MISSOULA – It’s always a big deal when the circus came to town with its death-defying acts, juggling and high flying acrobatics. But the circus has always been more about people as Jill Valley found out when she went to a circus camp in Missoula.
The circus has always brought communities together and at a summer camp in Missoula, kids are not only learning skills you might see under the big top, they’re also learning how to be a part of a community to lift themselves and others up.
“The whole idea of Social Circus is to learn how to socialize. We’re all learning together how to be a community,” said Raven Summer with Aerial Alchemy.
Social Circus is a growing trend across the world with many believing that the transformative power of the circus arts connects education, physical art and social development.
Performance art is how cultures express themselves and accept those who are different.
“Circus by its very nature is about community and circus is where marginalized people are often celebrated for their uniqueness, for their abilities and disabilities, for their limitations,” Summer said. “And they’re all coming together for a common goal.
Summer — who owns Aerial Alchemy — holds summer camps that are about fun and fitness and facing what scares you. “I teach the habit of self-challenge as well as risk management. Life is all about risk and youth especially learn from risk,” Summer said.
“It’s really fun hanging upside down. Because when I was little, I was terrified of hanging upside down. It feels like I’m flying,” said Esme who’s taking part in the camp.
“I don’t really know why I like it. It’s just really fun to do and just how hard it is, like, it gives you a challenge,” fellow camp participant Rayanna told us.
“It’s an exercise class that’s outside of the box, you know. It’s not something that’s going to be sporty but its something more unique,” said mother Jen Larson.
While the camp is a great way for them to learn new skills, what they learn here can also help them in the classroom.
“Circus is a good activity for kids with dyslexia because it improves brain power. It allows us to jump across the mid-line which we really struggle with,” mom Jamie Bartuska said.
In this camp, they’re just having fun — learning about their own strengths and what makes them unique, making friends and gaining the confidence to be themselves. It’s all part of the circus that becomes the circle of self-expression and acceptance.
“It just helps with overall wellness and well being and it’s so much fun. It brings joy to everyone who tries it,” explained Summer who holds her classes at Unparalleled Movement in Missoula.
Summer attended the Circus Arts Institute of Atlanta which is one of only two places in the United States that is nationally certified by the American Circus Educators Organization (ACE). She’s been an aerialist for 14 years and is also teaching classes in Arlee and Saint Ignatius.
“Because it’s non-competitive, and often kids that don’t enjoy other sports tend to love getting involved in circus, there really is something for everyone,” Summer said. Obviously, those with natural abilities excel at Aerial, but also often those with no natural ability really enjoy learning and finding their own unique ability in circus arts.”
Click here for more information about the camp and classes.
Reporting by Jill Valley for MTN News