In the latest installment of SCOUTV, we hang out with the acrobats, jugglers, wire walkers and more at Esh Circus Arts to learn what makes this a great place to get fit, express yourself and find new friends.
Ellen Waylonis knows that when people think of the circus, they tend to think of the theatrical side—things like clowning. But at Esh Circus Arts, the school just outside Union Square she runs with co-owners Rachel Sable Stewart and Roger May, clowning is just one in a host of physical classes in everything from acrobatics to aerials to tumbling to trapeze.
They teach a little bit of everything—partner balancing, hooping, juggling, tight wire walking, contortion and more—which is important, since Esh serves just about everyone.
“There really is not a typical Esh student. We have folks from 18 months up through their late sixties taking classes here—everybody from professionals who come here after work to college students to kids who come here after school … everybody,” Waylonis grins. “This is a very large, diverse community.”
That could be because at Esh, there’s no pressure to progress at a fast pace. While the benefits of circus arts training include better endurance, greater strength and improved flexibility, in the circus, Waylonis says, you’re only “competing” against yourself. “People come here mostly for fun,” she explains. “Some people come here because it’s more fun than being on a treadmill at the gym—although that’s good, too. Some people come here because it’s a great creative outlet.” Waylonis likes that the circus is a very personal pursuit—that you’re not comparing yourself to others, but rather, expressing yourself through your own physicality.
And while individual expression is the goal, there’s also an emphasis on community here that’s evident in the warm smiles, laughter and high-fives exchanged by Esh’s acrobats. Waylonis explains that circus started as a family tradition; it was kept within families, and circus artists were either born into it or married into it. It wasn’t until the 1980s that professional circus schools started appearing, making the art accessible to anyone.
For Waylonis, the most important thing about Esh is that the center maintains that familial, community-focused vibe—that it’s a warm, inviting place where beginners are always welcome.
“We don’t care if you’ve ever been in a gym before in your life. We don’t care if you can touch your toes,” she laughs. “It doesn’t matter how tall you are, what size you are—anything about you. This is a big, welcoming, warm space.”