Aloft Circus Arts Unique Professional Program

The coaches are so supportive. The facility is inspiring and you are surrounded and encouraged by other performing circus artists the entire time. I have made many discoveries throughout the past 8 months: primary among them is the fact that I am still an artist, plain and simple." -Johanna Vargas, Class of 2014

We have put out Professional Program on hiatus for this year during COVID-19. We are using this time to reflect on how to make out program more inclusive and accessible to all those who want to become professional circus artists. What it means to be a professional circus artist is rapidly changing in the post-covid landscape and we want to be sure that our program is designed to maximize your success when entering that job market. Therefore the details of the program outlined below will be changing as we reevaluate our program goals.

If you are interested in applying for the 2021 year of the program, please fill out the application below. We will hold auditions in the spring of 2021. BIPOC artists are strongly encouraged to apply.

About the Program


The mission of our program is to create curious and questioning artists committed to advancing the role of circus the US and abroad. We aim to inspire our students to aim to inspire others and give them the tools to make physically and emotionally rigorous work that challenges ideas of who we are and what we can do, as individuals and a unified force. We want a circus revolution and we are building an army.


Year One is our FOUNDATIONS AND RESEARCH YEAR. Spend 9 solid months engaged in intensive training to develop strong core, ensemble skills (juggling, dance, physical theater, acrobatics, handstands) that will make you a valuable and vital circus artist. You’ll also dive deeply into research in your chosen apparatus, developing a voice and movement style that is unique to you. Students will work toward an end of the year show and come away with the solid skills and tools needed to make the most of Year Two.


Year two is our LAB YEAR. Designed as a sort of “circus graduate program”, this year is ideal for emerging artists who have already completed Aloft’s first year, a foundational year in a different program, or newly professional artists who wish to intensively develop an act to completion. In addition to independent training time, core classes in physical theater, dance, acrobatics, trampoline, handstands and more each month with feature a week long intensive workshop with a different world-class circus maker. Additionally, the Lab Year culminates in a final show created over 2 months with an internationally renowned director.

Generally, the best way to get into the Lab Year is to complete the first year of the program, though exceptional applicants will be considered for the Lab Year as a stand-along year. Please contact us if you are interested in this option.

Past Lab Year coaches have included:

  • Joseph Pinzon-Short Round Productions/Filament (our show director for 2020)

  • Cohdi Harrel-Ricochet

  • Francesca Hyde-Colectif and Then, NoShow 

  • Holly Trendenick-Circus Sessions, Femmes du Feu

  • Aimee Hancock-Eloize, NECCA

  • George Orange-Mary Bijou, No-Fit State

  • Holly Treddenick-Circus Sessions, Femmes du Feu Toronto

  • Emma Searjent-Casus, Circa (show director 2018)

  • Rain Anya-Paper Doll Militia

  • Keith Bindlestiff-Bindlestiff Family Circus

  • Alessandra Ogren-Wise Fool, Penasco Theater

95% of the graduates of Aloft’s Full Time Program go on to professional circus careers. Our students are working in Cirque du Soleil, Lookingglass Theater Company, Zoppe Family Circus, Piccolo Zoppe, Walker Bro Circus, Cirque Mechanics, Open Ring Circus, Midnight Circus as well as working in Aloft’s Professional Company. Many students have also gone to circus schools in Europe including CodeArts and ESAC to further their training. Aloft’s proudest claim, however, is that our students go on to form their own companies and create their own shows, helping to spread the growth of a vibrant contemporary circus culture in the US and abroad. Our program is designed to encourage this progress.

Check out a great article about our program in ACE magazine!
Listen to director, Shayna Swanson, talk about the program on the Artist Athlete podcast!
Click the PDF for even more info!

“Aloft’s full time program has helped me grow physically, mentally, and artistically. The coaches are so talented and helpful! The program gives you time to explore a variety of circus arts, then allows you to hone in on what you are passionate about. In addition to outstanding aerial training, Aloft offers a variety of apparatuses that are not often available, including tightwire and tramp wall. The lab year gives you the opportunity to work with circus professionals that share their experience, training methods, and practical advice about succeeding as a circus professional. I consider myself extremely lucky to have participated in it, and would recommend it to anyone hoping to become more technically proficient, creative, and physically expressive.” Christine Conroy

“I am a graduate of two training programs and Aloft’s full time training program was by far the most valuable one to me. It pushed me to grow in ways both professionally and personally and  to reach my career goals. Some of my favorite aspects of it were the comprehensive group disciplines and classes, working one on one with my instructor on the development of my ideas and act creation, the classroom knowledge we received about the business side and the beautiful show we put together at the end. I highly recommend this program to anyone who wants to be challenged, changed and deeply moved by this unique experience.” Kristi Taff

“I came in to Aloft’s full time training program  with a burning desire to be a badass successful rope artist, the program not only offered me the opportunity to advance significantly in my rope skills, but also allowed me to grow as a generalist. For that I will forever be grateful. Post the program, I continued to work with my coach and within a year found myself working as a professional rope artist. Within a year of graduating the program I had performed  my act at festivals throughout the United States as well as being invited to perform as the 5th US artist at the 16th International Festival of Circus CIRCUBA in Havana, Cuba in 2017”. - Bre Lawson 2016

“The full-time program at Aloft is more than a circus school.  It's a spiritual journey. It was one of the coolest things I've ever done, and I've done a lot of cool things. I gained so much as a result of the life-changing Aloft full-time program, including a supportive community, a group of lifelong friends, tremendous mental and physical strength, and a safe place and time for creative free expression. The coaches in the program will help you get stronger both as an acrobat and as an artist.  Here muscular strength goes hand in hand with the strength to speak up with your own unique voice. The world outside is trying to crush your beautiful spirit; don't let it! Join the circus! Get strong! Fight back with style! Being an artist today takes strength and guts. The full-time program at Aloft will give you both. The full-time program at Aloft has found the perfect balance between the development of technical skill and the fostering of artistic creativity. Itt has so much to offer: incredible professional coaches, an enormous variety of classes and disciplines, a beautiful training space, and a community on the forefront of circus in the U.S.” -Whitni Battle (Gyata Dingo)

Important details:

  • Tuition cost: $9500/year.

  • Only 12 spots are open for the first year of the program. 

  • Student loans, workstudy or scholarships are not available.

  • Program runs from the beginning of September to the beginning of June each year.

  • Training is 40 hours/week and intense. Students may work on weekends, though it is not encouraged.

  • One private lesson/week beginning in the second term of the first year and continuing to the end of the program is included in tuition. Students wishing to have a minor area of focus pay a tuition surcharge.

  • Audition video requirements: Introduction to the camera, handstands (unassisted preferred, otherwise against the wall, facing the wall for as long as possible) , as many pull ups as you can do (palms forward, hang fully down, lift chin past bar, lower fully down), as many leg lifts as you can do (hanging straight under a bar, lift toes to the bar), all three splits, bridges, forward roll, backward roll, cartwheel, additional tumbling skills, 1 min plank. Please also include up to 3 min of movement in your preferred discipline . Incomplete videos will not be considered. Please do not speed up or slow down any parts of your videos. Please do not include music except for the movement section of your video.

  • Please send two letters of recommendation.

  • Questions? Please email

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3324 W Wrightwood Avenue
Chicago, IL 60647
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