri-loading your carabiners. Tri-loading is where you have three forces pulling the rigging in different directions (including the top). Tri-loading can happen with a double-point Lyra or straps. To avoid tri-loading, you should use a bear claw or separator. 

Swivels:

Swivels are the weakest part of a rig and are the most likely to fail. This can be hard to test but there are ways to tell when a swivel is about to give out. The most common sign of a swivel failing is a clicking sound when spinning. You can also feel the swivel sticking and having a harder time rotating. If you find that the swivel is acting differently, retire and replace it IMMEDIATELY. 

Swivel

All Metal Equipment:

Carabiners, figure 8s, and swivels can be made of different materials, the most common are steel and aluminum. Aluminum is a softer and lighter metal than steel and when these two are linked to each other in rigging, wear can happen quicker than it would if you only used one type of metal (such as all aluminum or all steel.) Whatever metals you have, the configuration needs to be checked monthly for wear and erosion. You can check this by using a Caliper micrometer, which you can get at your nearest hardware store. When a carabiner, figure 8, or swivel has reached 10% wear (meaning 10% of the width of the equipment has worn off), it is time to retire and replace that equipment.

Figure 8

Fabric:

You should be checking your fabric regularly for rips or tears and if it’s in the sun, watch for sun damage that could weaken the strength of your fabric. There are two directions rips could be, horizontal (side to side) and vertical (up and down). Horizontal tears are much more concerning than vertical because as they spread they start cutting off the bottom of the silks. If you find a horizontal rip, you should replace those silks or cut above the tear and turn them into shorter silks or a hammock. Vertical tears aren’t as dangerous and should be monitored to make sure they aren’t getting bigger. You can do this by drawing a circle around the hole and if the rip stays inside the circle it’s ok, but if it begins to spread you need to replace your fabric. Either way, if a tear is more than an inch or two, the equipment should be taken down and retired.

You can prevent holes in your fabrics by not wearing zippers, sequins, jewelry, or anything else that could catch, poke through, or tear the equipment. 

You should also check and make sure you can always see the ears on your figure 8 and that the fabric is not covering them. Otherwise, the fabric can stretch out and rip.

Equipment wears and shifts with time and use. If you feel uncertain about the rigging or if anything looks unusual or strange, ask questions and stay off the equipment until it’s checked.

Working Through Obstacles with Circus 

by Marah Cole

Hi, my name is Marah. I’m a 14 year old acrobat from New York and I am legally blind. When I was 3 years old, my parents realized that I could read things up close but not far away. After taking me to a doctor they learned that my vision was severely impaired and that I would need to wear very thick glasses to see. When I was 10 years old I started wearing contacts. Wearing contacts or glasses helps my vision as much as possible, but it is still significantly worse than normal. This makes everyday things like school work, texting, and sports much more challenging. Even something as simple as recognizing a friend waving from down the hall is a struggle. These difficulties come with a lot of frustration and disappointment, that I can’t always do the things that other people around me are able to do. For a while I thought that my vision would interfere with my ability to enjoy participating in physical activities. Since becoming an acrobat, I’ve realized that that doesn’t have to be the case. 

Joining an acro studio and making the team has instilled me with a sense of pride and purpose that I never could have anticipated. When I began, I thought that I had found a hobby where I could do all sorts of cool things. Instead, I was discovering a world that would become a part of my identity. I am an acrobat. The more I trained and honed my skills, the more proud I became. I began feeling strong and capable. I felt in control of my progress. I didn’t feel disabled. As my confidence grew, I realized that I didn’t have to always live in a world of disappointment that I couldn’t see or do things the way most other people can. As long as I put in the work, I could excel. Everyone has their own challenges. We all just need to find our own ways to shine. I owe a lot of my experience to my amazing coaches, Maria Pucciarelli and Justin Oppa. Their hard work motivates us to keep raising the bar and remain committed to our craft and our team. I am so happy that I discovered acrobatics. It has changed my perspective on so many things. 

I hope that my experience can help to inspire anyone else who is struggling. It doesn’t matter what your obstacle is. If you find something that you can love and dedicate yourself to, it can completely change the way you see things; even if your obstacle is your eyes.

Just Get Creative: An Interview of the Professional Juggler Jay Gilligan

Interview conducted by Lyra Gross

Photo Credit: reflexshow.com

“You don’t need the craziest tricks to make something successful, but you do need an idea”

– Jay Gilligan

Jay Gilligan is a professional juggler who just wrapped the New York City World Premiere of his show REFLEX: Unraveling 4,000 Years of Juggling. A juggler for 35 years, his show demonstrates how juggling can be more than just throwing and catching objects. His unique juggling style is incredibly impressive and quite beautiful. I was honored to interview him, and hopefully his words will inspire fellow jugglers to embrace their own performing style. Here’s what he had to say… (Some of these answers are paraphrased for clarity)

  1. What inspired you to be a juggler?

It started when I was in kindergarten. I went to school with the world’s youngest unicycler. We would all go to recess and she would ride her unicycle and I thought it looked really fun. When I was 8 years old I learned to ride one myself. When you ride a unicycle, it’s not a bicycle. There’s no handlebars so you have to do something with your hands.  That’s what led me to learn how to juggle! I was mainly a unicyclist until I was in my mid teenage years. And the thing was back when I was riding unicycles and maybe still today a bit the amount of unicycle tricks you can learn was very limited, versus the amount of juggling tricks. Plus you can learn a new juggling trick and not break your arm. With juggling the tricks are almost infinite.

  1. How long have you been juggling?

I would say around 35 years.

  1. How do you stay consistent? How do you keep from dropping your juggling props on stage?

I think for me it’s a mental game. If it’s something you know you can do, then there’s something mentally that you have to overcome. When I was growing up and just started performing I learned to say to myself:  “I did this 20 times in practice today. I might as well just do it one more time. It just so happens that the 21st time is in front of an audience.” It’s not that you can’t do the trick, it’s something about you thinking you can’t do the trick on stage. You have to have some sort of mental confidence. You have to believe in yourself, and trust yourself and your skills. There’s also a clever way to construct an act. You might not start with your hardest trick. You can construct an act so you almost naturally warm up as you go. If you start off doing tricks that are a bit easier, you can get your eyes used to the lights, and you can get used to the audience, so by the time some of your hard tricks come up you’re already warmed up. 

  1. What is the weirdest object you have juggled?

I like to juggle everything, but there comes that point of juggling where you juggle bowling balls or knives or torches or chainsaws or whatever, and when you’re presenting that to the audience, it’s really about the skill. It’s about “I can do this and you can’t, and I feel like you should be impressed with the skill.  You should be impressed with how difficult it is.” I was never really interested in that. I juggled more like it was a dance, or something, where it’s about the aesthetic or the composition. So as a kid I juggled knives and torches, but then when I got older I stopped doing those things. I used the more traditional props like balls and clubs. Lately, in the past 10 years, I’ve started to get into things like balloons, strings and feathers. So there’s probably some really strange things that I’ve juggled but just not in the traditional sense of it being hard or dangerous, and more artistic. An example would be juggling paper airplanes. When you juggle paper airplanes it’s definitely not about people thinking “Oh look, he’s so good, he’s juggling paper airplanes. That must be so hard.” It’s more like “Whoa, that’s a surprising image,” or “I never had that thought and that’s so cool how that works.” 

  1. Have you done juggling acts with a circus before? Do you prefer making your own acts or being with a troupe?

I’ve worked for Cirque du Soleil, The Seven Fingers, and when I was young I did traditional circus with a troupe. When you’re with the circus, you do your 5-6 minute act, or maybe I’d have two acts cause I did unicycle and juggling, and there’s something weird about doing an act versus doing a whole show. You have five minutes and you don’t have any chance to have the audience go on a journey with you. It has to be perfect when you go out and do it, and on one side, it’s super fun. You just go out and do this really great thing and everybody is super excited. But having an hour-long show is so much nicer for me because you don’t have to worry as much. If something goes wrong, you have a chance to fix it over the course of a long period of time. So in that case, a long show, even though it’s more exhausting, is more enjoyable. Also, in a 5 minute act it’s more about the skill and the traditional way of presenting technique, while in a show, you could go somewhere different, or somewhere deeper. I don’t see one as better or worse, they’re both fun, but with a show you can take the audience and make them think about things in a different way. 

  1. Is creating your own act hard? If so, what do you do to get through it?

As circus artists we have a weird relationship to our technique versus an act. Let’s say you’re going to juggle seven balls for the first time in your life. You pick up seven balls and throw them in the air and you don’t expect yourself to catch them the right way. Lots of times when we make an act, we have this weird relationship with it where we think it has to be perfect. I really think creating your own act is the same as learning a new skill. You just have to not stress about it. For example, you can take those seven balls and stress about it, and then try to throw them, but that’s not going to help you. You still have to go through the learning process. And it’s the same thing when you make an act. Everybody stresses and thinks “Oh I gotta make this act and it’s gotta be perfect” when really you just have to make an act. At first it’s gonna be bad, but make it as fast as you can. Then it exists, and you go “ok is this the perfect act?” Probably not. But then you start to have a conversation with yourself and figure out what makes that act bad. And that’s when you start making changes. Somebody told me when I was growing up, “You can’t fix something that doesn’t exist,” so it’s better to make an act that’s broken really fast and then start to fix it. The whole act could totally change, but it is such a better process to make something and see it in front of you, then to try to stress about in your head and imagine the absolute perfect act and just do it like magic. 

  1. What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a professional juggler?

You have to love to juggle, and share that with the audience. Even if it’s just through doing a bunch of cool tricks, you still have to love it. Circus, in general, is not really a thing you can cheat on, you can’t really fake it. You really have to love it to stick with it. Early on I separated things into two categories: what you do, and how you do it.  Both are important. One of the best 3 ball juggling routines I ever saw only used four basic juggling patterns: cascade, reverse cascade, column, and shower, for 5 minutes. It was composed so beautifully and really nicely choreographed, and it was very surprising. It helped me realize that you don’t need the craziest tricks to make something successful, but you do need an idea. Don’t get hung up too much on the technique and just get creative.


I was lucky enough to not only interview Jay, but also to watch his show via zoom. His unique juggling style was so advanced, and he could compartmentalize so effectively,  I almost forgot he was juggling.  His performance was a dance. He reminds us that as circus performers there is always a way to develop your own style and transcend what’s been done by others before you.

10 Aerialists I Think You Should Follow 

By Olivia Egerstedt

Instagram is a great place to get inspiration for tricks you want to learn with your aerial coach, performance style ideas, and places you might want to train when you have the opportunity. I want to share some of my favorite aerial Instagram accounts. I chose these circus performers due to their diversity of equipment, advocating of safety, and creative and unique content and skills that I believe set them apart from others you may see online.

  • Dan Saab (@dan_saab) 

Dan Sabb is a Las Vegas-based performer and coach specializing in hammock and lyra. He is known for his dynamic movements and exciting performance style. He creates fun engaging content that is unique to him.

  • Matthew Casey (@flyist.kid.in.town)

Matthew Casey is a lyra, trapeze, straps, and hammock performer and teacher based out of Las Vegas he’s known for his fast spins and dynamic sequences. He uses his platform to show his progress as well as his amazing and fast sequences.

  • Zoë Isadora (@moodystreetcircuskid)

Zoë Isadora is a 3rd generation circus performer based at her family gym in Massachusetts. She is best known for her slow, controlled movements and beautiful lines. She trains, performs, and teaches on silks, straps, lyra, and rope.

  • Aerial physique (@aeralphysique)

Though not a specific person, Aerial Physique is a studio site that advocates for safe practice and good technique. On their Instagram, they demonstrate progressions and skills to promote safety and help teach, as well as feature aerialists from around the world.

  • Camille Swift (@femme_fenix)

Camille Swift is an aerialist based in Chicago and specializing in trapeze and hammock. She is a teacher and performer who focuses on the importance of conditioning and technique. She is best known for her unique acts and interesting sequences.

  • Shannon McKenna (@the_artist_athlete)

Shannon McKenna is a silks performer and coach based in Georgia. She uses her social media to advocate for safe aerial practices. She emphasizes body positivity and the growth of strength within the aerial community. She creates unique and challenging sequences and demonstrates good conditioning and stretching practices that everyone can do.

  • Izzi Kessner (@cirquessner)

Izzi Kessner is a teen performer and instructor based in Los Angeles and specializes in straps, lyra, and rope. They create fun and engaging content and use their platform to help advocate for the rights of young LGBTQ+ individuals. 

  • Sarah Romanowski (@sarahromanowsky)

Sarah Romanowski is a performer and coach as well as a former Cirque du Solie performer. She specializes in silks, lyra, hammock and rope. She is known for her clean lines, beautiful choreography, and great technique. 

  • Audrey (@aerial.audball) 

Audrey is a lyra performer based out of Texas. She is known for her slow controlled movements and interesting unique sequences. She has clean videos that show a diversity of lyra skills.

  • Grace Good (@gracegood)

Grace Good is a self-taught circus performer skilled in many circus skills. She is known for her amazing and unique use of hoops, fire, and ball as well as amazing costumes. She travels, creating unique and fun content and performing in a variety of events. 

Instagram is a great place for inspiration and making connections in the aerial community. But it’s important to know your level of skill and to always train with safety in mind. Check with your trainer before trying new tricks. And if you do get inspiration from a performer you see on Instagram, or train with in real life, it’s always nice to tag and credit them if you post the trick or choreography online. 

30 Minutes of Aerial Warm-up and Stretches

By Daisy Coleman

Do you ever set up your silks or Lyra or circus apparatus, and then realize you have no idea where to begin? If you’re wondering what are the best and easiest ways to warm up, stretch, and condition safely on the ground, here are some suggestions!

5 Warm-Up Exercises (10 minutes):

  1. Mountain Climbers:  In a plank position, bend one knee to the opposite elbow, then straighten the leg and place back on the ground, repeating on the other leg. 20-30 on each side.
  2. Hollow Body Rocks: Lying back flat to the ground, lifting the arms/shoulders and legs off the ground in a hollow boat shape. Use the abs to rock back and forth on the back holding the shape, 10-15 times.
  3. Hip Rotation: Start in a tabletop position, lifting one leg and rotating in circles inwards, (knee moves in towards the stomach without lifting the hip too high) and then outwards, lifting leg out, rotating it behind the back – repeat 4 times both ways, on each side, then keep the leg lifted behind the back, and extend the leg out and then back in 3 times each side.
  4. Shoulder Circles: arms extended out to the sides, hands flexed, small quick circles forward, about 30 seconds, then switch to backward, 30 seconds. Switch to forward and back motions, and then up and down motions, 30 seconds each, finally, switch to circling the shoulders backward and then forward 10 times each.
  5. Superman Arches: Lying on the stomach, lift the legs and arms off the ground at the same time, keeping both the legs and arms straight to arch up. Repeat 1-15 times.

5 Conditioning Exercises (10 minutes):

  1. Squats With a Kick: Standing with the legs slightly farther than hip-distance apart, squat down, stand back up and kick one leg forward, then squat back down again. Repeat again on the other side, and continue 10 squats for each leg.
  2. Back arch – upper and lower body isolation: Like the superman arches, Lie down on the stomach, but lift the chest and arms straight out above head ten times, keeping legs on the ground. Then, switch to legs! Lift the legs straight ten times while keeping the head and chest on the ground.
  3. Straight Leg Lower Downs: Lying on the back, point the legs straight up to the ceiling, keeping them straight. Place hands beside the hips, and slowly lower down the legs, as far as comfortable, keeping them straight. Bring the legs back up, straight, and repeat 10-15 times.
  4. Crunches: Lying on the back with knees bent and feet on the ground, lift the upper body and abs towards the knees. 20-30 times.
  5. Plank Hold Lifting Alternating Arms: In a plank hold on arms, legs separated, lift one arm to tap the opposite shoulder or reach arms straight out, keeping hips and body stable so as not to move. Repeat switching arms, 10 taps on each arm.

5 Stretching Exercises (10 minutes):

  1. Pike Stretch – Flexing and Pointing the Feet: Sit with legs straight out in front, fold over the legs, keeping the back as flat as possible (no rounding). Reach for the feet, and switch between flexing one and pointing the other. Then switch to flexing and pointing both, staying folded over the legs. 30 seconds or so.
  2. Side Stretch: Sit with one leg bent, the other leg pointed straight out to the side in a half straddle. Reach the opposite arm as straight leg up and over to the side, 5 times. Then hold with the arm reaching over the straight leg for 20 seconds. Repeat on each side.
  3. Pancake Stretch: Sit up with both legs in a straddle position, fold forward, arms straight. Keep the back flat and try to stop it from rounding, reach forward as far as possible. Hold for 30-45 seconds.
  4. Hip Stretch:  Sit up straight, stacking one ankle over the opposite knee in a parallel position. If the knee is flat against the ankle, fold forward over the legs to increase the stretch.
  5. Upper Back Stretch: Facing a wall, place hands overhead onto the wall, step feet out, and slide arms and upper body down to feel a stretch in the upper back.

Now you have a few different ways to warm up and stretch, go be strong and flexible!

How to Practice Aerial at Home Safely 

By Annika Egerstedt

During the Covid shutdowns, there has been an influx of home rigs. A home rig seems like a good idea to keep up strength and tricks or even to get some extra practice in between classes. However, if done incorrectly it becomes dangerous real quickly. I have a home rig and through my process of building my aerial space, as well as gaining my teacher certification, I have learned tips about rigging and safety I would like to share with anyone considering getting a home rig. An at-home rig is not right for everyone, and should be done with safety in mind. I am not a professional rigger nor am I claiming to be but I have taken a beginner rigging course through Circus Arts Institute. I would highly recommend taking a rigging training course before getting a rig. Here are some advice I give to my students when they ask about home rigs:

Knowledge: Before getting a rig, I recommend being at an intermediate level on a piece of equipment. At this point the aerialist is fairly familiar with the apparatus, and with their capabilities, and is less likely to do something they aren’t ready for. In addition to knowing aerial, I strongly recommend having at least a base knowledge of rigging. This way the aerialist will know how to check equipment and retire it when needed. All pieces of home equipment should be checked regularly.

Rigging: For any home rigging system, I always recommend using a portable rig, as it is built to withstand the force used during aerial. Portable rigs are specifically designed for aerial use and are a very safe option for a home rig. There is also the option to establish a rig point in a home or building structure. This is by far the more expensive option and leaves room for more potential flaws. The act of building a rig or adding one to a preexisting structure requires a structural engineer to ensure that the structure will be able to withstand certain levels of force, which are many times the weight of the aerialist. Creating a rig in an existing structure also requires a professional rigger to install the actual point. 

Rigging from trees may seem like an accessible way to rig outdoors but even the most sturdy looking trees could be unsafe. It is practically impossible to know the weight limit and strength of a tree and even the smallest amount of force could end in disaster. Sudden Limb Drop Disease is when a perfectly healthy looking tree cuts off the nutrients of a branch and eventually drops that part of the tree. This means that not only is the aerialist falling but in a worst case scenario, a tree branch is coming down with them. It is also unwise to rig from places such as bridges, signs, or any other structure that hasn’t been inspected and approved by a structural engineer. The direction and amount of force placed on a structure during aerial is not what most structures are designed for.

Other Equipment: To practice aerial safely at home, there must be a mat. I am a firm believer of the phrase “better safe than sorry.” A crash pad is the best option of mat for most occasions. I have seen several posts on social media where people use yoga or thin folding mats. This is not a safe alternative when doing aerial. 

The quality of equipment is also essential to a safe aerial rig. There are several different websites that sell quality rigging, my favorite being Aerial Essentials. Make sure to do extensive research about what is best for each specific type of rigging, and ask your studio or trainer where they buy their equipment. Amazon is not a good source for aerial equipment. The Safety in Aerial Arts Facebook group has a lot of information and advice on how to safely do aerial and is a good source for information. 

Finally, there should never be an occasion where someone is performing aerial without someone else present in case of an emergency. This goes for at home rigs as well as studio learning. 

I hope this is helpful to anyone considering at home equipment. Practicing aerial at home is a great way to keep up conditioning but should be done with caution, and only by experienced aerialists. Please consult a trainer before beginning the process of getting a home rig.

Who Is Judy Finelli

A circus legend’s story in quotes by Emily Fulton

When you think of Judy Finelli, what comes to mind? I’m guessing your response was either “Hold up; you didn’t tell me this was a test” or “I have no clue, tell me more.” Those are both completely valid responses, and probably how I would have answered that question just six months ago. Keep reading if you want to learn about this incredible woman. 

You will notice that most of the article consists of quotes from an interview I did with her, with a bit of commentary from myself. I chose to do this because I wanted you to have the opportunity to hear her story in her words, to get a sense of her personality and texture.

As you read, I want you to keep in mind that I can’t capture even a fraction of her story in such a short article. It would be an overestimation to say that I even scratched the surface of all of her accomplishments. Because of that, I will be focusing on what I think you would be most interested in out of the many topics we discussed and thoughts she shared with me in our interview last November.

And now, Judy Finelli. Enjoy!


She Started Young:

“I saw the Beatles and Elvis Presley, but every week they would have some incredible circus acts from the international circus community.”

When Judy was a young girl, she would watch circus shows on television. These shows were her first exposure to circus arts, and she quickly fell in love with the art through the TV screen.

“I understood what the jugglers were doing as I watched them.” As a circus artist, I can say that is a true gift. She was very talented from a young age, despite not receiving a formal circus education. She even self-taught herself how to juggle when she was only six years old. 

“So it was kind of a secret little thing that I did because back in those days, I’m sure it wasn’t proper for a girl to juggle.” Wow, could you imagine having to juggle secretly at six years old? It makes me grateful that the youth circus movement has sprung up to give us a place to showcase our skills!

Theater School:

“In ’66, I went to theater school, and the first day we supposedly learned to juggle, but I could already do it…. And, it was kind of funny because I liked acting, but I was much more taken with the circus.”

Luckily for Judy, her acting program had a circus component, and, as you can imagine, she took to it quite readily. At that school, she met Hovey Burgess, whom she was married to for a time. Together, they traveled and sought to bring their abstract “New Circus Movement” to life.

Discovering an Undiscovered Artform:

“If you cut away all the junk surrounding Ringling Brothers, all the filler and all the spectacles, and just focused on the good acts and even kind of got rid of the animals, there was something there that was basically an undiscovered art form” Judy firmly believed that there was much more to circus than animals and flashy costumes. This belief prompted her to set out with Hovey Burgess to discover that art form, which later became known as the New Circus Movement. The New Circus Movement became what we now call Contemporary Circus. “Hovey was one of the fathers of the new movement, and I played my part.”

International Inspiration:

Judy and Hovey traveled around the world to see how circus was used and performed in other cultures. These travels greatly influenced and inspired them to develop the New Circus Movement back in America.

She specifically spoke about the incredible circus artists of Russia. “They were very wise; they told folktales. They were very inventive with their use of the circus, and it was like being in another world.” She went on to say, “the artistry that we found was something that we wanted for the United States.” 

Another fascinating vignette that she mentioned about her time in Russia is that the circus itself was used as a force for political change. “If there was a government official whose name was Zelenyy (pronounced ze-len-i), which means green in Russian, and they didn’t like him, they painted a pig green and had him run across the ring.” While this action may seem small and indirect, it would have been considered a daring act of protest in the Soviet Union. Keep in mind that when she visited Russia, it was called the Soviet Union, and there was much less freedom of opinion allowed in those days than there is now.

They also “saw the Chinese acrobatic troupe and a Taiwanese troupe early on.”

Starting Off In America:

“In the beginning, it wasn’t so easy.” At first, they struggled to book events in America. Hiring circus artists to perform at events or functions was a very new concept at that time because many people were used to only seeing the circus when it came to town as part of a touring show, and they were surprised that Judy and Hovey wanted money to show their skills. They eventually decided to form a troupe and performed in Central Park, making money by passing the hat. I found this video online of them performing. Check it out; you’re in for a real treat! https://www.vdb.org/collection/browser-artist-list/circo-dellarte-circus-arts

“Nobody had ever seen circus activities up that close before, and the response was quite positive….. It was for adults, for kids, old people. Everybody seemed to like it.” The nature of their performance was up close and personal, a stark contrast from many shows of the time where the audience was far away from the performers.

Branching Out:

Judy had no idea the New Circus Movement would spread so quickly and grow to be large as it is today. “I never could have predicted that in 2021 there would be this tremendous number of youth circuses, circus schools, informal recreational training sessions, people teaching juggling to corporations… using it to help with depression.”

She went on to say, “It kind of kept branching out and branching out… I think it spread very quickly.”

Thoughts on Clowning:

“I think that people underestimate how difficult it is and how rare it is to be truly funny, and when you see it, it’s great.” You may be surprised to learn that it wasn’t common for girls or women to clown back in the day. I mean, how weird is that!? Judy, being the trailblazer she is, hired female clowns anyway. When I asked her if she was concerned that people would steer clear of her show because of the female clowns, she replied in her typical spunky fashion, saying, “I didn’t care.”

The Future Of Circus? Us:

Judy coaches circus to kids now and loves to watch youth perform tricks, saying, “I don’t get tired of that…just kind of watching their discovery.” She thinks it is “beautiful in its way, and it can transform people; you can see them change.”

Her Message to the Youth:

“Just work hard. And trust your instincts even if they might seem to you wild and crazy or who knows what, because you have to break the rules and that’s how innovations happen. By breaking the rules and understanding – maybe for safety you don’t break rules – but for other things, for ideas you might have, try ’em out. When you’re young, try things out because you never know. And really pay attention to the audience, and the audience will tell you a lot; you’ll get a lot of information from them.”

Furthermore, she says that “It’s all great to watch; it’s all been great to watch what’s happening in circus.”


Throughout this entire article, I never brought up that she was the first female president of the International Jugglers’ Association, co-founded the San Francisco School for Circus Arts, was the artistic director of the Pickle Family Circus, performed on Sesame Street, or any of the countless other accomplishments she has had. I didn’t mention that she now has Multiple Sclerosis and had to sit in a special chair with a voice-activated computer throughout the duration of our Zoom interview. This woman casually talked about how she could pass ten clubs only after I asked her specifically about it and was careful to tell me she never performed ten clubs and had only done it in practice. I didn’t mention all of these things in the body of the article because it was clear from my conversation with Judy that they are not what define her. She isn’t one to brag or ask for favors. If I remember one thing about this interview, I will remember how humble she is.

Thank you, Judy. Thank you for your contributions to the art form that has stolen my heart and those of many other youth. Thank you for being one of the kindest, humblest circus artists I know. It isn’t easy to believe that I didn’t even know that you existed just a year ago, and now I have had the honor of interviewing you. 

When I think of Judy Finelli, I think of her charisma, ingenuity, and grit. I think of someone with a great imagination who wasn’t afraid to use it and changed circus forever. She is a person who has significantly contributed to the progression of circus, a true modern legend. Now let’s return to our original question: What thoughts come to mind when you think of Judy Finelli? Let me know in the comments!

Here are some fantastic internet resources where you can learn more about Judy Finelli or Hovey Burgess if you are interested:

http://stilljudy.com/still-judy/

http://historicaljugglingprops.com/judy-finelli/

https://muppet.fandom.com/wiki/Judy_Finelli

https://www.vdb.org/collection/browser-artist-list/circo-dellarte-circus-arts

Ways to Stay Safe on the Internet

By Jocelyn Bridges

We know that the internet can be very beneficial for many things: publicity, getting discovered, making friends/connecting with people, and widening your knowledge. But, what about the downsides? For example, getting publicity from unwanted people, viruses, and other potential dangers are all problematic. Here are 3 ways to protect yourself from these unwanted problems.

1. Password protected – As technology progresses and gets more advanced, so do hackers and scammers. Do not share your passwords with anyone (not even your friends)! Make sure you have hard enough passwords that no one can guess but also not so hard that you will forget them. 

2. Be nice! – Treating people the way you want to be treated isn’t just the Golden Rule, it’s true and important to remember. Annoying, rude, and hateful people have higher chances of getting attacked for their behaviors anyway. If someone is annoying you, just block them! You don’t have to put up with them, engaging in bad behavior just gives them satisfaction. If it does get really bad, make sure to tell a trusted adult or friend.

3. What’s their motive? – All of the social media compliments and love can definitely feel flattering. However, it’s important to ask yourself,  “Do they truly like me and find me impressive, or do they have other intentions?” Having a huge fan base of supportive people who find you and your talents “impressive” is not always ideal. Not all the likes, comments, and follows are from the kind of fans you want to have.

I hope this was helpful and gave you some more ways to be safe on the internet. Good luck as you continue on your circus journey!