By Lauren Wanko
Imagine dangling high above the ground while weaving your body around pieces of fabric, gracefully hanging from a trapeze upside down, or flipping through a solid steel hoop. It’s easy for five-year-old Isabel to imagine because she’s already doing it at Circus Place in Hillsborough.
“Everything is about circus and I really want to be in a real circus one day,” said Isabel Umemoto.
“Circus today is a lot of different things to a lot of different people,” said Co-Owner of Circus Place Guinevere DiPiazza. “Traditionally it was this group of people who traveled around in tents and did shows. Today it’s become more and more mainstream. I think of it more of a lifestyle.”
An American Youth Circus Organization 2010 study indicates about 10,000 seven to 21-year-olds participated in about 200 circus programs nationwide. The organization says about 10 new programs have been popping up each year since then, and there’s been a similar expansion of students.
“What’s really fun about this is there is never a competition, as far as a race, that somone’s going to win and everyone else is going to lose,” DiPiazza said.
Students here can learn five categories of circus: Acrobatics, like hand balancing or partner-acro; Manipulations, where students are taught to manipulate all sorts of objects like this Chinese yo-yo; Aerials, like the trapeze; aerial hoop; or fabric.
When asked what she thinks about when she’s up in the air, DiPiazza said, “It can be scary. One of the things that we talk about when we’re training our students is not just training the skills, or training something until you get it, but training until you can’t get it wrong. Repetition for sure, and then also as you train you train your nerves.”
Students start learning how to engage specific muscles on the ground then they gradually lift off, an inch or so at a time.
Do you start by holding on for dear life? “Pretty much, yeah,” DiPiazza laughs. “Training the grip strength and getting really strong. As an aerialists, I have a rule that you want to make sure you’re always floating off the ground and back onto the ground. The concept there is your transitioning your weight with control.”
There are clowning classes too. These kids are learning how to make all sorts of funny faces.
“It’s a lot about theater, improv and creating characters,” DiPiazza. said.
“I was always that kid that was like told their parents that they were going to run away and join the circus,” student Melissa Spero said.
Spero isn’t running anywhere, she’s riding. The yoga instructor is learning how to master the unicycle and other balance skills.
“It’s kinda like re-learning how to walk when I just started learning. It was really hard,” she said.
Circus place opened 2011. It’s grown over the years and now has more then 250 students enrolled. The youngest is four-years-old, while some of their other students are in their 70s.
“Anyone really can do it, it’s just a matter of taking a little bit of time and practicing,” DiPiazza said.
It’s something everyone at Circus Place seems determined to do.