Circus performers dazzle the eye with fantastical feats of balance, strength, dexterity and awareness.
And where magicians use slight-of-hand to ooh and awe, tight-wire walkers, acrobats, aerialists, jugglers and unicyclists do their bewildering and inspiring with bona-fide physical feats.
Since April 21, 2018, in a warehouse at 309 49th St. NE, Suite C in north Auburn, a circus school called Synapse Circus Center has been showing locals how it’s done.
Forget the old trope of having to run away to join a circus to learn those special skills, forget prerequisites and talents, forget even having to be born into a circusing family, co-owner Crystal Campbell, head coach and program director Zora Blade and the seven other teachers can train you.
With this proviso.
“We are a recreational circus school, which means we train students, we don’t necessarily train performers,” Campbell explained. “It’s a lot like a gymnastics program in that sense.”
In the warehouse are static trapezes to teach aerial dancing, there is aerial fabric and an aerial hoop, there are balls for juggling, Chinese yo-yos and hula hoops. All that equipment means that students don’t have to make costly investments to participate, as they do in other sports and activities.
In the progression of skills, students graduate from one level to the next, just as they would in gymnastics. Gradually, they build their skills, strength and flexibility and perform them before family and friends. The school charts progress in pages on a wall.
“Kids come once or twice a week,” Campbell said. “We teach tumbling, cartwheels, all that, just like a gymnastics program, but instead of doing a balance beam, we walk on a tight wire that’s close to the ground and safe.”
To those who consider circuses so 10-minutes ago, Campbell has this to say.
“Circus is changing. You have your traditional circuses like Ringling Brothers, which have the animals and who-hoo types of acts. But about 35 years ago. a movement began toward a more contemporary circus to where now you see more dance-based things, you see this mash-up of theater and dance coming into one,” Campbell said.
Unfortunately, if it’s a clown car you’re jonesing to pile out of, or you’re keen to glean the finer points of floppy shoes and squirting daises, this is not the place.
“Clowning is highly specialized,” Blade explained. “You have to be able to do a skill really, really well before you can do it enough to make it funny.”
Lessons for anyone
Circus skills are difficult to acquire, Campbell concedes, but by approaching them gradually, she said, anyone can learn over time. And while most students at Synapse are children, grownups have also gotten in on the fun.
Campbell, a Covington native and a gymnast from an early age, traveled to England in her teens to perform and train professionally. In the 20 years she has taught circus, she has been affiliated with the Seattle Circus School and most recently with parks and recreation programs on the south end to teach the skills to residents of Covington, Maple Valley and Federal Way.
Blade, who is from north Seattle, also started in gymnastics early on, and began training at the Seattle Circus School when she was 11. Then, she was off to youth circuses throughout the nation and to a circus school in Canada.
“Crystal’s been my coach for a long time, and when she started the circus school here, she asked if I wanted to come down, and I totally said yes, I super wanted to,” Blade said.
Campbell said there are several aspects of circus training that make it better at developing strong social integrity in participants. Where sports are competitive and largely focused on winning against an equally matched opponent, circus is cooperative, and that’s where Synapse places its emphasis: drawing on the diverse talents of many people to perform together for the benefit of an audience.
“In competition, all the participants who are not the best, simply lose. In the circus, participants can choose to develop the skills they are good at in unique ways, so that many levels of skill can be displayed side by side in the same performance,” Campbell said. “More and more kids are getting involved because it’s a non competitive field, and there’s a little something for everybody. If you don’t want to go high in the air and upside down, that’s OK, you can juggle or you can walk a tight wire.
“A lot of the kids don’t fit into the normal sports of baseball, basketball, gymnastics, but they find a place here,” Campbell added. “If you’re not too flexible, that’s OK. If you don’t have great coordination, we kind of help guide that. There is no bench for them to warm.”
Step right up
This summer Synapse offers classes and camps through Green River College. Check out class and camp information at synapsecircus.com.