What It’s Like To Start Circus Late and Why It Shouldn’t Hold You Back

By Bronyn Mazlo

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Have you ever wanted to try a sport or activity, then thought, “It’s too late. I should have started years ago”? It can be discouraging seeing your peers so advanced and talented. Unfortunately, this mentality causes many people to continue with what they are currently pursuing out of fear of trying something they are not sure they will succeed in.

When I first started circus, I was completely overwhelmed. I had very little dance background, and no gymnastics experience. I didn’t even know the disciplines of circus, only aerial silks and iconic skills like juggling and trapeze. I remember driving to the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts thinking, “Bronyn, what have you gotten yourself into?” I was super nervous, thinking that I was going to be the worst in the class and that I had no idea what I was doing.

Three years later, I still have no idea what I am doing or how this one-time class suddenly became my life. I honestly can’t imagine my life without it, and it’s crazy to think what my life would be like if I didn’t have the courage to announce that I wanted to give aerial silks a try. Starting circus later than most of my peers has had its challenges such as not having a background in either martial arts or gymnastics. I hope my story is an encouragement to someone who is either dealing with the same situation or is contemplating trying a new activity.  

The first feeling I had when I started circus was being so far behind others. Even in a Level 1 Aerials class, I remember talking to some girls who had been in that class for 2 years. At the time, I remembered thinking, “wow, they know all these tricks and they’re younger than me. I don’t know anything yet, and I’m 13. I’m so behind.” It can be really frustrating learning basic skills and tricks while an 8 year old does a masterful drop on fabric in front of you. First you had to gather the courage to try circus, now you have to be discouraged by how skilled everyone is?

I believe it was this feeling that really made me push myself and build the drive and burning fire to keep proving myself. The tough part about starting something later than others is that it always feels like a constant game of catch up. But what I think is important is that it puts in perspective that there will always be someone who is younger, stronger, more flexible, or more talented than you. Even though striving to achieve goals and be the best you can be is important, letting go of perfection is the first step towards self love, which is a huge must-have in the world of entertainment, where rejection is more common than acceptance.

Starting circus later has also made me more of an advocate for myself. It can be hard to come in to a sport, decide you want to pursue it, and make that clear to coaches. It can be hard to make it clear that you are just as committed as someone who started 8 years before you. Even though this is frustrating, i have found that it really makes yourself your best supporter and cheerleader.

Trying a new activity can be nerve wracking. Trying a new activity as a teenager can be absolutely mortifying. However, if you shy away from an opportunity out of fear, you could be missing out on discovering a hobby or passion. Even if you end up not enjoying yourself, you still tried something new. Starting an activity late has also been very positive on my personality and attitude. I feel like I am more prone to trying new things, which I am hoping will stay with me in my future.

If you ever consider trying a new activity, no matter what your age, it’s really important not to shy away from interacting with others, no matter how tempting it may be. When I first started my natural instinct was to keep a low profile. But having confidence, even if you have no idea what you are doing, is both positive on your mentality and also makes you seem approachable to other people. Talking to other people, instead of staying in your own bubble, has really helped me meet people who have become my friends and helped guide me along my circus journey.

Circus is my life, which makes the idea of my life without circus foreign and strange. I am incredibly fortunate that my 13 year old self was willing to take a chance and try something new and unpredictable. I hope this article encourages somebody to take a leap into the unknown and unlock hidden possibilities. You never know what may come out of it!

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Creating a Performance Piece

By Nola Millet

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As a regular performer, I find myself having to create pieces pretty regularly, sometimes without any advance notice at all. Because I enjoy performing, I don’t so much mind this, but I find that having a process can really help with both getting a piece written quickly and having the piece’s movement make sense. I’m an aerialist, so some of these steps may not apply to all acts, but hopefully, in general, I can give a beneficial overview to building an interesting, performance-ready piece.

I always like to start with music. Music provides a basis for your sequence of movement as well as sets the tone and atmosphere for your performance. It can also dictate the story-line and costuming that you may want to use. Choosing a song can be frustrating, especially because it can’t be too short or long and has to be interesting enough that the audience stays engaged. I often choose an instrumental piece of music because it leaves more room for me to explore movement on my apparatus, but songs with words, if well-chosen, can be great too, because they can speak to the audience on a more emotional level, and take some of the pressures of acting off of the performer. They also demonstrate a clearer story-line so that you don’t have figure out as much for yourself.

Once I have my song, I choose a few main movements, or tricks, that I want to incorporate into my piece. Depending on the length of the music, this can be anywhere from three to six or seven central tricks, but be careful not to start with too many if you’re not okay with the idea of letting go of some of them, because then you might end up with an eleven minute solo, which at some point becomes tedious for the audience. If you have more people in the act, it can sometimes stand to be slightly longer (to an extent), but if it gets to the point where it’s no longer engaging that’s a sign that it’s too long.

The next thing I work on is transitions. Transitions are so so so important, especially for aerial pieces. They need to smoothly connect your main ideas in a way that looks pleasing, but also give you a chance to catch your breath and prepare for the next trick. Your transitions also don’t always have to be complicated and impressive either, they can be simple! So long as they make it so that your piece is closer to one sequence of continual movement. When constructing something to perform, I also think about changes in my piece. It can’t be all static and still be interesting, but it shouldn’t be all drops either. I believe that at least some element of dynamism is required for the piece to be entertaining. This is where really working on those transitions can be helpful. If I find that my sequence contains too many drops, I try to make my transitions more of a combination of static poses, but if most of my sequence is made up of balances or tricks of a more still nature, I try to include beats or releases into my pathways between tricks.

The next step for me, after I’ve practiced enough to feel semi-confident with my sequence, is to develop character. I personally struggle a lot with facial expression, so I always try to work on that in rehearsals. Having a character vs not having one makes all the difference to the audience. A piece can be completely amazing but it just won’t be as impressive if you’re not connecting with a character. Having a character can also be helpful if your sequence is starting to bore you, or if you find it easy. Character adds another dimension to the piece, and can really turn it around. Part of character is costuming. Elaborate costumes are super fun but can be difficult to work with, especially if you’re an aerialist. Fringe and glitter and wings look amazing but can get stuck and end up tearing. Always make sure to practice with your costume beforehand, because you never know how a certain fabric may interact with your apparatus. I’ve definitely been in a position where I had to scrap a costume at the last minute because I didn’t have enough time to practice with it. It’s disappointing when you have an amazing costume idea and have to let it go, but I think that it’s better to be on the more cautious side because it can be really stressful worrying about your costume while you’re performing. It’s also best to wear something that you don’t need to adjust constantly, because that disrupts the flow of your performance greatly.

After that, it’s all about practice! It’s always ideal to practice as much as possible but sometimes it just doesn’t work out, and that’s okay. Know your setting! I’ve had pieces that I practiced for more than six months, and ones that I’ve written and memorized in the car on the way to the venue. There’s no telling how much you should practice because that’s personal, but in my opinion, it really depends on how formal the event is and how much time you’re given before it takes place. That said, sometimes you run your piece over and over, and something still goes wrong when you perform it. Just remember the most of the time the audience has no idea what you’re doing, so as long as you make it look purposeful they shouldn’t know the difference. If you get stuck in a wrap just try to turn it into a pose and make it look pretty. The audience will only know you got something wrong if you tell them.

Thank you for reading my article! I know that everyone has their own way of constructing a performance piece, but I just wanted to share my creative process in hopes that it might be beneficial to anyone who’s lost or bored of what they’ve been developing.

The Making and Performing of Thalassa: A Dive Into the Deep

By Cora Williams

In this article, I will be introducing you to the making and performing of the show Thalassa: A Dive Into the Deep… Showing our process of creating this show.

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What is Thalassa?

Thalassa, which means “sea” in Greek, was Troupes 1st full-length show. Thalassa was performed and created by the Circus Culture Troupe over the course of 5 months. In that time we worked hard creating the show piece by piece. We did everything from scratch, including costumes, lighting, marketing and advertising, set, props and even introduced some brand new apparatuses to Circus Culture. Showcasing everything from clowning to dancing to aerial acts. There was a total of 7 aerial acts as well as contortion, clowning, and dancing.

What is the “Circus Culture Troupe” and what do we do?

The troupe is a group of dedicated teens that perform around Ithaca, NY.  We are very devoted to what we do, spending hours working on each and every act/show. We perform an average of 2-3 times, two-weekend shows per year. We are a range of ages from the oldest being 20 and the youngest (me, by two hours) being 13. We are all like a family to each other.

Meet the cast and crew

Amy – producer

Emily – dance choreographer

Holly – clown coach

Kiera – light and sound technician.

Jesse – Lighting design

Jenny Leigh – costume design

Cora (Me) – sea snake/fish

Izzy – Force of Nature/fish

Alex – eel/fish

Nuala H. – Mystery of the Deep/fish

Nuala U. – Clownfish/fish

Alice – Dolphin/clown

Anya – octopus/fish

Nevada – Angler fish/clown

Kayla – Dolphin/clown

Luna – Dolphin/fish

Simone – eel/fish

What the show was about

In the beginning, we all brainstormed on what the show was going to be about. We had lots of ideas ranging from it being about trees to technology and phones. After much discussion and random off-topic questions, we finally decided that it was going to be about the ocean and the animals within it. We also wanted to add the not so happy elements like overpopulation, bycatch (What is “Bycatch”), and pollution.

Week intensive!!!

To prepare for our show we had a week intensive during winter break. We were there for 9am-3pm on Monday-Wednesday, Thursday 9am-7pm and on Friday we stayed the night. That was the week where we got the show together and all the group acts. We worked on all the nitty gritty parts of the acts, got Indian food and we sweat A LOT. On the last day (Friday), we had a company sleepover to celebrate our hard work. This week intensive brought us closer together and cleaned up the show quite a bit.

Before show dash?

When the show rolls around there are some traditions we always do. We always play the song, “Level Up” by Ciara to get hyped. And there’s the “mad eyeliner dash”. The mad eye liner dash is when we all race to get to one of the 3 working eyeliners . But mostly we all just get into costume and makeup, do our hair, practice our acro, and just hang. At this point most of us are feeling lots of adrenaline. We all express it a different ways. Someone might get sleepy. Some might get nervous and some might just feel normal.

Opening night

Opening night of the show was sold out. We were all high on adrenaline and getting ready for the show of our lives. We all got there at call and got dressed started with our makeup and hair. An hour later we were ready and getting into our starting positions. As people started to trickle into their seats. I couldn’t believe that this was happening.  As the lights rose, I could hear someone opening a seltzer in the front row. As we lifted into our shape all I could think of is OMG this is really happening. All the hard work we put in has paid off. Opening night went almost perfect.

Thank you, Amy

I want to take a moment to thank everyone who put this show together but especially Amy Cohen. I can’t express all my love I have for her. Amy is our Director. She made this show happen and gave us the amazing opportunity. She spent so much time with us working for hours on this show. She was there with us through thick and thin. She really is like a superhero not just in the show, but in all the classes. She supports us with everything we do.  Amy if you are reading this THANK YOU SO MUCH!

Circus is Hard on the Body: Ways to Take Care of Your Body as a Circus Artist

By Chelsea McIntosh and Nathalie Morton

For circus artists, staying healthy can sometimes come as an afterthought or feel like too much of a hassle to stay on top of. Staying healthy, however, is critical to your overall performance in any sport. To protect your body, it is important to make sure to warm up and stretch daily, to eat a healthy and balanced diet, and to exercise and condition enough to keep your body strong enough to handle the intensity of aerial arts.

In order to protect your body from difficult skills that might overuse some muscles or parts of your body, it is important to always make sure to warm up all of your muscles with effective stretches and exercises to prevent pulling muscles during training. Your body won’t be able to handle jumping straight into strenuous activities without something to prepare it first. An effective warm up can consist of simple exercises, such as jumping jacks or a mountain climbers, followed by thorough stretching of all your muscles. It is very important to stretch and warm up areas such as your back, neck, wrists, shoulders, hamstrings, and hips so you can use those areas safely in training.

For aerial arts, a key part of taking care of your body is stretching before and after training. Stretching after you finish a day of training is just as important as stretching and warming up your muscles before training because it can reduce the soreness felt after a really hard workout, increase your flexibility (something every circus artist is after), help to elevate your most likely pretty low energy levels after a workout, and prevent injuries. All muscles are important and used when doing aerial arts, so make sure to cover all muscle groups when stretching in warm ups and in cool downs. For instance, when stretching your arms, be sure to cover all the muscle groups, such as your wrists, biceps, triceps and shoulders because neglecting any of them increases your chance of injury. Stretching well after a workout can eliminate lactic acid that builds up in your muscles during a workout, reducing the pain you feel after a long, hard training session. In addition, cooling down with stretching increases your energy levels because when your body finally cools down, your brain releases endorphins which make you feel energized and happy.

Although it is one of the most important things to do to keep your body healthy, stretching is not the only thing circus artists must do to stay healthy and in shape. Eating a healthy and balanced diet is paramount to being able to withstand the intensity of circus and allows you to advance in aerial arts. Eating healthy, however, does not necessarily mean that you must eliminate every single sweet thing you love or that you must go on restrictive and dangerous diets. Circus takes up a lot of energy so eating complete and hearty meals is necessary. Try to balance out your meals as evenly as possible with each of the three key macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Many diets these days will tell you that eliminating fats or carbs is eating “healthy”, but your body needs all three. Getting your fats from healthy and unprocessed foods, like avocados or nuts, is better for you than depriving yourself from these needed nutrients. Good sources of protein include white meat, tofu, eggs, quinoa and more. Red meat is a good source of protein, but can become unhealthy if overeaten, so try to stay to lean white meats, such as chicken and turkey. As for getting a balanced portion of healthy carbohydrates, whole wheat options are always a great choice. Eating healthy is all about balance and natural foods, not restriction and dieting. You will quickly see that eating full, fresh, and natural foods leaves you feeling more refreshed and energized than when eating fried and processed foods. While cutting back on most classic junk foods is part of eating a balanced diet, you don’t have to swear off them completely, as eating these foods in moderation doesn’t hurt. If you’re looking for a replacement for your favorite sweets and candy, try eating more berries and fruits, as they are nature’s candy!

The last component of keeping your body healthy for circus is exercise outside of what you do in the air. Although circus is a tough workout on its own, it is not a good source of cardio. Running is a great way to make up for this and can keep your heart healthy for all physically demanding events in your life, in addition to circus training. If running isn’t your thing, you can also get good cardio training in by doing a half hour or more on a stationary bike or jumping rope for twenty minutes. It is important to know your limits to avoid overworking your body or exhausting yourself too much, so spread out your workouts and give your body enough time to recover in between. Intensity levels of these workouts should not be as high as circus workouts. Calm and easy cardio training is an excellent complement to high intensity circus training because it takes some strain of your body while still keeping you in shape.

Circus is amazing when performed, but it can take a toll on the body when we don’t take the appropriate steps to protect ourselves. Warming up, stretching, exercising and eating healthy are just a few of the many ways you can protect your body. When done correctly, they can ensure that you are safe from preventable injuries and can perform to the best of your abilities.

Book Review: Juggling – From Antiquity to the Middle Ages by Thom Wall

Book Review by Julaine Hall

In essence, this book is an in-depth look at many ancient practices of juggling, how society saw jugglers, and other interesting cultural tid-bits! One thing that makes this book truly astounding is something Mr. Wall mentioned towards the beginning of his book, “As with dance, so with juggling—the moment that the performer finishes the routine, their act ceases to exist beyond the memory of the audience.  There is no permanent record of what transpired, so studying the ancient roots of juggling is fraught with difficulty.” His works cited section has over 20 pages of sources! Much like an act jam packed with difficult skills, this book is jam packed with interesting fact after interesting fact and must’ve took countless hours of preparation and hard work before it was ready to put in front of the audience. Countries and civilizations the book focuses on include; Ancient Egypt, Israel & Babylon, India, Turkey, China, Japan, Russia, The British Isles, Spain, The South Pacific, Mexico, the Vikings, and Indigenous and Nomadic Cultures. Countries appear as chapters and each chapter covers a new set of topics. I found much enlightening information such as, juggling appears to have been a mostly female dominated activity in ancient Egypt, the South Pacific, and other areas. Also, William the Conquerer established a position called Royal Juggler which lasted around 500 years! It is quite interesting to look back at each juggling culture and compare it to our own. I would recommend this book to anyone wishing for some background information on the craft of juggling and circus arts in general (because as I learned in the book, the word, “juggle,” defines a broad range of definitions)! Thom Wall’s “Juggling- From Antiquity to the Middle Ages” is not only an enjoyable and informative book, it is also quite an impressive one! I am astounded at Mr. Wall’s depth of research and love for the subject.

Click here to learn more about or purchase the book! 

Basic Rigging Knowledge for Every Aerialist Big and Small

By Ava Kapelczak

As a junior aerialist have you ever given a thought to the rigging that you are hanging on in your facility? What about when you visit a new facility to train? If you haven’t it is definitely time to start!

I have been an aerialist for about five years with my mom being my main coach. As you can imagine having a busy aerial circus instructor for a mom I spend a lot of time in the gym and get to visit new gyms and aerial facilities often and have had the opportunity to perform and train on many different aerial apparatuses and rigging setups. I myself am lucky to have a mom that is knowledgeable about the safety precautions, things to look for and questions to ask but for parents and guardians that have no idea and for aerialists that may be traveling without their coaches here are some key things to look for…

A general inspection every aerialist should make a habit of is inspecting your apparatus and rigging system. Depending on your setup this includes your apparatus, its welds, spansets, ropes, fabric, cables, clamps, carabiners, swivels, attachment to the beam, pulleys, and most importantly where it is all tied off. These should all look well maintained without imperfections and appear to be 100% safe. You should take the opportunity to ask your instructor or facility manager/owner to show you how they inspect, how their rigging system works and what is their tie off procedure is. As a junior aerialist because of liability most facilities won’t allow you to rig and tie off your own apparatus but you should take a moment to ask. They would be pleased to show and even more proud that you have asked and have an interest to learn.

But what if this is your first time at this facility or your first time trying your hand at aerial at all…

A visual assessment of the space when you first walk in is always a great first step.

Taking a look at what type of beams they are hanging on?

If the apparatuses are permanently affixed to the ceiling or on a pulley system?

Are they rigged from a cable or a rope?

If the cables look clean and without any imperfections or ropes are properly cared for, without any frays and have used the proper rigging rope?

The quality of the apparatuses and welds, if any, and how they are stored?

Having done your basic visual assessment, a great opportunity to ask about their safe rigging practices could be when you first inquire through email, over the phone, or better yet when signing the waiver.

I have done a bit of research and found some great as well as respectful questions to ask in no particular order:

Who is responsible for the maintenance of the space, rigging and apparatuses and how often? Do they keep a log of their daily apparatus checks? What is the load capacity of their beam or structure?

**This is how much weight and force the beam/structure can take and it also lets you know if they have had it inspected 😉

What is the Safety Factor Ratio they used in their rigging system?

This answer may stump them but the answer should be around 10:1 and absolutely no less than 8:1 (3-5:1 is the Safety Factor Ratio for stage lighting and industrial static rigging) and as aerialists we are definitely not static when training and performing!

***The Safety Factor Ratio is a literal safety net that factors in a general weight of an aerialist and all of the equipment they are flying on plus the potential force of a high impact drop, wear, tear and abuse of all the different pieces of equipment, anything that may have been improperly installed and anything unforeseen happening.

It all sounds complicated and nerve racking, I know, especially when all you want to do is fly and forget about all the daily complications of life, but by just taking the time to ask these basic questions and performing daily general inspections you and your loved ones will feel more at ease with how you are taking responsibility of your own safety.

How Performing Affects Other People

How does your act make a difference in other people’s lives?

By Tessa Wallington

The makeup. The hairspray. The lights. The cheering. The audience. The adrenaline.

Performing is something so many people love. It may increase confidence or act as a fun activity, but what does performing do for the audience? Art is often sold at auctions to be viewed in homes, music is sold to be listened to, and performing is done for the audience to feel emotion while watching a different kind of art. Circus arts can be used as more than a career, or a sport, but also as a gift. Youth troupes such as the Aerial Angels in Las Vegas, Nevada, are using their talent and craft to help make a difference in other people’s lives. Many people have never seen a circus show, and bringing the show to charitable events such as Run Away with Cirque du Soleil, Opportunity Village’s Magical Forest, and Construction Vs. Cancer can help change someone’s life — for a moment or forever.

Just over the past two years the Aerial Angels have performed for intellectually challenged adults at Opportunity Village, performed at a Trunk or Treat to benefit United Way, performed for families that are battling cancer, and helped at a major fundraiser that helps promote clean water all over the world.

Performing for charities can also make a difference in the performer’s life as well. There is no better satisfaction than seeing someone’s facial expression when you get off your apparatus and see people who are struggling with something personal have a huge smile on their face. It is an amazing feeling. It proves that circus can be used for more than entertainment. It can be used to help someone in need, introduce someone struggling to the amazing art of circus, or just let someone having a bad day feel pure joy.

Combining circus arts and charity work into one amazing thing is something the Aerial Angels have accomplished. The angels have achieved their goal of getting involved in their community by showing their talents, and assisting local charities like Opportunity Village. Overall, the feeling of knowing you have helped someone makes performing that much better.   

Aerial Angels showing off their Construction Vs. Cancer shirts after performing at the event.


Aerial Angel, Tally getting ready to perform at  Cirque du Soleil’s Run Away with Cirque du Soleil.