These are stories written by our members. To learn more, please visit our Capital Campaign page.
MCS Member, German Wheel Junior National Champion
I’m 19, and I started doing circus when I was three at The Wild Rumpus Circus in Mazomanie. At my first mommy/daughter trapeze class, I immediately fell in love with circus arts. They have a way of making me feel understood. I can be myself and be crazy and creative and it’s looked upon as an asset instead of a handicap. Circus has taught me how to find limits, norms, and boundaries, and it encourages me to break through them.
I starting going to a circus camp every summer, and in 2012 I met Carly Schuna, who was guest instructor at camp for German wheel. At my very first workshop, I knew I had to continue to wheel. It challenges and aggravates me but is just as rewarding and invigorating. Still even now, when I get on a wheel, I feel brave. I feel uninhibited. I feel like myself. Carly introduced me to a wheel club at the Goodman Community Center, where I could practice year-round. Once MCS was up and running, she invited me to join a “trial Madison-based competition team.” Things escalated from there, and I have been fortunate enough to compete in local, national, and international competitions with my Madison team.
Now, flashback to the “trial Madison-based competition team.” When Madison Circus Space opened in 2013, there were six wheel students. Now there are more than 50 active wheelers in the Madison area, ranging from age 8 to older than 60. We currently have more wheel competitors and a larger wheel community than anywhere else in the United States, and MCS currently has both junior national champions in German wheel.
The team here in Madison and MCS as a whole has impacted my life in so many indescribable ways, but one thing I’ll never, ever take for granted is the immense support, love, gratitude, and dedication the community has given me, and it’s what I hope I’ll be able to give back one day.
MCS Wheel Board Representative, Secretary, and 5-time German Wheel National Champion
I was almost always the last person picked for teams in gym class. I was convinced that I had no athletic ability whatsoever. I actually often thought of myself as a brain trapped inside a body. I was really smart, and I had almost no connection to my body. When I joined the tennis team in sixth grade and we ran around the courts to warm up, I would have panic attacks because I wasn’t used to breathing hard and I felt like I was gasping for air. I thought I might die. It sounds kind of funny now, but at the time it was truly terrifying. I discovered German wheel when I was 28 years old and it was like I had finally found something I didn’t even know I had spent my whole life looking for. I wasn’t very strong when I started, but I worked really hard and I practiced all the time. I wish someone could have told my 10-year-old self that I would become a national athletic champion four years in a row. I would never have believed it, but maybe it would have made me feel like a little bit less of a loser.
I helped create MCS because I love German wheel more than anything and I wanted to share it with as many people as possible. It is an extremely impractical sport. It requires a ton of space, you need a nice floor, you need different sizes of wheels for different heights of people and different activities, and a single wheel costs almost $3,000. I had none of this when I started. I approached the MCS Board and explained what I needed, and they enthusiastically made everything possible. My friends loaned me wheels, and my boyfriend/co-coach bought more wheels up front. MCS rented a large enough building to suit all of our wheel needs, and they spent $20,000 and hundreds of hours buying and building a wood floor themselves with volunteer labor just so we could German wheel on it. When I asked to rent space for practices to start a competitive team, they said yes. When I asked to rent the entire space for a full weekend to host a Wheel Retreat for 20 participants of all skill levels from all over the United States, including as far away as Texas, Maryland, and Florida, they said yes without hesitation. Our wheel community is now the largest in the United States entirely because of MCS. I am so lucky to have this amazing, supportive community.
MCS Aerial Member, Low Flying Trapeze Instructor
For the last 4 1/2 years as a MCS member, I have been able to practice, study, perform, choreograph, clown, and teach. I am delighted that my ballet clown character, Tululabelle, came out of a wonderfully funny piece about aerial ballet dancers not quite ready for prime time.
Having started aerial dance in my late 40s, I have been able to share my passion, teaching low-flying trapeze private lessons,groups, and a weekly class to women ages 50 and up. It’s been a joy to watch my students have fun flying while becoming stronger and more confident, proving that the circus arts are not just for kids and are for anyone young at heart.
MCS has also allowed me opportunities to collaborate (or what I call “cross-fertilize”) — not only with other aerialists, but also with jugglers, hoopers, and kids, often with a comedic element, since helping people smile and laugh is something I like to do.
We encourage guests to use our bathrooms because on the wall of each one is posted a quote about “Why circus?” The author is unknown. In brief, it states: “Why circus? Because it is irresistible. It speaks to the senses and becomes the substance of dreams. It reminds us of our common bonds as people. Circus comes from the human spirit, rather than the intellect.”
This is why I do circus, and why I am so glad that MCS and its community are here to support one another, our dreams, and our humanity. And I am so happy that with community support, we will be able to continue in a temporary space and then build our dream space, a new, larger building where more people can experience the joy of the circus arts.
MCS Hoop/Flow Board Representative
My goal in life is to spread the joy of hula hooping to as many people as possible. When I first started hooping in 2004, there were about three other people in Madison that were as obsessed with plastic circles as much as I was. Now there are hundreds of us, and that is in no small part due to the Madison Circus Space.
About five years ago, I came by this warehouse that a small group was thinking of transforming into a permanent practice space for different circus groups. I took one look at the 23-foot ceilings and the lack of pillars and said, “We’re in!”. I became a co-founder of the space later that month and have served on the board of directors ever since. Our hoop group was home.
And “home” is really the word for it. We have a place where our regular hoop and flow jams can happen without fear of smashing up our surroundings with flying hula hoops. You can become a member, meaning you get a key fob that gives you access to a practice space 24 hours a day, 7 day a week. You can take a class. You can teach a class. You can be in a show. You can produce a show. The MCS also provides space so visiting instructors from all over the world can teach to our community.
I think the biggest success has been in what our community members have been able to achieve. I’ve seen people move out of homelessness because of hooping. I have seen enormous boosts of self-esteem in countless individuals. I have seen people move from hooping being just a hobby to performing at the biggest music festivals in the United States. I have seen regular people just come and take a two-hour break from all the stress of life and find a happy and supportive community waiting.
Because there is something magical that happens when you hoop. When you first start, everything looks impossible and unachievable. But then you learn how to do it. And once you learn that something impossible can become reality just through patience, hard work, and practice, that message translates to the rest of your life. And I think learning that the impossible can become possible is something we all need now, more than ever.
MCS Development Director, Producer, Aerialist, Instructor
“Is the scale broken?” I could blame it on Wisconsin’s cheese and beer, but something needed to change. New to Madison and in a failing relationship, I was overweight, depressed, and lonely. Exercise is boring, time-consuming, and uninspiring, and I despise sweating. However, the scale had been tipped (pun intended). Seeking fitness, fun, and friends, I tried everything: Latin dance, ballroom dance, capoeira, contra dance, rock climbing… They were all extremely fun. I even bought suede-bottom, rhinestone-encrusted shoes! Then a friend invited me to take a trapeze class. I didn’t know what that was, except for a faint memory of fairies flying in the Orton Park tree, but decided to give it a try. Dancing is the most fun you can have sober, right-side-up, with your clothes on, but aerial dance got me upside down and so much more. I found fitness, fun, and creativity, and I haven’t taken my dance shoes out of the bag since. Stronger than I have ever been, I can do six pull-ups! I discovered that those tree fairies were actually Cycropia Aerial Dance, and I performed with them for two Orton Park Festivals. And beyond physical feats of strength, my confidence is back and my energy levels are high. When the Madison Circus Space opened in 2013, I became a member and found my community, a collection of artists working collaboratively and inclusively to share training, art, and expression through circus arts.
I know firsthand how social connectedness plays a critical role in overall health and well-being. At MCS, I have found a community that inspires, supports, and challenges me. I also know, as a public health professional, that research shows social connectedness is a major driver of health, well-being, and economic prosperity. The Madison Circus Space provides safe access to movement, expression, exploration, and ultimately health and social cohesion.
I’m driven to ensure that MCS continues to be an accessible space for artistic expression, particularly for at-risk populations, youth, and others who are not well served by traditional academic and extracurricular programs. We are opening our doors even wider, building relationships and inspiring participation in this circus life, cultivating a holistic culture of wellness, inclusion, health, and well-being.
MCS Instructor, Aerialist, Producer
I came to the circus space in late 2013 and since then have been involved in most of what goes on here! My projects include founding, directing, and producing the Skeleton Circus, writing grants, creating classes, bringing in guest instructors, and creating MCS merchandise.
From the very beginning, I was excited about the collaborative, volunteer-led structure of MCS, as it allowed me to let my creativity shine as we built a community focused on inclusion, radical acceptance, and opportunities for any and every kind of person interested in circus arts.
The collaborative spirit at the MCS allows us the freedom to develop projects and share our ideas with artists of so many different types, talents, and capabilities, and every single one is magical in its own way. In the last five years, I’ve been supported as I’ve branched out into different areas of circus, from performing to producing to teaching, and most recently to forming a business. Without MCS, my aerial company, Swing State Aerial, would never have come to be. It began as a little collaborative project to share the duties of teaching and directing, and now we are a four-teacher strong LLC. Others in our space have benefited from this, too, from Head Over Wheels Circus to Hoop Elation to Taste of Flying and all the individual instructors who work to bring the joy of circus to our community.
It is this community that makes everything I do so worthwhile. At Madison Circus Space, absolutely anyone has a place to get fit, connect to new friends, express themselves through art, create with others, and fit in to a place that welcomes anyone, no matter their body type or fitness level or age or opinion about pineapple on pizza.
Our community works to create a sense of place, too. MCS is a uniquely Madison institution, creating “Madison-style circus” and an expression of place through art that is truly original and extraordinary and at the same time made of the lives and loves of ordinary people as they connect through this creative community force.Here, you can be fully yourself. Here, you are safe pushing yourself to grow and achieve and express yourself. Here, you are loved and celebrated.