Muhlenberg students can study aerial acrobatics, history and philosophy of circus arts and perform in the Circus Workshop.

It’s not every day that you see a student dressed as Rosie the Riveter spiraling gracefully toward the stage by way of aerial silks. But thanks to the Muhlenberg Circus Workshop, students at the small liberal arts college in Allentown, Pennsylvania, are taking their dance training to a whole new level—literally.

“We started offering aerial acrobatics courses in 2012,” says Karen Dearborn, chair of dance and faculty advisor to the workshop. “Our curriculum values diversity in physical training, so aerial was a great fit.”

From this beginning came what is now the Muhlenberg Circus Workshop, a multidisciplinary program that provides training, performance opportunities and even academic credit to the college’s growing circus arts community. Aerial class credits can be applied to dance-major concentrations in both performance and choreography, and, while students don’t earn academic credit for performances at Muhlenburg, the performances count toward the school’s co-curriculum and lab requirements. Sixty students auditioned for approximately 20 slots in this year’s production.

Dearborn eventually developed a class on circus history and philosophy to provide the aerial students with an academic grounding, but it was a couple of visionary undergraduates who realized their school was ripe with big-top talent.

New York native Henry Evans trained as a competitive gymnast and came to Muhlenberg to pursue a double major in theater and business. His roommate, Noah Dach, had a friend who wanted some help choreographing a Cyr wheel routine. There was only one problem: They had nowhere to perform.

“Circus is a dangerous artform,” Evans says. “There’s no way around that. But we managed to get some funding to purchase mats and safety equipment.”

Performances initially took place in a dance studio that had been specially equipped for aerial silks, but since founding the Circus Workshop in 2013, they have expanded into Muhlenberg’s theaters. The college hires a professional rigger to ensure the students’ safety, and students receive specialized training that targets the muscle groups required for aerial work.

Henry Evans (on the shoulders of Tommy McCarthy) started the Circus Workshop with roommate Noah Dach.

“We have been able to advance from fixed points to flying the apparatus while the aerialist is performing,” explains Dearborn; this allows the aerialist to be moved up or down. In February, she created a work for eight male students that featured four fixed apparatuses and four that flew. The Circus Workshop’s most recent production, VOD, included a flying apparatus as well, but only the most advanced students are allowed to use it.

“Many of our dancers have found employment after graduation because of their circus skills,” says Dearborn. In addition to two levels of aerial acrobatics and Dearborn’s history and philosophy of circus performance class, students can study commedia dell’arte, puppetry, performing magic and clowning, offered by the theater department. They also have the option of enrolling at the Accademia dell’Arte in Arezzo, Italy, during their junior year to study physical theater.

Acrobatic training has helped dancers in other ways, as well: the development of core and upper-body strength, improved control and balance and better partnering technique overall.

Evans and Dach, now graduates, have started their next venture: Atlas Circus Company, through which they hope to eventually create a center for circus arts in America.

“The fusion of dance and physical theater has been gaining ground in Europe for decades,” says Dearborn. “America is just getting started.” DT

Kat Richter is a writer, dancer and professor of anthropology. She lives in Philadelphia.

Photos by Ken Ek, courtesy of Muhlenberg College

Don’t miss a single issue of Dance Teacher.

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Hightower

The beloved "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and former Emmy-nominated "Dancing with the Stars" pro Chelsie Hightower discovered her passion for ballroom at a young age. She showed a natural ability for the Latin style, but she mastered the necessary versatility by studying jazz, ballet and other forms of dance. "Every style of dance builds on each other," she says, "and the more music you're exposed to, the more your rhythm and coordination is built."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Burklyn Ballet, Courtesy Harlequin

Whether you're putting on a pair of pointe shoes, buckling your ballroom stilettos or lacing up your favorite high tops, the floor you're on can make or break your dancing. But with issues like sticking or slipping and a variety of frictions suitable to different dance steps and styles, it can be confusing to know which floor will work best for you.

No matter what your needs are, Harlequin Floors has your back, or rather, your feet. With 11 different marley vinyl floors available in a range of colors, Harlequin has options for every setting and dance style. We rounded up six of their most popular and versatile floors:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Lani Corson. Photo by Royce Burgess, courtesy of Corson

Aerial work is growing in popularity in the dance world these days. Don't believe us? Check out this Dance Magazine article! If you're a studio owner who didn't grow up with aerial training (let's face it, how many of us really did?), then you may be feeling a little apprehensive about what to look for when bringing on a new aerialist faculty member. You know exactly what you want from your ballet teachers, your jazz teachers, your tap teachers, heck—even your tumbling teachers! Aerial, however, is a whole other ballgame.

To help you feel confident you're bringing in a teacher who is safe for your dancers, we sat down with Lani Corson, NYC aerialist, circus performer, adjunct professor at Pace University and teacher at Aerial Arts NYC, to get the inside scoop on exactly what you should be looking for.

Enjoy!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Insure Fitness
AdobeStock, Courtesy Insure Fitness Group

As a teacher at a studio, you've more than likely developed long-lasting relationships with some of your students and parents. The idea that you could be sued by one of them might seem impossible to imagine, but Insure Fitness Group's Gianna Michalsen warns against relaxing into that mindset. "People say, 'Why do I need insurance? I've been working with these people for 10 years—we're friends,'" she says. "But no one ever takes into account how bad an injury can be. Despite how good your relationship is, people will sue you because of the toll an injury takes on their life."

You'll benefit most from an insurance policy that caters to the specifics of teaching dance at one or several studios. Here's what to look for:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Dance teachers have a lot of strengths (communicating corrections, choreographing gorgeous movement, planning excellent recitals, cleaning technique—just to name a few) but when it comes to interior design—talent isn't exactly a given. So when studio owners remodel or build, worrying about the decor can feel a little overwhelming (you've got just a few too many other things to worry about, don't you?).

No need to fear! In 2019 we have Pinterest, which shows us all the latest trends we should know about. To help you make the best design decisions for your studio, we've compiled a list of public Pinterest pins we think you'll love.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Unsplash

Is dance a sport? Should it be in the Olympics? They're complicated questions that tend to spark heated debate. But many dance fans will be excited to hear that breaking (please don't call it breakdancing) has been provisionally added to the program for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by World Class Vacations
David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Vanessa Zahorian. Photo by Erik Larson, courtesy of Pennsylvania Ballet Academy

At the LINES Ballet Dance Center in San Francisco, faculty member Erik Wagner leads his class through an adagio combination in center. He encourages dancers to root their standing legs, using imagery of a seed germinating, so that they feel more grounded. "Our studios are on the fifth floor, so I'll often tell them to push down to Market Street," says Wagner. "They know that they should push their energy down to the street level." By using this oppositional force, he says, dancers can lengthen their bodies to create any desired shape.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

After years of throwing summer parties at your studio, you're likely fatigued by coming up with themes and event details. You want your students to have a good time, but you're also up to your eyeballs in choreography and costume decisions.

Never fear! We've come up with party themes and activities to do during the event. Delegate tasks to your teachers and office managers, and voilà! You have a stress-free party ready to go.

Have a blast, people!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

Q: I recently returned to a modern dance class after a long absence. While I didn't feel any acute pain at the end of class, the next morning I could barely walk from the soreness in both my Achilles. What can I do to fix this?

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Q: I'm trying to think of ways to maximize studio space and revenue during the summer. What has worked for you?

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox