Sylvi Faldetta, 12, practices poses on the aerial fabric. (David Carkhuff/Laconia Daily Sun)
Riding worldwide tide, local classes in circus and performing arts enjoy rise in popularity
By DAVID CARKHUFF/THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — A day after the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced its own demise, circus students at the Laconia Community Center climbed, spun and juggled with eager delight.
Erin Lovett Sherman, artistic director of Artsfest, which offers professional instruction in circus and performing arts for youth and adult students, said the headlines generated plenty of conversation but didn't dampen enthusiasm.
Artsfest started its winter session on Jan. 8. On the second week of class, students arrived to the grim news about the 146-year-old Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announcing the end of performances. Changing tastes and battles with animal rights groups took a toll on the American institution, according to owners of the circus. Ringling Bros.' two circus units will conclude their tours with final shows at the Dunkin' Donuts Center in Providence, R.I., on May 7, and at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., on May 21, a Feld Entertainment press release reported. (On Jan. 31, tickets go on sale for April 21-23 shows at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester.)
Sherman, artistic director of Artsfest, said she was saddened by the news, as well as the recent bankruptcy of the Big Apple Circus based in New York. An auction of the Big Apple Circus' assets is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 7, according to its website (www.bigapplecircus.org). This circus had been in business since 1977.
"It's crazy," Sherman said, shaking her head, while waiting to start teaching students in Laconia on Sunday, Jan. 15.
But circus is an "emerging market," and despite the grim headlines, Sherman said she can't keep up with demand.
"Every year we quadruple our popularity," she said.
"We're really growing right now," Sherman said.
Artsfest will continue with Sunday classes in topics such as aerial fabric, trapeze, lyra or aerial hoop, Spanish web (suspension of an artist on a long. cloth-covered rope), acrobatics and partnering, hoop dance, handstands, flexibility and strength building, and cyr wheel — Sherman's husband, Michael Manning, climbs into a cyr wheel, a heavy ring in which he defies gravity as he forms the spokes of the wheel and rolls across the floor.
People can join instruction any time, Sherman said. She welcomes new students, even halfway through a session, and she offers scholarships. "If a kid is really interested in this and wants to pursue this, I can take them up to the professional level," she said. "If there's a kid in need, I'd love for them to come join us."
The winter session features several accomplished youngsters, whose feats are a combination of gymnastic prowess and fearless grace.
Jennifer Faldetta, a yoga instructor from Central Massachusetts, said she travels for several hours each Sunday to bring her daughter, Sylvi, 12, to Laconia. Faldetta said, "It's worth the drive for us. These guys together are just really excellent coaches."
Sylvi Faldetta scales the aerial fabric, a pair of dangling ribbons, twisting herself into poses far above the community center floor.
"She's just really passionate about it," her mother said. "She's an amazing athlete.
She's incredibly strong and confident."
Sherman said circus instruction helps instill confidence and stamina.
"It's really excellent for team building and leadership skills," she said.
"It's all the athletic training without the competition. So it really fits in well for a lot of kids who don't do well with the competitive aspect of sports training," Sherman said.
Sherman said Laconia is her home town, and she started the community center program about 15 years ago. She recalled growing up and how she was mentored, and wants to be there for kids seeking direction.
"The groups vary each week. Sometimes we have up to 25 kids and sometimes we have eight. We do circus and performing arts training. Some of the kids might be doing it for fitness or for fun or for professional aspirations."
Sherman is a dancer, choreographer, educator and director of youth programs and outreach coordinator for the New England Center for Circus Arts, nonprofit circus school based in Brattleboro, Vt.
In September 2016, the center broke ground on a new home, "which will be the only custom-built circus arts building in the United States," according to the center's website (www.necenterforcircusarts.org).
The New England Center for Circus Arts offers a mastery of circus arts, a three-year college program, which is the nearest equivalent of a bachelor's degree, Sherman said.
"We can't make circus artists fast enough to live up to the market right now," Sherman said. "Right now, in the circus world, there are a lot of jobs. It still is this emerging art form. In Europe it's huge. In Quebec, it's huge, and the schools there are sponsored, they're nationally sponsored."
The entertainment form known as circus arts has been evolving, Sherman said. "It's been evolving for years now. With the introduction of Cirque du Soleil, the face of circus has changed, and it's continuing to grow."
Saying demand for circus arts has been "blossoming and growing and developing all over the world," Sherman described a "forward trajectory that can't be matched. I hope that traditional circus stays alive and evolves with it."
"The kids that graduate from our programs, they have good job prospects," Sherman said.
"Circus is the most popular that it ever has been, and looking to the future it's only getting bigger," she said.
The Artsfest Circus and Performing Arts program includes instruction for students ages 4 and up at 3 p.m. on Sundays at the Laconia Community Center. For details, visit https://www.facebook.com/ARTSFEST.us.
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