Advanced Search | Search A!:
Volume 26, Number 4 — April 2019

Johnson City Circus Arts dances in air

Rachel Miller performs during Johnson City Circus Arts Halloween show. (photo by Bellamanda Wedding Photography)
Rachel Miller performs during Johnson City Circus Arts Halloween show. (photo by Bellamanda Wedding Photography)
Additional photos below »

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | December 28, 2016

If you've ever wanted to dance on air or fantasized about running away to join Circque du Soleil, you should learn about Johnson City Circus Arts. They'll teach you to dance in air. Their classes are so popular that in three years, they've taught more than 600 students.

They offer aerial silk and lyra (aerial hoop) classes for adults. In an aerial silk class, two long pieces of fabric come down from the ceiling and performers climb and perform acrobatic stunts, drops and strength and flexibility poses using the fabric. In a lyra class, students use a metal aerial hoop (looks similar to a hula hoop) that hangs from the ceiling. Performers climb up, under, over and inside it and perform acrobatic moves and strength and flexibility poses.

Craig Lewis, owner and instructor, says "I've been doing circus arts for 16 years. I started out juggling when I was just 10 years old, and have been attending various annual juggling conventions ever since. I began to take an interest in aerial arts in 2009 and began my training at San Francisco Circus Center, and later completed my training at Aerial Space in Asheville, North Carolina. In 2013, I did a teacher training program through New England Center for Circus Arts, and then founded Johnson City Circus Arts."

His school primarily teaches recreational classes in aerial silks for adults. They also offer classes in lyra, aerial choreography, tumbling and juggling. They also teach kid's circus classes starting at age 7. Their adult classes are open to ages 13 and older. "They're mostly in their 20s or older, but we've worked with students who are as old as in their 60s," Lewis says.

They also offer a kid's aerial class once a week for ages 7 through 14.

"One of the most rewarding things for me is seeing students achieve physical goals that they initially thought were impossible," Lewis says. "We primarily work with adults, and people start out with a very wide range of physical skill levels and fitness levels on day one. It's really rewarding when I can see someone progress from thinking that these things seem impossible for them (they're "too out of shape" or "too old,' etc.) and then showing them what actually is possible with a little dedication. And when we get to the stage where we get to guide them through their first performance in front of an audience, that's always an amazing experience."

The school's performing group is The Night Owl Circus. They do an annual student showcase in Johnson City, Tennessee. They also work with Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia, on circus acts for their shows.

"The most recent show we worked on was "Chicago,' which included two aerial silks acts as part of the musical. And finally, our company is available for hire for events, so we often perform at corporate events, weddings, festivals, college events, etc. This allows our advanced students to actually get paid to perform at events," Lewis says.

Lewis is flexible about the number of classes a student must take. "It's completely up to them — we're very flexible, and it depends on a student's personal goals. Some of our students take classes purely for fun and fitness. If that's the case, they might show up once a week, once a month or once a year. Some people just come try out one class to say they've done it. We sometimes even get tourists who are just passing through.

"For a student who is really passionate and aspires to become a performer for us, I typically recommend taking at least two classes a week. In the two months leading up to our annual Night Owl Circus, our performers are required to be at our studio at least two times a week including rehearsals, but three to four times a week is more common for our performers in that time frame," he says.

Whether you are dedicated to the idea of aerial dance or just curious, Lewis encourages you to give it a try.

"Often people are intimidated by the idea of trying out an aerial silks class. They think you have to have crazy upper body strength and flexibility on day one, or that they have to have a gymnastics background, or be in their teens or twenties. None of these things are necessary. Anyone can learn. We teach students of all fitness levels, athletic backgrounds, and ages, including both men and women. We keep our class sizes very small (maximum of 5), and we work with each student individually and allow them to progress completely at their own pace. Safety is a high priority for us, and we never ask anyone to go up high on the silks until they're advanced, and even then, only when they feel ready and comfortable with being up high. We also work over an 8-inch safety mat at all times, which is a universal and non-negotiable safety requirement for anyone training or performing aerial art," he says.

JCCA shares a space with Appalachian Tumbling and Gymnastics in the Boones Creek area. The first class is $10, and you can sign up online at or call (423) 782-6479 with questions.

>> Grace Studio of Motion and Dance has new location

Topics: Dance

The cast of The Night Owl Circus, Johnson City Circus Arts' performance group (Photo by Dr. Evan Lewis)