EdCon 2022: Where Circus Educators Help Each Other Learn - StageLync

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EdCon 2022: Where Circus Educators Help Each Other Learn

The American Circus Educators (ACE) Conference, a biennial event produced by the American Circus Educators Association, took place this year at Sky Candy in Austin, Texas, from October 7th – 9th. Audrey Spinazola offers us a run-down of the event and spotlights the winners of this year’s ACE Award.

When I walked through the doors of Sky Candy that Thursday night, I was amazed at the welcoming and beautiful space; friendly, helpful faces, colorful walls, and meticulously organized aerial points and equipment. A current resident of Olympia, Washington, I was in Austin, Texas, to assist with the 2022 Circus Educators Conference, presented by the American Circus Educators Association (ACE). I have been attending ACE events since 2015, but this was my first time working on the inside as a staff member and I couldn’t wait for participants to arrive the next morning and for EdCon to officially begin. As I set up merch, posted informational signs, and walked around the studio with Winnie Hsia, Sky Candy’s enthusiastic owner, I became more and more excited.

On Friday, the conference started at nine a.m. with a general meet-and-greet. Throughout the three-day event, one hundred and thirty-six attendees had the opportunity to participate in seventy-four workshops and social events including eight hang-out sessions, a BIPOC meetup, a board game night, and a social circus meetup, to name a few. Workshops ranged from the organizational to the physically, mentally, and creatively educational, and to all types of tips and tricks for coaching. 

“Trapeze Flow: Creating Accessible Choreography,” led by Julia Kennelly, invited participants to learn a basic routine, then built upon how to embellish the choreography. “More than MindBody; Comparing Software Systems for Circus” took a deep dive into different client management systems. If you were curious about shoulder strength, injury prevention, and shoulder pain, then Emily Scherb of the Circus Doc workshop “Circus Strong Shoulders” was there to answer your questions. Dic Wheeler presented on “Creating and Directing Circus with Youth,” where attendees discussed the ins and outs of how to develop a show with youth. If you had plus-sized aerialists in your class and were unsure of how to spot them, you could have attended Ginger Snaps’ workshop “Hands-on Teaching and Spotting for Plus-Sized Aerialists.”

For those seeking more information on creating positive youth development, Cynthia Rauschert’s workshop “Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Cheat Sheet” covered quick and easy ways to evaluate programs and apply best practices for Social Emotional Learning, and concluded with group activities that demonstrated and reinforced the practices. “When the Rope Frays – Burnout and Compassion Fatigue for Circus Coaches,” led by Janelle Peters of Cirque Psych, was named “one of the most impactful workshops of the conference” by Rachel Randall, and Marta Brown’s “Let the Good Times Roll: 10 Variations on Rolls and Cartwheels” supplied participants with the tools to coach a broad acrobatic foundation for students to build upon. In addition to all this great content, the event included delicious lunches each day. 

While the educational circus content was abundant, for myself, that is only half the appeal of EdCon. I return year after year for the people. I have met some of my best friends through the ACE community, and EdCon is where I get to see them. In addition to catching up with the folks I know, I gain new colleagues every year. When I participated in my first AYCO/ACE event in 2015 I was not in the best place; thinking of switching jobs, a little lost in what circus meant to me, not sure if I had what it took to continue coaching. The event that year was an AYCOfest geared toward youth, so I found the table of adults and sat down. Everyone immediately welcomed me in and introduced themselves. I quickly found that we had friends in common, received an encouraging pep talk, and was notified that one of the schools was hiring. I returned home excited and inspired in new ways to keep circus in my life and now, seven years later, have continued my career in circus education and administration.   

At the 2022 EdCon, it was my turn to be the welcomer, and I did my best to extend the feeling of companionship and comradery to anyone attending the event. If someone’s body was feeling off, I recommended they see Jim Donak. If someone mentioned they had a dance background, I did my best to introduce them to others with a similar intersection. I endlessly encouraged folks to juggle together – and it wasn’t just me; I watched many of the veteran circus educators welcoming the newer faces into the ACE community. 

It is always amazing to me the enormous diversity of circus arts and circus education in the States. EdCon is a great place to learn about – and meet – the folks who have been instrumental in this field, from the experts who spent years developing the Safety Network and free Safety Guidelines, to the organizational leaders of various social circus programs who have been using circus as a vehicle for empowerment and change in communities that need it, to the independent studios or coaches who are meeting their clients’ needs with attentive care and creativity. 

EdCon is a place for mentors and peers to come together and learn from each other and remind ourselves that, while we may all work in our own regional or organizational bubble, circus is a larger network where we all share the belief that we are changing the world for the better through this medium. It’s why we do what we do, and it’s why we are where we are. After each EdCon I return home and bring with me the expertise and knowledge I gain from the workshops and use the fuel of mixing and mingling with passionate individuals to reinspire myself in my work – until the next conference comes. 

ACE Awards

Every two years, the AYCO/ACE Board of Directors presents the ACE Awards; the biennial Excellence in Education and Innovation in Education awards go to community members who have created an impact in the field of circus education and serve as an inspiration and mentor to students and other educators. This year, the Innovation in Education Award recipient was Erin Ball, and the Excellence in Education Award recipient was Troy Wunderle.

Erin Ball’s tireless work as an advocate and educator for accessibility in circus arts education has had a wide-reaching impact. Erin developed the Flying Footless Manual and accompanying training course, which centers around dismantling ableism, Disability theory, access and methods of teaching, and suggestions to work towards welcoming the Disability community into movement-based classes. These tools are designed to be applied in a range of diverse circus settings. This innovative approach in creating, collecting, and sharing techniques and best practices has been vital in furthering inclusion and accessibility in circus arts education. Erin has shared her work with the ACE community through EdCon presentations and online trainings, and directly with many other organizations and educators. 

Troy Wunderle has changed the circus lives of many over a long and vibrant career, supporting the development of countless youth circus performers and mentoring and inspiring other circus educators. He worked with Circus Smirkus for over twenty-six years in a variety of roles, from coach to Artistic Director of their Big Top Tour. Through Wunderle’s Big Top Adventures, his interactive circus organization, he has inspired and empowered over 100,000 youth through in-school circus residencies. Troy has also reached audiences all over through performances and productions, including over six years as Director of Clowning for Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. As a circus performer in his own right and as an educator, Troy aims to make circus a truly warm-hearted, good human experience and hold up standards of kindness, inclusion and creativity. His infectious enthusiasm, vibrancy, and work ethic have made him a role model for students and colleagues. 

Past recipients of ACE Awards include Veronica Blair, Jackie Davis, Judy Finelli, Hovey Burgess, Carrie Heller, Craig Quatt, Jessica Hentoff, and more. To see all previous recipients and learn more about the award, visitamericancircuseducators.org/awards

All images shared by Audrey Spinazola
Audrey Spinazola
Like many of us, Audrey Spinazola is pretty cool and can do lots of things. She currently resides in Olympia, WA, where she coaches youth circus classes, serves on the board for Airbound Arts, and performs with local theaters in addition to working remotely at ACE as Program Manager. She spent three years as the Youth Performance Program Manager for SANCA and has performed with Animate Objects and the San Francisco Opera and juggled on Mythbusters. In her spare time, she enjoys handstanding, learning ASL, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Audrey Spinazola

Like many of us, Audrey Spinazola is pretty cool and can do lots of things. She currently resides in Olympia, WA, where she coaches youth circus classes, serves on the board for Airbound Arts, and performs with local theaters in addition to working remotely at ACE as Program Manager. She spent three years as the Youth Performance Program Manager for SANCA and has performed with Animate Objects and the San Francisco Opera and juggled on Mythbusters. In her spare time, she enjoys handstanding, learning ASL, and exploring the great outdoors.