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Class clowns welcome: Circus Society starts weekly lessons

Yukoners who have always dreamed of running away to the circus don’t have to go far this fall
Performer Graham Rudge gives a juggling demonstration during a Circus Sunday lesson at Avalanche Athletics in Whitehorse. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)

Yukoners who have always dreamed of running away to the circus don’t have to go far this fall.

Thanks in part to COVID-19 circumstances, the Yukon Circus Society is offering free Circus Sunday lessons to those with an urge to totter high on stilts, entertain crowds with juggling or gracefully dance from silks and hoops.

“There’s so many people out there who want to do it and have done it before or who just want to try it, or who used to do it in the city. And they don’t have the space to do it,” said Claire Ness, an organizer and one of the instructors of the five-week program, which aims to introduce circus skills to as many people in the city as possible.

“There’s just a group of people that’s going to come out of this that’s going to become – you know – a clown army. An army of clowns,” she said.

Starting Oct. 3, Ness and a band of talented instructors will be teaching intro circus skills to small groups of Yukoners.

The art forms aren’t restricted to a red nose – instructors on Sunday were sharing everything from acrobatics to juggling.

Ness doesn’t usually commit to a schedule, but COVID-19 has reduced her usual performance touring and travel. The society also received funding from the Yukon government and Canada Council for the Arts that they decided to put towards classes.

Attendees must pre-register for the two-hour lessons. After the lessons are done Ness said she’s hoping to form a regular “circus jam” drop-in on Sundays in November. Lessons are taking place at Avalanche Athletics, with space and mats to allow for set-up of acrobatic equipment.

On Oct. 3, the class began with warm-up stretches before instructor Alyssa Bunce took to the hoop – a steel apparatus resembling a hula hoop suspended from the ceiling. Aerial hoop dancers perform tricks and routines by hoisting themselves up to the bar and maneuvering their body around the suspended hoop.

Similar to the hoop, performer Johanna Goossens demonstrated aerial silks using a suspended strips of red silk. Dancers in this form, like the hoop, require strength and grace to perform tricks and routines in the air, holding themselves aloft with two pieces of suspended fabric.

Finally, Graham Rudge showed off juggling skills with plastic pins, balls and silk kerchiefs — noting that the act starts to get really exciting when you’re good enough to light things on fire.

Ness admits she’s always been a little more enthusiastic about teaching kids — she often brings the circus to town around Yukon’s rural communities. Adults tend to be a little shyer in trying new things out, an instinct you’ll need to train out in order to have fun.

“Kids just, you know, get up there and do it. They don’t need so much babysitting. Adults are really much more high maintenance,” she said with a laugh. “But I am looking forward to it being a jam, with more of everyone doing their thing and building their acts, instead of it being like an instructional class.

“Circus skills are something that builds confidence and teamwork and self-esteem,” explained Ness. “For some people, it’s fitness. It’s really a different type of fitness when you’re doing something, people look at aerial silks and go, ‘Yeah, I could climb a rope, I could probably do silks.’ It’s absolutely hard. It takes strength and muscle endurance and training.”

Ness notes that the joy of circus also means that you don’t need super-strength to find a place as an entertainer — while some people may be drawn to high-flying acrobatics, others find grace on the ground, in juggling or in showmanship.

“There’s always a place for everyone in the circus,” she said.

Contact Haley Ritchie at

Performer Alyssa Bunce gives a demonstration of acrobatic moves on a steel hoop at a Circus Sundays lesson. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
A box of colourful juggling equipment. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)