A Circus is Born
As a nurse practitioner, SANCA founder Jo Montgomery witnessed a steady rise in the number of children struggling with obesity, due to largely sedentary lifestyles. This inspired Jo to dream of a place where any child could go for fun and exercise, regardless of ability or income. Jo envisioned a place that was non-competitive in nature, that encouraged success, and where children gained confidence. Thus, in the spring of 2003, the “Big Idea” was born.
Taking her own advice, Jo decided to get into shape by enrolling in an adult gymnastics class. This class was taught by Chuck Johnson who was to become SANCA’s co-founder and program director. When Jo realized that some of the other students had a background in circus arts she was intrigued and began to learn acrobatics and other circus skills. Jo’s experience with the burgeoning circus scene in Seattle made her realize that the “big idea” and circus arts is a perfect match. Circus is not competitive; it’s physically engaging and it’s a heck of a lot of fun.
Jo decided to open a school. Her commitment to provide all children the opportunity to participate in the program, regardless of their ability to pay, inspired her to open the school as a non-profit organization. After sharing her vision with Chuck, then living in Portland, he agreed to return to Seattle to teach classes. Chuck assembled equipment while Jo hunted for an appropriate space. Finally, SANCA was born: 1100 square feet of concrete with high ceilings and no heat, tucked into a busy warehouse. Supportive friends assisted with cleaning and painting the new space. On January 11, 2004, the School of Acrobatics & New Circus Arts opened its doors with a tightrope, a rolling globe, a mini tramp, a trapeze dangling over a trampoline, a few mats and five students. By the end of the first week, enrollment had almost doubled to nine students!
At first, Chuck maintained his business in Portland weekdays, then drove to Seattle to teach classes Thursday to Saturday. Jo continued her work at the Odessa Brown clinic and taught classes with Chuck on the weekends. All proceeds from classes went to new equipment and propane to fuel much needed heaters. Still adhering to their plan to grant scholarships to anyone who needed them, SANCA awarded about $4,000 in scholarships during the first year. Through word of mouth, the student body steadily increased and Chuck moved to Seattle. At eighteen months, making another the leap of faith, SANCA moved to a larger warehouse in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle.
In 2005, the school hired Tara Jensen as Administrative Director, which made it possible for the school to continue growing. SANCA achieved another milestone in 2006 when instructor Crystal Campbell formed The SANCA Youth Company comprised of SANCA students between the ages of 9-18. Today SANCA houses three student performance companies: the Amazing Circus I-ders (ages 5-6), the Magnificent 7 (ages 7-10) and the Youth Performance Company (ages 11-18).
More than 1,000 people enter SANCA’s doors each week for circus arts training or flying trapeze and SANCA has maintained its promise to grant all scholarship requests. The Youth Scholarship Fund is generated from private donations and proceeds from fund-raising events. Since 2004, SANCA has awarded more than $200,000 in scholarships to families with financial need!
SANCA is privileged and proud to bring circus arts to people of all ages. It’s been hard work, but the School of Acrobatics & New Circus Arts has become exactly what Jo and Chuck wanted it to be – a nurturing environment where all are encouraged to reach new goals, and everyone has the opportunity to build success one step at a time.