Germantown is home to several historical landmarks and small businesses. Located on Greene Street, in the heart of the neighborhood, is one of those small businesses.
Whether one wants to stay fit, release stress or just have fun, the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts is a contemporary circus school teaching circus performing acts such as juggling, unicycling, tightrope and aerial silk classes. PSCA does this for students through private lessons, workshops, youth summer camp and more.
Open to those 18 months old and older, the school serves as an outlet in many people’s lives. Elaine Crump has benefited from her experience at the school throughout the past year.
“When I started I was 51 years old and I was pretty sick,” Crump said. “I was working and I was really stressed in a corporate job. PSCA helped me to improve my overall health and I have been coming here ever since and I have been getting better.”
While many performing acts can be mentally and physically challenging, student Kate Hanley uses her time to blow off some steam.
“Mentally, when you are here and in the air you can’t think about grocery shopping or mortgages or how your kids are doing in school,” Hanley said. “Physically, I am just stronger and more flexible, and as I am hitting middle age you worry about your body falling apart but mine keeps getting stronger and stronger.”
Expanding from strictly a circus performing school to a performing arts organization, PSCA was founded by Shana Kennedy and husband Greg Kennedy. The husband and wife team both have backgrounds in aerial arts, with Greg Kennedy having experience as an internationally renowned juggler in Cirque du Soliel and Shana Kennedy teaching aerial skills out of the backyard of her home in 2001.
But it was not until 2008 when they created the space known today as the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts. Now with the school doing so well, they have plans to move into a bigger space within the next few years.
With a teacher to student ratio of 6-to-1 each session, PSCA provides highly-trained instructors specializing in several areas such as aerials, acrobatics, handstands and juggling. Aerial silk instructor Rachel Lancaster was always involved in the arts and performing at an early age, but when she started attending classes at PSCA and then ultimately teaching there, she immediately fell in love with the school.
“I really love dance, movement and storytelling,” Lancaster said. “I think it’s fun. Besides teaching, I am a circus performer and do a lot of events and shows.”
Although there is no experience needed to start classes, each student starts off as a beginner and eventually will level up based on his or her own ability. With high chances of injuries, circus performing can take a toll on a body and requires a lot of training.
“You have to build strength to be able to do this stuff,” Lancaster said. “Even if you are physically fit, run a lot and do yoga. When you come in here, it’s a whole different type of workout because it is a lot of upper body strength. So we take it step-by-step, nice and slow, to make sure everyone is as safe as possible.”
Facilities manager Anthony Zangara is a freelance ballet dancer and performer. Zangara has an appreciation of the art and emphasizes how unique the school is on the inside and out.
“We have safety factors that are unheard of,” Zangara said. “The equipment is extremely safe and we are constantly checking the facility. A lot of the time people hear ‘circus’ and they think of traditional stuff, but here is much more valuable the art of circus theater. The emphasis is on contemporary circus art and artistry.”
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-Text, images and video by Sonji Milburn and Brian Roche.