Sunday, May 26, 2013

Immersed in Philadelphia

We're back in it - the swirling rush of people, places and activities that is Philadelphia.  It is not like New York - which is anonymous and huge and intricate and rich - Philadelphia is, simply, where our lives are, and stepping back into them always feels wonderful and overwhelming.

In two weeks here, the kids and I have had 11 doctors' / dentists' appointments, 6 playdates, visited 2 potential schools (with two more to come this week), joined a protest at City Hall, taken 3 classes at the circus school, voted in an election, attended 3 shows and a party, bought Isa a new bike (Craigslist!) and biked on Forbidden Drive, visited our old house, and spent countless hours in the local libraries and having just open play time at the circus school.  I've even managed to squeeze in a few work hours.

What has Greg been doing for these two weeks?  He has been taking 3-hour flight lessons nearly every morning, and spending nearly every afternoon renovating Studio 2, the new space that PSCA has recently acquired.  We haven't seen much of him, and he comes home every evening covered with dust and paint.

Things are settling down a little now.  Greg and the kids have to be back at school / work.  Isa will actually start a school-trial in this city - starting June 2, she'll go every Sunday to school for 2.5 hours.  That's exciting!  I will start up my English / Russian lessons again, and re-connect with the tour families, and with life at site.  We have 5 weeks left here, which I hope is enough!  We'll do very little sightseeing in this city, and I'm not doing any yoga at all.  The priority here is to spend time with the people and organizations that we have loved and missed, the ones who will be there to help us resume our lives again here next summer.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Circus schools of New York

I tried to visit as many circus schools in New York City as I could.  I was able to get to 4 of them.  (as with everything in New York, it seems impossible to cover all bases.)  But the ones I did visit were fascinating. 

First of all, an overview. 

New York City does not have one single major circus school.  Instead there are a half-dozen facilities around the metropolitan area, offering a variety of training opportunities.  Class prices are notably steep ($30-$55, for a slot in a group class), like everything in New York.  And there are virtually no "session" classes, where you pay for 8 or 12 weeks of once-a-week lessons.  The studios here operate on drop-in bases, class-card systems, or, in one or two cases, memberships and intensive programming.  

Elizabeth Streb is a well-known modern dance choreographer, famous for bringing elements of stunt work, circus, and physics into her work.  In the 2003, she partnered with circus artists, to include acrobatic training in her facility in Brooklyn.  The space is now shared, and on the afternoon we visited, we were able to see group aerial fabric classes, kids' "Pop Action" classes, and Streb dancers experimenting with the "Whizzing Gizmo" (a single Wheel of Death).  It's a busy, lively space.  

Director Bobby Hedglin-Taylor writes, "STREB LAB FOR ACTION MECHANICS is "an action laboratory" - Since 2003 we've introduced Williamsburg to the world of extreme action. By way of flying trapeze, trampoline, German wheel, parkour, circus arts, and Elizabeth Streb's own signature style of movement "POP ACTION". Pop Action is a combination of Modern Dance, gymnastics and circus arts. We serve the local community and offer 26 kid classes per week and 30 adult classes per week, and we have approximately 500 students per week pass through our door. The Flying Espana Brothers, Noe and Ivan Espana, helped build and open the Espana Streb Trapeze Academy in 2004. They are a regular presence in our space and their influence permeates our teaching style. I'm especially proud of how our school has grown leaps and bounds over the years and we've become a "3rd place" for families of all shapes and sizes."

The facility was originally developed into a circus-arts training space under a different organization, NY Circus Arts Academy, which closed in 2010. Now a new business under the same roof is run by co-founders Suzi Winson, Michelle Arvin, and Gino Farfan.  They concentrate on their intensive professional program, training the next generation of circus pros, but also offer open classes for athletic practitioners who love the various circus arts. 

Now Circus Warehouse has a roster of dazzlingly-credentialed teachers, a huge space with lots of great aerial height, and a community of serious-minded artists studying, training and teaching there.  The school suffered a huge amount of damage during Hurricane Sandy, but they seem to be coming back stronger than ever.  

In 2002, Trapeze School New York established its groundbreaking flying trapeze school in Manhattan.  For many years they had an indoor facility along the banks of the Hudson River.  When that facility had to close, they shifted to an outdoor-rig only operation.  During their indoor years, founding Aerial Arts teachers Kristin Olness, Joshua Dean, and Kristin Young had cultivated many students who trained static aerial skills, and this community was adrift with the closing of the space.  So the trio of coaches partnered up to found Aerial Arts NYC in September 2012, in a basement gymnasium in midtown Manhattan. It's a shared space with other programs.  Aerial Arts NYC is now running 43 classes a week there.

Kristin Young gave me the following additional information about the school:

Aerial Arts NYC has 13 regular instructors who are working professionals, having performed with Cirque du Soleil, Cirque Productions, Cirque Le Masque, Circus Circus, and on Broadway.  These instructors offer a wide range of classes and private lessons including Silks, Static Trapeze, Rope, Lyra, Hammock, Straps, & Spanish Web, Acrobatics, Juggling, Stretch & Flexibility, and Tumbling & Handstands.  They also offer Youth Circus classes.

Aerial Arts NYC will offer aerial classes for Pace University's dance department starting in Fall 2013.  And Kristin says, "We’re proud of the fun, friendly community that has grown with us over the years and now provides a supportive learning environment for aspiring professionals, recreational students, and first-time beginners of all ages."

In the middle an industrial block of Brooklyn, there is a nondescript brick building that needs closer examination.  It's 342 Maujer Street, and at first I thought I was in the wrong place.  There is no signage.  But as I studied the exterior a bit, other details became apparent - the pedicab and old piano on the curb, the shiny mannequin visible in an upper window.  I tentatively tried the door, which was open.

This is Sky Box.  You enter a corridor, filled with random prop and costume pieces and red-velvet chairs, with a kitchen to one side.  The walls are papered with comic book pages.  And then suddenly, the back of the space opens up, into an amazing tower of a space.  It's 30' high, set up with trusses, and all kinds of aerial equipment and lighting.

One of Sky Box's founders, Anya Sapozhnikova, told me the following, about the organization's past and present.

"House of Yes originally was located  few subway stops deeper into Bushwick.  It was more of a collective/live/work/party space. A month shy of its one year anniversary, it burned down to the ground due to a kitchen fire. 

"We scrambled for a new space, and this was the first one we came across.  we fell in love and secured the lease.

"Althought it was more of a collective in the beginning, it grew into more of a business, with Kae Burke and myself as the co-owners.  We are in the process of becomign a 501c3 non profit organization, with Elena Delgado as the 3rd board member. 

"What makes our space unique is our emphasis on performance aspects of aerial acrobatics. Although a lot of our students  are here for fitness, fun, and a plethora of other reasons, we make a heavy emphasis on being New York's only dedicated aerial theater.  We constantly have performance opportunities for aerialists of all levels.  The Monthly Aerial and Variety Show  is a platform for professional level performers show new works, while the Emerging Aerialist Showcase is an event for  budding performers  to perform for the very first time.  We also have a big student show every year which envolves roughly 30 students, is choreographed and conceived by all the willing teachers who teach here  and runs for a whole weekend. Its a chance for aerialists of all levels to he a part of a full on cirque-style production,  learning not just an aerial routine but also getting experience with costume changes, cues, unusual entrances and everything else that make circus-theater so magical and unexpected."

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Thank goodness, we saw shows while we were in New York.  (because isn't that what it's all about?)
They were all fantastic, so I'm just going to post a few images here, so we can remember them .....

Spider Man - Turn Off The Dark
(Baz & Greg, with Yahor and Ilya)

(Shana, Baz, Ayla, Isa, with Rebecca, Zander, Callie, & Griffin)

(Shana & Greg)

Bindlestiff Family Cirkus
(Shana, with Harley)
Le Grand C, by Le Compagnie XY
(Shana & Isa)

Family stuff in New York

The spring in New York brought lots of good days at Totem.  Here are the kids in the kitchen, making Easter baskets.

A big new box of books arrived from Montreal, to add to the school library!  There is another road-case library on site, in the kitchen, that is mostly adult books.  But this one is a solid collection of kid-lit, in English and French.  The teachers have put carpets and pillows in the room, so the kids can curl up with a book any time.  (and they do.)

Russian Easter came several weeks after American Easter, but what the heck?  We celebrated twice.  This time was egg-decorating and painting crafts.

Before each city transition we have a meeting in the Big Top, to talk about our next destination.  I was put in charge of the Philadelphia presentation.  I started with a video clip of the movie Philadelphia, then did a 20-minute Powerpoint with all the best-of-Philly stuff I could find, and wrapped it up with a video clip of Rocky running up the Art Museum steps!

New York exploded with tulips in early April.  Isa and I tried to count how many different colors of tulips we could find in the Upper East Side... we lost track somewhere around 6.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Kids Acrobatic Performance

The kids just finished a Phys Ed segment of partner acrobatics with Nastia and Aliaksei, our Belarusian sports-acrobatic parents.  I was so impressed with their performance!


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Seeing New York

Isa at the New York Historical Society Museum
One thing I've learned about New York is that it's impossible to take it all in. I've lived here for two full months.  I've eaten at restaurants, seen shows, gone to museums, wandered Central Park, ridden the subway through all 5 boroughs .... I'm never going to feel like I've seen it all. I will never really know this place.  It is different every day, around every corner.  And the best we can do is go with the flow.  

...and find our places of stillness...

The girls at the Scholastic Store in SoHo
Sometimes just getting around New York can feel exhausting, like a full-time job. There have been days where, running a couple of simple errands like bringing the kids to school and visiting a friend, I have spent 4 hours on the subway. The jostling, the rushing, the stifling underground air, the dirty concrete on all sides, and the crush of other people - it can all be very draining.

...and then there are the moments of breathtaking beauty....
Grand Central Station at night
Grand Central Station often provides a great street-performer diversion in the middle of the commute.  Top-notch acts are always performing on the main concourse.  We've stopped to watch 9-piece bands, opera singers, and this amazing beatbox guy, whose prowess moved us to empty our pockets of spare change and bills on more than one occasion.  


I think, for true New Yorkers, this place is in their blood, and living anywhere else would be nonsensical. If my life had gone a little differently, I could see myself here, doing this.

Well maybe not this, exactly.
I will never get tired of New York's eccentrics.  It's hard to see in the photo, but this man is wearing a hat with a very tall feather.  The feather is at least three, maybe four feet tall.  I joined many others in staring at this hat, and watching in fascination as he walked obliviously underneath scaffolding and low-hanging trees.  You have to do something really weird to get people to actually stop and stare at you in New York.   

I'm ready to let it go for a while.  To step out of the "hive" and go back to the home city I truly understand.

While I don't often connect with poetry, this poem, which I see posted all the time on subway trains, strikes a chord.  To me, it captures the beauty and madness of New York perfectly.  

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


I had the good fortune recently to try out the Cirque du Soleil-sponsored fitness program Jukari.  It's a unique class, integrating elements of trapeze, plyometrics, and strength training.  Check out this video to get more of a glimpse.

The only place in the U.S. that's currently teaching Jukari classes is the Equinox gym, in the Flatiron district of Manhattan.  Lynze Schiller, pictured, is the wonderfully energetic instructor, and her enthusiasm is infectious.

As an aerialist, I have to admit, I walked into this class with skepticism.  I know all too well what it takes to get strong enough to really "fly" on a trapeze, and I couldn't imagine that any amount of Cirque du Soleil-soundtrack playing and aerobic step-touching was going to get us there.

In some ways, I was right.  This class does not prepare you to be an aerialist.  But I discovered something else ... Jukari is really fun, in a way that traditional aerial-arts classes are not.  The curriculum brings out a childish sense of flight - of swinging, of spinning, or being carried by momentum - that gets even the most skeptical student smiling and laughing.  It feels like being seven years old on a playground.  And at the same time, it's a workout that covers most major muscle groups.  (Abdominals, biceps, and legs all got a significant workout - notably absent was attention to the back and shoulder muscles, which are essential for true aerial work - but perhaps more likely to be injured for beginner students?)

The apparatus we used in the class is called a Fly Set.  It's a bar, attached with loops to a nylon daisy-chain of sorts... the daisy-chain is round and padded like a rope, so you can hold onto it comfortably.  The bar easily pops in and out, and can be adjusted to all different heights.  At the top of the set are carabiners and swivels.

By the end of the class I was sold.  Jukari is a great class for students who want the feel of flying, who want to imagine themselves in Cirque du Soleil, but who aren't ready to climb a 20' rope.  The class can be gentle or more challenging, but it's designed to give a reasonably well-rounded workout to all kinds of bodies.  I hope more people have a chance to experience it!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Bronx Zoo

We took our second family trip to the Bronx Zoo in April.

Fortunately we took a group picture of ourselves on our first visit here, in October 2009....

And so we took a second photo in the same place, in April 2013.  This might have to become a tradition.

On both of these occasions, we had the fantastic luck to be hosted by our dear friend Harley, who works as a pathologist at the zoo.  She was able to show us around the veterinary hospital.  So cool for all of us, especially Ayla who wants to be a zoo vet when she grows up!!

Here is Harley in her office, where she generally spends her time examining slides of specimens from dead animals.  Although she downplays the awesomeness of this job, we are all very impressed.  

As if this all wasn't amazing enough, she gave us a chance, over in the Education Center, for up-close personal time with an emu, a couple of little fennec foxes, a kangaroo, an American alligator, and a parrot.  And here is Baz petting a porcupine.  I never imagined touching animals like this.  It was an unforgettable experience.  

We splurged on the premium tickets for this visit to the Bronx Zoo, and I'd highly recommend it.  The basic, cheap tickets don't allow you into any of the newer exhibits, and they are really what makes the Bronx Zoo unique.  
We loved Madagascar, the Congo, and Jungle World.  I saw animals in these places that I've never seen before (and you remember that we have visited a whole lot of zoos.)  My new favorite monkeys are these beautiful langurs.