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Buffalo circus arts studio to soon give enthusiasts a place to roost

AcroYoga. Aerial arts. Acrobatics.

Hoop dancing. Pole dancing. Fire spinning and fire eating.

Parkour. Cyr wheeling. Yoga and meditation.

These are some of the classes circus arts enthusiasts aim to offer in the Bird’s Nest starting as early as this spring near Larkinville.

“It is amazingly fun, the most fun thing ever,” said Juliana Burkhart, a digital marketing specialist who lives in Williamsville. “A lot of it is a lot easier than it looks and there are ways we can make it accessible to anyone.”

Burkhart, 27, is among a small circle of regional circus arts leaders who will spend the next several weeks bringing the Bird’s Nest to life in a former construction warehouse at 64 Fillmore Ave.

Fellow enthusiast Ben Madoff, 36, an engineer, bought the space for the project.

Other leaders include Liz Czapski, 29, an art supply buyer; Jay Mpelezos, 32, a website and graphics designer; Chuck Pacholski, 24, a tour guide and server at Resurgence Brewing Co.; and Emilee Philips, 28, a yoga instructor.

“Because this is not a full-time profession for any of us right now, the community comes together any time we can pitch in,” Madoff said. “Everyone gives as much as they’re able. We’ve made a lot of progress without necessarily handing out titles.”

[RELATED STORY: For mental and physical fitness, join the AcroYoga circus at Buffalo Parks]

 The circus arts studio is expected to open in mid-March but this weekend will host a fundraiser, Fresh Quest, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. It will include a variety of yoga classes, wellness talks and healthy snacks that include kombucha. The cost is $20 at the door or $15 presale on the group’s Indiegogo page. For a schedule and more information, visit

“We’re going to have five yoga classes taught by a variety of yoga teachers from all over the area,” Burkhart said. “There’s going to be a talk on acupuncture, chiropractic during pregnancy, urban farming and composting, fermented foods, Chakra energy balancing and recovery from stress, and nutritional healing.

Q. Why Quest Fest?

Burkhart: In circus arts and acrobatics, there’s a lunar side and a solar side. The solar side is acrobatic, showy and very active. The lunar side is more therapeutic and healing. We want to show we have both sides. The goal of Fresh Quest is to show people that this is a community where you can come and feel good. Even if one thing feels like it might not be obtainable to you, there’s lots of things you can experience.

Q. How have you worked on the organizational side?

Emilee Philips hangs on an aerial silk. Bird's Nest leaders hope to add more of them by the opening of the circus arts studio.

Pacholski: So far, we’ve done it as a group. We’ve held a lot of meetings. There’s a core.

Burkhart: We have self-appointed titles. Liz is the Dance Machine. Ben is the Hug Machine. I think mine is the Hand Balancing Baroness. Our structure can best be described as a community rather than a hierarchy. It’s worked well for us.”

We have a community meeting every month. Last time, we had 30 people there. Depending on what project we’re working on, we’ll have weekly meetings with a smaller group of people.

Q. Talk about the measurements of the place.

Madoff: Our main practice area is about 2,000 square feet and about 20 feet tall. The whole building is a little over 3,000 square feet.

Q. Talk about the vibrancy of the Western New York circus arts community. When did it start and how has it bloomed?

Mpelezos: The earliest would be the Buffalo Jugglers. They’ve been around since maybe the 1970s. They practice at a Kenmore church. There are a few different fire dancing groups including Spun Out Productions as well as Pyromancy. They’ve been around for about 10 years.

Madoff: There have always been hoopers but it became popular here about six or seven years ago. The AcroYoga group started about 4½ years ago and aerial groups started about the same time. Around the time that we got this space the aerialists were also looking for a space. ... I’ve practiced aerial arts for a couple years, on and off, so I was always planning to put at least one silk rope in here. I was planning on asking one of the aerial artists, Andrew Kutnyak, if he could teach and he said, “Yes, but there’s about 20 more people that are interested.” So we expanded our vision for what the aerial arts are going to be here.

Q. You say yoga works well with the circus arts?

Burkhart: We will have regularly scheduled, frequent yoga classes here so people who work close by in the Larkin District can take a class after work or at lunchtime. ... There are a lot of shared values between yoga and circus arts that would probably surprise a lot of people. Yoga teaches you to be respectful and to listen to your body, to find quiet and stability in your movements. All of that translates over into circus arts, especially when you’re working with another person. Now you’re applying those values to another person’s body and safety, as well.

[RELATED STORY: Larkinville welcomes a new home for circus arts]

Q. How do the numbers and activities of these groups morph between summer and winter? How is this place going to differ during different seasons?

From left, Chuck Pacholski, Ben Madoff and Jay Mpelezos perform a Double Flag.

Madoff: We’ll be teaching fire spinning and fire eating outdoors in the summertime – before which there will be numerous safety courses. Indoors we’re going to have flow arts. For a lot of the arts we want to practice, especially the aerial arts, we need to have a facility. We need to have points to hang from the ceiling and a safe environment to practice. For the hooping, for the flow arts, for the AcroYoga, we’re never going to stop practicing outside. It’s beautiful outside. It’s amazing outside. But especially for the AcroYoga, acrobatics it is incredibly important to have firm footing and padding. Especially if we’re trying new techniques, new skills, we’re going to want to have additional safety that you can’t get from the grass. We’re going to have a lot of crash mats here. There’s going to be a couple inches of padding covering the whole floor and we’re going to have thick pads on top of that for any of the advance skills we’re going to try out.

Q. Can you talk about the health and fitness benefits of AcroYoga and the aerial arts?

Philips: It can make you stronger. It can also teach you where your limbs are in space – how to use your joints, how to protect your joints – and how to move from the core of your body out.

Q. What will a permanent indoor space allow the community to accomplish?

Burkhart: It’s going to help us expand our skills. There are certain things we just can’t do safely outside, so we don’t do them. Having this space will open us to doing high standing acrobatics with more safety. We’ll also have an acrobatic harness rigged to the ceiling so we can harness the flier so that if they fall, they don’t ever hit the ground.

Czapski: It will also give people a face for us. People can come into the space and see what we do here, take classes or come in for a performance. It will make a big difference for our community as a whole.

Burkhart: The nearest thing like this is in Ithaca. It’s called Circus Culture. After that, the closest thing is probably New York City. We hope to bring teachers here from all over the country, all over the world.

Q. What experts have you talked with as you work on the project?

Madoff: Angela “Butch” Buccinni, a woman who used to be in Buffalo and started a circus studio called The Muse,  in Brooklyn. That is where I took my first class. She has been a consultant for us on a continuing basis, an incredible help. She comes back to visit and teaches us when she’s here. We’ve also consulted with a number of other circus practitioners and studios. There’s Circus Culture in Ithaca and I recently worked out to the Toronto School of Circus Arts. There’s a woman who’s been practicing at a number of studios on the West Coast and has been here to teach hand balancing and hand-to-hand practices.

Q. What equipment will be available to start?

Madoff: Right now we have a bunch of disconnected dots. We’ve already ordered mats that are going to cover most of the floor. We have a few rigging points right now and are going to get five or six more to start with. We’re working with an electrician to clear out a lot of the old electronics, so we can fit a lot more circus equipment in here.

Q. Who came up with the name?

Madoff: We had a zillion names all over a board. We got together with about 12 people one night and said, “Look, we’ve got to figure it out now.” I don’t think the Bird’s Nest was on the list but we had a lot of people that night who helped us hammer it out during a two-hour meeting. A lot of the other names were not as inspiring. We wanted a name that told people it was a home in some way, a name that could really show people that. This was the name that grabbed the most people.

Q. How will the Bird’s Nest operate?

Madoff: We’re going to offer classes pretty much every day of the week. One thing that will be incredibly important to the artists here is that there will be enough time set aside to work out, for free expression and artistic development. That’s why we wanted the space that we have 24/7. We need more time to practice our skills, to sit and go over them. They want to hone the artistic side as well as the physical side. We also want to continue to develop the community side of things. There’s going to be an enduring cultural presence here. We’re inviting musicians and various artists on a regular basis. We’re talking about hosting a game night and playing on all the different circus apparatus. We’re not serious all the time.

Q. What are you looking at in terms of membership and class costs?

Madoff: The monthly membership will be $99. We’re going to teach mostly series of six classes and that’ll be $85. There will be a variety of other pricing options.

Q. Do you have liability insurance for the space? Is it expensive?

Madoff: That’s going to be one of our major costs year on year. There are circus insurance policies. We have one now and will probably upgrade it once we are officially open. We want to make sure that people who are practicing are taken care of should something happen. Safety is very important to us. Right now, we’re developing safety manuals and updating our waivers.

Q. What would you tell people who want to get into better shape and maybe have seen photos of circus arts? How hard is it? How accessible is it?

Burkhart: As long as you’re willing to try and come with an open mind, everybody can do something.

Pacholski: I’ve flown [raised] 80-year-old people in the park with severely limited mobility. I’ve flown a 300-pound girl who was very antsy about being in the air.

Burkhart: We also use spotters for everything we do when we’re learning how to do it. Spotters are physically helpful and they’re also that mental safety net that “If I fall, somebody will be there to catch me.”

Pacholski: When I started this, I couldn’t touch my toes. I couldn’t get close to touching my elbows together. This practice helps you heal from injury. I sustained an injury snowboarding about seven years ago and ruptured my C1 vertebrae, the very first one near my skull. The impact forced my skull into my jaw with such force I broke five teeth in half. That messed up everything on my left side. Between the yoga and the way this practice makes you think about your body and the way in which you need to move, and work on increasing your mobility and balancing your muscle structure, it can really bring you back from any bad injury if you do it right with people who know what they’re doing. Not only does it do things physically for you but it’s one of the best things you can do to keep yourself happy.


Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon

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