Vancouver Circus School: clowning around during class

Juggling, aerial stunts, unicycles: the Vancouver Circus School has it all!

Credit: Stacey McLachlan

Have a ball at the Vancouver Circus School with aerial silk classes, unicycle lessons and more


I am hanging upside down and it is terrifying.

It turns out that drunkenly watching a Cirque du Soleil show is not adequate training for an aerial silks class.

Vancouver Circus School


#212 – 810 Quayside Drive, New Westminster BC, V3M 6Z6






Nigel Wakita, director of recreational education at the Vancouver Circus School in New Westminster, is coaching me as I cling like a wet cat to the 40-foot strips of fabric hanging from the ceiling.


“You need to release your hands,” he says gently, prying my fingers from the silk. “Your legs will hold you. You’re all hooked in. You can do this!”


Clearly, I’m a natural aerialist. (Image: Stacey McLachlan)


I’m dangling a death-defying six inches above a foam crash mat, but I trust him. I slowly let go. I do not die. All in all, a pleasant surprise.


Compete with yourself at the Vancouver Circus School

Nigel is very supportive, congratulating me on my accomplishment and offering me a high five, despite the fact that the eight-year-olds in my class are all scampering through the rafters and twisting their tiny bodies into shapes never before seen in nature.


“We firmly believe here that the only person you should be competing against is yourself. That’s all circus competition should ever be,” Nigel reassures me. He points to a particularly nimble girl, an obvious future contender in the Circus Olympics.


“Take Callie for example: she’s been one of our students from the very beginning, and she’s grown to be able to hold her own against people who are almost twice her age. But she looks at other people and could care less where they’re at. She sets goals against herself.” To me, it looks like Callie’s winning.


The circus is hard work

The Circus School’s second location—now a year old, at the new(ish) River Market building by the Quay—is an open, high-ceilinged space, with plenty of room for all the swinging, juggling, and trapezing required for any circus academy worth its salt.


It’s packed on this Tuesday night. Teen boys are doing some extreme (or “x-treme,” if you prefer) bouncing and flipping on the massive trampoline, while I join a group of twenty-somethings for a warm-up game of tag, as preschoolers practice their handstands in the corner.


“The oldest student we ever had was in his 70s,” says Nigel. “He took a tight-rope class with me.”


Director of recreational education, Nigel, demonstrates a giant balloon stunt. (Image: Stacey McLachlan)


Though I never went to summer camp, Circus School feels like what I’ve always imagined summer camp to be: light-hearted, goofy, a place where camaraderie abounds.


It’s a welcome change from my usual fitness classes, which generally involve step-related tears on my part. Here, everyone is joking around with each other and the teachers as we warm up.


“You have to watch this YouTube video of Nigel’s!” says one broad-shouldered instructor. “But you have to promise you’ll keep stretching while we watch it.”


The students oblige, and we are presented with a clip of Nigel climbing into a giant balloon and dancing. Later, he performs the same stunt in person. But despite the excessive giggling, Circus School is a workout, too.


I am very sweaty at the end of a group tag exercise (you’re welcome) and my glutes (I’m 99% sure that’s a muscle) burn as I try and balance myself in the silk loop Nigel made for me. The kids, of course, are flying up and down the silk without a safety knot. Show-offs.


Vancouver Circus School provides a little something for everyone

Unicycle lessons are yet another offering at the Vancouver Circus School. (Image: Stacey McLachlan)


Afterwards, back on solid ground, Nigel gives me a quick unicycle lesson, during which, I’m proud to report, no injuries occur.


It usually takes months to learn how to do it, according to Nigel, so I’m probably not quite ready to run away and join the circus yet. Still, it’s appealing to know there’s a magical alternative to spin class out there waiting for me.


“You can get absorbed into this thing and disappear,” Nigel explains as he blows up the aforementioned giant balloon with a leaf blower and nonchalantly climbs inside. “You’ve found a home in a place where there are other people who are just like you: a lot of us couldn’t imagine doing anything else. It’s play, it’s hard work, but it’s rewarding.”