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Local circus studio invites Ithaca community to come and play

PJ Arroyo balances on his unicycle while juggling with his fellow Juggle Jam attendee Sam Boyles.
By Erica Dischino and Taylor Rescignano

Amy Cohen, the founder and director of Circus Culture downtown, watched a performer practice for her upcoming show. Old-timey show music plays faintly in the background as Cohen gave the performer advice on how to perfect her beats while entering and exiting the stage.

“Maybe you can work in a few kicks,” Cohen says. “Take your time when you do that last one.”

In a bright white room filled with jeweltone colored fabrics chained to the ceiling, more people congregate for the Juggle Jam as Cohen and the performer finish up her last steps.

From juggling to acrobatics to unicycling, Circus Culture, located on W. State Street, holds a variety of circus classes and sessions open to the Ithaca and broader community since it’s opening in the beginning of August.

Cohen’s passion for circus blossomed when her parents signed her up for a circus camp when she was a child. She hopes this passion she developed when was younger can be shared with others through the efforts of Circus Culture.

As an Ithaca College graduate and founder of the college’s Circus Club, Cohen found that the Ithaca area has a lot of circus performers. She wanted to create the school as a place for such individuals to collaborate.

“Circus Culture was established in an attempt to share circus in any way possible, to encourage people to see it as something they can take part in, and also to translate it into life skills,” she said.

Circus, Cohen said, allows for people of different interests and talents to find unity. She thinks it provides a way to the unique individuality of a person or a discipline through performance art.

Sam Boyles, one of Circus Culture’s instructors, has participated in other forms of performance art such as acting and playing in band. He said that performing circus acts provides him with a different type of satisfaction.

“Circus performance empties me out. I totally lose myself and that’s when I know it’s good,” Boyles said. “It feels incredible afterwards like a high, otherworldly and natural at the same time.”

The benefits of circus is not limited to performance value though, Cohen said. She believes there is a freeing aspect of taking risks in a safe environment.

“In circus you’re kept humble all the time by the diversity of the things you try and learn and do and the people who are excelling right next to you or the people who are trying something new and failing right next to you,” she said. “That’s part of being a human in the world and it manifests in this little ecosystem way that’s both creative and physical.”

PJ Arroyo, a Juggle Jam participant, found Circus Culture after moving to Ithaca several months ago. He said that he was excited to find a juggling group after being a part of one at his former college.

“It’s a great way to pass the time,” Arroyo said. “It’s addicting and I think anyone can learn to juggle.”

The inclusivity of circus, Cohen said, will provide the business new ways to reach different audiences. She plans on using circus as a form of social change and wants to provide it for populations, such as people children with autism and elders, that would not necessarily have access to it.

“It’s about communication and cooperation and physical literacy. It just has amazing benefits for humans,” she said. “It’s great for adults to play.”

Cohen said that she often asks herself if what she’s doing is “in the spirit of circus” and if she’s being authentic. She hopes that Circus Culture will provide a connection to circus in bigger way.

“As a circus person you’re always advocating what circus is and can be,” she said. “Unlike dance or theater where people have an idea in their head, this art form is really blossoming.”

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