A handful of girls, in full costume and stage makeup, took over the Secret Garden at the Rochester Hotel on Wednesday night to practice for the show they are putting on this weekend.
Founded by Elle Carpenter-Hockett in 2015, the school began as Durango Aerial Arts but was changed to Durango Aerial Arts & Acrobatics with the addition of classes in ground circus acrobatics. Now, students, who range in age from about 8 to adult, take classes in aerial silk, trapeze, hoop and acrobatics.
Carpenter-Hockett has been involved in the performing arts since she was about 8. She’s performed with the High Flyers Family Circus in Indiana and trained with Circus Smirkus coaches Zina and Vladimir Augustov. She’s also worked as a performer, musician, director, choreographer and teacher.
She said the classes have been gaining popularity.
“It’s been really booming lately. I think (in this day and age) aerial arts and circus are popular,” she said. “I just think it takes a little while to get going in a new town, and it takes a little while to get dedicated students. Last year, I expressed to my dedicated students that I wanted to start a performing company, and I think that made them even more dedicated, and that’s just been building from there.”
And for the girls at rehearsal, it’s tough work, but also a lot of fun.
Naomi Hurst and her sister, Haley, whose parents are Lauren Lucky and Michael Hurst, started taking classes a little more than two years ago. Naomi started going first, and Haley followed soon after.
“Actually, it started as a summer intensive, and (Naomi) didn’t want to go,” Lauren Lucky said. “After that one class, she loved it, that was it.”
Lucky said the classes are helping the girls gain strength and confidence being on stage. They’re also learning the importance of teamwork, which was evident during rehearsal. Much of the acrobatics the girls were doing required everyone’s concentration and a level of trust.
“I think the most nerve-wracking thing is probably on the apparatuses, like the trapeze and the hoop, are a little scary, other than that, it’s just fun,” Haley Hurst said. “I never really thought about it – you don’t think about it too much and then you’re fine.”
Lauryn Christensen, whose parents are Ann and Walker Christensen, is playing the Cheshire Cat in Saturday’s “Alice in Wonderland”-themed show. She said what she likes best about taking classes at Durango Aerial Arts & Acrobatics is also what she finds the most difficult.
“I think the best part is gaining strength and flexibility,” she said, then added, laughing, “The most challenging part is probably strength and flexibility.”
Carpenter-Hockett said that along with teaching students the finer points of the circus arts, there are bigger lessons she wants to impart.
“I grew up in community theater, and I was working with adults. I think growing up working with multiple age ranges creates a whole new level of socialization,” she said. “I think when kids work with grown-ups, they get even more socialized into the real world. I’m training my kids to be professionals.
“For example, if somebody doesn’t show up, then their part might get cut or somebody else might get that part,” she said. “It’s lessons that really in life are the same thing: If you don’t show up for work, you’ll get fired. I think that this kind of production, while it is a piece of art, everyone involved can kind of use it in their life.”
Chloe Harris, 11, said she’s a little nervous about performing, but you wouldn’t know it watching her twist and bend and pull herself up onto her classmates’ shoulders.
“It’s really fun performing and hanging out with the whole group,” said Chloe, whose parents are Stephanie and Craig Harris. “I like acrobatics and the apparatuses like the silks.”
The classes are fun for Chloe, but the overall benefits are far-reaching.
“This is important because it creates body awareness, it gets kids moving – I think kids really need to move their bodies,” Stephanie Harris said. “It’s fun, but mostly, the strength and conditioning and the coordination and the body awareness they get out of it, they’re building something that is going to last a lifetime.
“This is her dream,” she said. “She says it all the time.”