It’s not just a clever name, but a part of Toronto’s burgeoning circus-school scene catering to kids and adults looking for new and creative ways of staying healthy.
The first rule of circus school: always warm up.
With its black-and-white façade, the Circus Academy at Gerrard and Greenwood stands out from the shuttered storefronts across the street. The steady stream of kids and adults entering the school is the most vibrant sign of life on this otherwise deserted corner in the east end. Inside the main room during a recent Wednesday night drop-in aerial class, a dozen twenty- and thirtysomethings warmed up with a series of over-exaggerated lunges and belly rolls, before professional aerial artist Jasper and his assistant paired off with the newbies, helping them learn to mount and dismount the most basic aerial feature: the fixed trapeze.
It’s a place for those who wanted to run away and…well, you know.
Founded in 2005, this location is the Circus Academy’s flagship (there’s another near Lansdowne Station and one in Guelph), and the only one wholly owned by the organization, says owner and director Jen Georgopoulos. The place was originally established to offer Toronto-based Zero Gravity Circus performers a place to train. Georgopoulos, a principal acrobat for the troupe, found herself frequently giving lessons to folks in the neighbourhood for extra cash. Opening a school with more structured programs seemed like a natural evolution, she says. Now, as more interested parties have flocked to classes in acrobatics and tightrope walking, the academy has become much more than just a place for people to train for the big top. It’s a community centre.
They’re building a community under the big top.
At one side of the room sits a stage, complete with lush red-velvet curtains, an ode to the building’s past life as a vaudeville house and movie theatre at the turn of the last century. Though unintentional, the building meets the circus’ very specific needs: proximity to schools, neighbourhoods with plenty of young families and young professionals, a walkable street, and, most importantly, a space with ceilings high enough to suspend equipment. And it’s grown to include the street-level Sideshow Café and three rental spaces, which have been used for everything from birthday parties to weddings, and even a wake.
The kids love it (almost as much as their parents).
More than 1,000 kids and grownups passed through the circus’ doors this year (not counting show attendees). Non-profit Fashion Take Action’s founder Kelly Drennan’s two daughters, now nine and six, have been attending the school for four years, originally because it was a cheaper option than daycare and staff picked up the tots from their nearby school. Now, she figures she stops by the Academy three times a week and often meets up with fellow parents at the café. Even the adults-only cabaret, which draws in crowds aged anywhere from 19 to 90, invites the neighbourhood to get involved by dressing in costume for a night of raunchy music, burlesque, and acrobatic and comedy acts, says Georgopoulos. “It’s a way for the community to let loose. Everyone just wants to be part of it.”
The Circus Academy, 1300 Gerrard St. E., 647-748-6030, centreofgravity.ca.