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Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Avondale

Circus School Moves Classes, Shows Online To Stay Afloat During Pandemic

"When this is over, we’re not going to do this again. Now is the time to check this out. There’s only so much Netflix you can watch,” owner Shayna Swanson said.

Aloft has already put on two "Sanctuary In Place" online shows and is gearing up for a third.
Aloft Circus Arts/Facebook
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LOGAN SQUARE — Logan Square’s church-turned-circus school is still putting on dazzling performances — and training students — despite the pandemic.

Aloft Circus Arts has moved all of its classes and shows online. The Logan Square school has already put on two “Sanctuary In Place” online shows and is gearing up for a third. It’s also hosting about 50 online classes a week.

The classes and shows have been a huge success so far. Shayna Swanson, owner of Aloft, said about 300 people tuned in to both shows and the school has retained about 75 percent of its student body despite the shift to online.

“It’s a whole new world that I never really want to explore, but here I am,” Swanson said with a laugh.

The “Sanctuary In Place” shows are being done over Zoom. The video bounces back and forth between Swanson, the host, and circus performers, who put on acts from their homes. A couple musicians also perform.

The format is giving the artists a “chance to do things they wouldn’t be able to do on stage,” Swanson said. The artists are playing with backdrops and light. During the last show, a juggler moved through his apartment with a ball on his head.

Swanson is asking for a donation of any size in exchange for a show link. So far, a mix of neighborhood regulars and newcomers from around the world have kicked in donations, which allowed them to pay their performers their normal rate of $150.

As for the online classes, many of them revolve around stretching and strength training. With the church closed, aerial work is on hold.

Swanson said the strength training classes are great for people who have never done circus but have always wanted to try.

“Then when we reopen, you’ll be so strong and ready to go,” she said.

Swanson is planning to roll out unlimited monthly memberships for $100. Drop-ins cost $15.

Founded in 2005, Aloft moved from an industrial warehouse at 2000 W. Fulton St. to the more than 100-year-old Evangelical church at 3324 W. Wrightwood Ave. in 2015.

The pandemic is crushing small businesses everywhere. Aloft was just approved for a Paycheck Protection Program loan, which will allow Swanson to keep her employees paid and her business going for a couple of months. But she worries about keeping the business running beyond that, especially because circus isn’t a social distancing art form.

“We’d have to cut our classes in half. Our classes would be far less profitable. Each student would have to have their own apparatus and we would have to wash everything after every class. And we’d have to enough silks for every single student,” she said.

“We’d have to do 16 loads of laundry a day. We’d have to hire a person to do laundry all night. That’s insane.”

Swanson said the hope is people continue to support Aloft so the circus school can remain a fixture in the neighborhood for years to come.

“When have you been able to watch a circus show from your bathtub or in your underwear? … When this is over, we’re not going to do this again. Now is the time to check this out. There’s only so much Netflix you can watch.”

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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