Oberlin Blogs

Winter Term, 1st Edition: SANCA Circus School, Seattle

January 31, 2016

Teague Harvey ’19

Yet again, I feel so incredibly lucky to be going to Oberlin.

Not only do we have virtually unlimited possibility during our Winter Term, the month of January where we pursue an independent project, but we seem to have connections everywhere.

I arrived at The School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts (SANCA) on a typical cold and wet Seattle morning to meet more Oberlin alums than I ever have in my entire life - They all worked at SANCA, and they all knew every Obie I could think to mention who was a part of OCircus.

Oberlin... or Illuminati?

It seems that Oberlin, in the past 8 years, has developed a rich and meaningful relationship with SANCA (Ma'ayan filled me in on the backstory).

I'll spare the story, but basically, a bunch of Obies after graduating ended up at SANCA and then decided to give back, starting a J-Term Circus Intensive for Oberlin students. Gradually, it expanded to everyone else in the world (seriously, there was a 32-year-old Brazilian in my intensive!) - And yet, I'm pretty sure that they've had students from Oberlin almost every year since its inception.

Speaking of connections, I also met Ida.

Ida's blog about SANCA actually got me interested in doing this winter term in the first place and is part of what attracted me to OCircus. It's another one of those blogs I personally categorise under 'Why I Came to Oberlin'. Seriously, go read that blog right now. I'll wait.


Anyway, as you can probably tell, it is with a plethora of strange emotions that I write this blog. I'm both continuing a tradition of Obies at SANCA, and writing my own version of one of my favourite blogs.

So what do you actually learn at a Circus School?

During the first two weeks in the Tumbling/Acro module, we did Tumbling, Partner Acrobatics, Handstand/Hand-balancing, Trampoline, German Wheel, Unicycle, Mini-tramp, Modern Dance, Tightwire, and Object Manipulation (Juggling, Diablo, Stick Balancing, Spinning Plates, Rolling Globe).

In the second two weeks, during the Aerials module, we did Fabric/Silks/Tissu (whichever name you prefer), Trapeze, Lyra, Single-point Trapeze, Sling, and a little bit of Cyr Wheel.

Through both modules, we did Flying Trapeze twice a week.

And of course... daily conditioning and stretching!

Here's just a little taste:

SANCA Coach: "Point your toes! You're a trapeze artist, not an athlete!"

An aerialist practicing on a giant wheel with two helpers assisting
This is a German Wheel!

Some aerials stuff:
Two aerialists performing on the same hanging cloth in a room full of mats

Two aerialists performing on two different hanging cloths in a room full of mats

A painting of a man juggling and a woman hanging from a ring. Above is the caption: "run away with the circus at SANCA"
This was in one of the breakrooms! They had art everywhere at SANCA.

Here's how our day would work: we'd rock up to SANCA at 10, warm up, and just... do circus things until 4, or 4:30 if we had Flying Trapeze in the afternoon (with an hour lunch break from 12 to 1). That's five hours of circus a day, 25 hours a week, and 100 hours in total for the whole month.

This might all sound like hard work, but it was also incredibly satisfying. After a busy semester of doing everything conceivable at Oberlin, it felt great to just focus on one thing that I've become interested in, even if it included so many different facets (aerials and tumbling are so very different!). Progress is addictive, and it's downright amazing how much you can accomplish in 100 hours in one month. I actually felt myself becoming better, faster, and stronger, and I became surer of myself and what I can accomplish if I put the time in.

That's not to say that it was all work and no play - this is a circus, after all. It's hard not to experience sheer joy when flipping on a trampoline, flying through the air from the trapeze, or successfully having someone standing on your shoulders like it's nothing.

In fact, there were many times when our coaches would say things like "unleash your inner five year old!", "Good! Now smile!", and my personal favourite, "Put your knees together in Butterfly! Now flap your knees, like how butterflies flap their knees!"

Our instructors were some of the most talented and humble people I've ever met, and their love for their craft and for teaching really shone through. They knew how to push us just outside of our comfort zones, and even better - they made us want to push ourselves, all while keeping it fun and engaging.

They made SANCA feel like home.

But you know, here's the other crazy part about this winter term: I didn't just do circus.

During my free time in the evenings and on the weekends, I explored Seattle.

I went up the Space Needle, I went to Pike Place, and did all those touristy things.

I utilized the Oberlin alum network, met some for coffee (learning so much about Oberlin and the awkward gap between Oberlin and the 'real world'), and went with some to Om Fusion Blues Dances and an AcroYoga jam.

SANCA took us out to an awesome local dinner theatre circus called Teatro ZinZanni, where we got to witness some incredible world-class performers (including an Oberlin alum from 2003 doing an amazing double trapeze act - oh yea, and he majored in Environmental Science).

I met my few Seattle contacts: my freshman Oberlin friend (who took me to the best climbing gym I've ever been to and then to see the show he was teching for his winter term) and my mother's friend in Bellevue who had me over for dinner.

I really got to know my wonderful hosts, who truly made me feel at home in their house, and made me feel like family (and even took me skiing for the first time in my life!).

In short, in between my 100 hours of circus, Seattle stole my heart:
The Seattle skyline pictured from across the river

The Seattle Space Needle

A view of the water in downtown Seattle filled with sail boats

A scenic bay with a boat in the distance
It was particularly poignant to see a city surrounded by water and mountains, the two things I miss most about my old New Zealand landscape - having just said goodbye to it.

The Seattle Market Center square filled with people walking past stands

A busy Seattle Street
The 'first Starbucks'. A little overrated if you ask me.

A wall filled with chewed gum
The infamous 'Gum Wall'. It was cleaned up just two months ago, and it's already like this again...

A snowy ski mountain with skiers descending the mountain
Skiing with my hosts! (How I met them is a great story, actually: I emailed every Obie alum in Seattle and they were all really nice but were either too far from SANCA or simply couldn't host me. Then, one of my freshman Seattle friends offered to put my housing offer out through her mother's Google connections. One of those Google people saw my offer, and then passed it on to my hosts, who then sent me an email. Moral of the story: follow every connection!)

So as you can probably tell, I did a lot this month. I'm very sad to leave.

And yet, I'll be going back to Oberlin.

Having seen and met and learned from all these alums makes me even more excited for the future, both at school and beyond. I mean, you can get a politics or maths or environmental science or neuroscience major and end up teaching at a circus school!

But in all seriousness, Oberlin alums are by far some of the most interesting and genuine people I've ever met, and they've reaffirmed my belief that I made the right decision with my school - also, what kind of college lets you go do circus for a whole month and get credit for it? Awesome!

All in all, one thing's for sure: I'm not going to stop training circus when I get back to Oberlin. Some way or another, I'll manage to keep circus stuff going, on top of everything else that I'm engaged in. SANCA taught me that with time and patience, I really can learn these amazing circus arts and that they're accessible at any level. I don't know if I'll become a coach at SANCA or a performer at Teatro ZinnZanni, but I definitely want to keep improving my skill set.

I've also figured out that I want to try and strengthen the Oberlin circus community during my time here.

See, here's the thing about the SANCA and Oberlin relationship - Obies built that. It wasn't given to them by anyone, they just kind of made it happen somehow. And now, as a result of a few passionate people a couple of years ago, Obies have the opportunity to train at one of the best circus schools in the country for a whole month.

I don't know if I can live up to that kind of legacy, but I certainly feel inspired to try.

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