From an early age Shana Kennedy knew she would join the circus. The Natick, Massachusetts native acquired a love for performance while visiting traveling shows that stopped in her town each year. By age 15, Kennedy had acquired her own unicycle and juggling materials. In a defining moment that would propel her into a life of circus, Kennedy took a leave from studying International Relations at George Washington University to enroll in circus school in England. After marrying a juggler and practicing together in their Germantown, Philadelphia home, Kennedy is now the founder and director of the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts and is a creative leader in Germantown’s community.
What is your day-to-day life like as the Director of Philadelphia School of Circus Arts?
My biggest challenge from the moment that I get in to the moment I leave at night is making sure that I actually stay in the office when so many exciting things are happening outside on the floor.
What impact has performing in circuses had on your growth as a person?
It changed my life entirely. I often tell the story of when I went to circus school for the first time at 19. My very first day they threw me up on a rope, and they had my hand in a loop and spun me around really fast. And when I came down I just kind of shattered. It was a very tough class. They had me doing pull ups and pushups and all kinds of crazy sit-ups. [Performing] changed my whole outlook on the world. It made me feel more powerful, more confident, it helped me succumb myself into an adult.
Do you notice this confidence and power in a lot of your students also?
Definitely. That’s why they keep coming back. I think every student has that moment where they are like “wow I can do this!” It raises their confidence in a totally different way than they expected. So it is confidence, the fitness, it is all those things.
Can you tell us about your time on tour with Cirque du Soliel?
So my husband was the performer, he was a solo act in the show, and he brought his whole family along on the road with him. So for four years my kids and myself toured along with the show. We mostly toured North America, Canada and some of Europe. We got a chance to live in London, San Francisco, New York, Miami- just all kinds of great places.
What is your favorite thing about Germantown and what is one thing you wish you could change?
Germantown to me feels like a very real and down to Earth place. We have crazy people, people living on the street, but we also have lots of people taking care of their yards and taking their kids to school. I love that the people here are just grappling with the day to day and dealing with their neighbors- and they are all different. I would love to add some businesses that I love like cafes, bookstores and more interesting restaurants- more gentrification. The other thing I would change is to bring more of the community into our business. I would like to serve more residents of Germantown.
As a woman and as a director of a business, what advice would you give to someone young and passionate who wants to be an entrepreneur?
One of the best bits of advice I got in the early years was that you may have a passion for something, but you have to ensure that there is a need for it. People will say that you should just be passionate about it, work hard at it and it will happen. It doesn’t make sense to start a business just because you are passionate- there has to be a niche there for it to be successful. I started a circus school because there is no circus school in Philadelphia. If there was one, I probably would have joined it. So my advice is if there is already a place for it, go there and get some experience first.