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Patients Run Away with the Circus

Dana Farber Newsletter

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They Fly Through the Air with the Greatest of Ease

The Commons

“MY COMPANY works with Vermont craftspeople to market and sell their furniture online and at our new gallery and showroom in Vernon. We put a lot of time and resources into creating our fine furniture website. It’s where we publish original photos, artwork, opinions, and ideas.”

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NECCA Buys Property for Circus Arts Training Center

Brattleboro Reformer

When Serenity Smith Forchion is training a student to perform on the trapeze she knows you have to start with both feet on the ground and mark your progress in small steps.

Smith Forchion, a co-founder of The New England Center for Circus Arts, or NECCA, understands that if you are persistent, creative and focused, before long you will be flying through the air. For the past four years the board members and staff of NECCA have been looking for a location for a new home, and the search has required a similar degree of patience and optimism. Now, after at least four other potential sites created excitement, but ultimately, disappointment, NECCA’s feet are off the ground in their long quest to build a state-of-the-art circus education center.

Full article HERE

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Serenity Talks About Training with Aerialist Mel Stevens

BBC News

Mel Stevens from Newbury discovered that hanging upside down helped her physical state and spurred her on mentally. A former professional dancer who broke her back 10 years ago, Stevens is hoping to open an aerial performance centre for people with disabilities.

More about Mel Stevens here

View the interview

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How to Run a Circus


By Dustin Newcombe | Published October 23, 2013

She spends much of her day teaching and performing risky acrobatics high up in the air, yet aerialist Serenity Smith Forchion insists that that the success of her world-renowned nonprofit, New England Center for Circus Arts (NECCA), comes from its business grounding.

“The way that we have always run [NECCA] is as a business,” says Serenity. “From our standpoint, we don’t spend money assuming that somebody is just going to give it to us to balance the budget. We work as if we were a business, and things have to be balanced before we send or promise money out.”

From 2003 to 2007, Brattleboro, Vermont-based NECCA was actually a for-profit school called Nimble Arts that Serenity ran along with twin sister, Elsie Smith. “We were still performing regularly and some of the locals who saw us practicing suggested that we teach a class,” says Serenity. “We went by demand. We never started a school and opened our doors and said, ‘hey, we’re here!’ People came to us and asked us to offer things. The whole school has always grown by demand.”

Their decision to go the nonprofit route was also driven, at least in part, by demand. “We were perfectly successful and happy as a business but found ourselves challenged by facility,” she says. “We needed to build a custom circus building. In order to do that, we had to be able to take donations… So that, along with the goal of having an organization that would outlive us, that would belong to the community, informed our decision to incorporate as a non-profit.”

While the center relies on grants and donations for its extensive outreach work serving at-risk youth, a school for the deaf, and cancer survivors, the school’s programs run entirely in the black. “We have 26 people on staff and last year we served over 3000 students from all over the world,” says Serenity. “We had always built the organization around the idea of giving back. When it was for- profit, the model was that we could break even with four people in the class, but we structured our classes based on a 1:6 student-teacher ratio allowing us to scholarship two students in each class and not lose money on it. That’s where we started our outreach work.”

The center competes locally with gymnastics, dance, and other such schools, for recreation-level classes. When it comes to professional-level circus arts classes, NECCA is in a class all its own. “We have a reputation of being one of the best schools to offer what we have, which means that we are only facing competition at the top level from a handful of circus schools around the world. I don’t think that there’s any competition right now in the United States for our professional-level training programs.”

As for the future, the school won a rural grant from the USDA to build a custom-designed trapezium, and the Smiths have started mentoring partner schools throughout the region. “The more the merrier. Plus they funnel higher-level students to us,” says Serenity. ““I truly believe that there should be a little circus school in every town in the way that there’s a soccer school or a gymnastics school. Circus is a fantastic thing for young people and older people to do and it should be available to everyone.”

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Cancer Survivors Let Go, Have Fun at Brattleboro Circus Program

Keene Sentinel, Sept. 2013


BRATTLEBORO — Linda Dierks’ eyes are focused, trained on the end of the metal pipe.

She inches across, toe to heel, right arm extended for balance and left hand resting lightly on her spotter.

It’s an introductory balance trick — just about 2 feet off the ground.

But, all the same, when Dierks makes the 12 steps across to the platform, the crowd cheers as she smiles and bows.

After walking across the pipe, Dierks Hula-Hooped, swung from aerial fabrics and tried out the trapeze during “Circus for Survivors” on Sunday, a free program for people living with any stage of a cancer diagnosis.

“We spend so many years being frightened that this activity reminds us to step out of our comfort zone,” said Dierks, a breast cancer survivor who lives in Guilford, Vt.

The New England Center for Circus Arts and Forest Moon, both based in Brattleboro, teamed up to start Circus for Survivors last year, holding three sessions each in the fall and spring.

Forest Moon, a nonprofit organization that sponsored an array of programs for cancer survivors, closed earlier this year. But it has worked with its community partners to pass on grants and try to continue as many programs as possible. With Circus for Survivors, the circus school has carried on as the primary sponsor with financial support from the California-based Lloyd Symington Foundation.

Circus for Survivors provides an opportunity for cancer survivors to meet and mingle with other people who’ve been affected by the disease, said facilitator Pam Roberts of Shelburne Falls, Mass.

But the program is more than that.

“Cancer people often feel like their bodies betrayed them,” she said.

And so this is a way for people to reconnect with their bodies after radiation, chemotherapy or surgery, Roberts said.

She went through six months of chemotherapy and had a mastectomy after learning she had breast cancer in 1993. For the past decade, she’s been leading programs for people affected by cancer.

Participants can come alone to Circus for Survivors, or bring a friend or family member. The program is accessible to all people, including those who’ve had recent surgeries or are in wheelchairs.

That’s the great thing about circus, facilitator Suzannne Rappaport said. It’s infinitely adaptable.

When all the participants crossed the walking pipe easily, Rappaport, an occupational therapist and circus arts teacher, upped the ante. Now, try it backwards, she said. Next, try it with a partner, walking like a train across the metal pipe.

Later in the day, Jo Schneiderman swung down after hanging from her knees off the trapeze bar and stood up with a triumphant grin, her face a little flushed.

“I’m not afraid to go upside down,” she said. “I like it.”

She wasn’t alone in her fearlessness. At the beginning of the session, everyone in the group shared their hopes and fears for the afternoon. Most participants said they hoped to have fun and weren’t afraid of much of anything. The facilitators were the ones with the fears, afraid that no one would have fun, they said.

They shouldn’t have worried.

The laughs came early and continued throughout the two-hour session. The day started with warm-up stretches and goofy dancing. There was teamwork and clowning around, at times even with a red nose. The session ended with practicing how to properly take a bow and accept applause.

“The fun element of this program is really one of its hallmarks,” said Anne Wibiralske, president of Forest Moon.

Many of the programs Forest Moon sponsored are more serious, but both kinds of activities have their place in the healing process, Wibiralske said.

And there’s time for some reflection at Circus for Survivors, too.

Schneiderman, of Guilford, Vt., said having cancer taught her not to sweat the small stuff.

“And most of it is small stuff,” she added.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005 and finished all her treatment by 2006. During that period, she didn’t think she was learning anything about life, she said. But now she knows not to be afraid to say no to taking on more responsibilities, so she has time for herself and for her family and friends, time to simply slow down and live.

When Britta Reida was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, she used trapeze classes at the New England Center for Circus Arts as her form of physical therapy. There were times, even during radiation, when she’d forget about having cancer during trapeze practice, she said.

That’s because circus is fun but also requires focus, Rappaport said.

Reida served on the executive board of the circus school and participated in several Forest Moon programs, and now, she’s a facilitator for Circus for Survivors.

For her, circus is the perfect antidote to cancer treatments.

Cancer is all these scary, exhausting, painful things you never thought would happen to your body, she said.

But circus? Circus is all these happy, funny and amazing things you never thought you could do with your body.

There are two more Circus for Survivors workshops this fall, on Saturday, Oct. 19, and a family session Saturday, Nov. 16, when kids 10 and up are welcome. To register, contact Pam Roberts at 413-625-2402 or For more information about the circus center, go to

photo of NECCA's founders performing on aerial rectangle

New England’s Quietly Expanding Center for Professional Circus

Spectacle Magazine

In an odd sort of way it comes as no surprise to discover that entire state of Vermont is listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation registry of engendered sites.  Tucked into every bucolic corner of the state’s villages and quaint towns are warrens of endangered artists and craftsmen, among whom one can find the artists, instructors and trainers of the New England Center for Circus Arts in the charming town of Brattleboro. The Center inhabits two floors of a former cotton mill which they share with potters, visual artists and sculptors who work in every conceivable medium.  Thanks to their studios’ sixteen foot ceilings and the aerial expertise of the Center’s founders, the Smith twins, Elsie and Serenity, who work under the professional name of the Gemini, most of the students, both professional and recreational, train on the various forms of aerial arts.  But there is also the opportunity to try almost every other circus art as well: unicycle, juggling, clowning, German wheel, wire walking, partner acrobatics, contortion, and hand balancing, almost all of which were on display in the Center’s graduation show for its professional track students earlier this month.

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New England Center for Circus Arts Profile

By Amy Brady

As a kid (or even an adult) did you ever dream about running away to join the circus? Didn’t we all. Of course, if you really wanted to run away to join a circus you’d better do some work on developing your performance skills. As luck would have it you can do that right here in Brattleboro, Vermont at the New England Center for Circus Arts.

This school was established in 2003 by identical twins Elsie Smith and Serenity Smith Forchion. Elsie and Serenity are world renowned circus performers. They spent four years with Cirque du Soleil’s Saltimbanco and performed with Ringling Bros., Barnum and Baily’s Circus and well as many other top circus companies. As performers they present a duo trapeze and duo fabric act, as well as various solos on aerial apparatus. Serenity also performs a partner hand balancing act with her husband, Bill Forchion. Elsie and Serenity have spent many years teaching and choreographing throughout the world.

At Forty Putney Road Bed and Breakfast we have had the honor of meeting some of their students from all across America. Some of our guests attending the school have specialized in contortion and trapeze. However, the classes at the New England Center for Circus Arts have a broad range of offerings and appeal. Classes include fixed trapeze, aerial fabric, flying trapeze, acrobatics, dance, Pilates, yoga, clowning, stilting, and juggling. So if you are into building strength & flexibility, poise, self-confidence and creative self expression – well and of course having fun – then perhaps Circus School is for you.

Then again, if you are like me, perhaps you can just appreciate others as they perform (Check out performance dates of their company Nimble Arts). Either way the New England Center for Circus Arts is just one more thing that makes our little town of Brattleboro so unique, vibrant and just a little off center. If you would like more information about the New England Center for Circus Arts check out their website at Of course, if you do decide to try your hand at trapeze or stilting, we hope that you will stay at our lovely Brattleboro Vermont B&B and share your good times with us!

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Circus School and Brattleboro, Vermont

Adventure Mobile

“Okay – so it’s possible I’m the worst blogger ever, considering my children went to Circus School and I got  exactly zero pictures of them doing cool circus stuff.”

Full article HERE

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Dreaming of the Circus: Brattleboro school trains students for unusual careers

Xochitl Sosa-Campbell dangles upside down, the back of her knees snug around a metal bar.

Celeste Fry-Myhre springs up and grabs her partner’s hands. Muscles stiff. Eyes focused. Silent communication.

Then: Pop.

Fry-Myhre curls and twists in the air.

In a second, Sosa-Campbell clutches her partner’s ankle, both of them held up by the trapeze. They pause in preparation for the next trick.

View full article HERE