Circadium: Higher ed without a net

Nicole “Cole” Burgio performs on a trapeze. Burgio said she began gymnastics as a toddler, and performs at festivals and on cruise ships.

When you're an ambient contortionist, all the world's a stage, including a small parking barrier on the terrace of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

On Tuesday morning, Luna Deasy, a student at Philadelphia's School of Circus Arts in Germantown, used one hand to balance herself atop the barrier as if she were weightless and then froze under the sun, her body as still as the Prometheus Strangling the Vulture sculpture on the museum steps a few feet away.

"It's called the crocodile," said Deasy, 18, of Fort Washington. "It's one of the hand mounts I do."

Deasy was on the museum's terrace to promote Circadium, a full-time, three-year professional school for circus artists that the School for Circus Arts will open next year.

Circadium is touted as the first higher-education school for circus artists in the United States, said Shana Kennedy, an aerialist, a juggler, and the executive director and founder of the Germantown school.

Kennedy, 40, said she had to train in Europe when she got serious about circus arts.

"When I was 19, I wanted to be a circus performer, but there was nowhere to go," Kennedy said.

Kennedy and Adam Woolley, head coach at the Germantown school, said circus arts have seen both a renaissance and a revolution in recent years, beyond the Americana of big-top tents, lion tamers, and clowns. Performances such as Cirque du Soleil have pushed the boundaries into theater, performance art, and dance.

"This is an exciting and kind of tipping-point time for the new circus arts in the United States," Woolley told a crowd that had gathered by the many props the school had brought and assembled on the terrace.

Circadium will accept students 18 and older with a high school diploma and understanding of English. Online applications (circadium.com) are due by Nov. 30.

The school will be breaking ground for a new Circadium building this winter and has launched a Kickstarter campaign at http://bit.ly/circadiumkickstarter to raise $50,000 for initial start-up fees.

The school will also require students to have some experience in circus, dance, theater, or gymnastics. It's a nice way of saying three years of Little League might not count.

"It's not so much that there's an age cap," Kennedy said. "If there's a bunch of 35-year-olds ready to go, great, but it's rigorous work."

Kennedy's husband, Greg, performed a gravity-defying juggling act for the crowd Tuesday as well. Greg Kennedy, co-owner of the School for Circus Arts, met his wife at the Art Museum while juggling there two decades ago. Together they traveled with Cirque du Soleil's Totem show in Europe and Canada.

Nicole "Cole" Burgio, 31, of Philadelphia finished the showcase with a performance on trapeze that had been erected in the morning. Burgio said she began gymnastics as a toddler, studied in New England, and performs at festivals and on cruise ships.

"It's physical work," she said, taking in deep breaths after her performance.

Deasy, a recent graduate of Mount Saint Joseph Academy, continued contorting her body into confounding shapes as the crowd thinned. She's not sure if she'll be attending Circadium - at least not yet.

"Circus is my life, though," she said. "It's all I want to do."

narkj@phillynews.com

215-854-5916 @jasonnark