Aloft strives to provide the highest quality training with a focus on safety and excellent technique. Some of our trainers are world-class performers who make Aloft their home base when not on a contract, and others are professionals who have made coaching their art form, guiding beginners through the steps towards making gravity irrelevant! .
Shayna Swanson - Founder/Director
Shayna began Aloft Circus Arts (Then Aloft Aerial Dance) in 2005 and founded the Aloft Loft a year later in 2006 in an alley, down another alley in Humboldt Park. After struggling with 2-5 students for several years, she finally moved the studio to Fulton Carroll Center, not in an alley, in 2008 and watched enrollement soar! In addition to teaching at the Aloft Loft, and training a legion of top-notch circus artists, providing them a place to perform and hone their acts in El Circo Cheapo Cabaret, and desperately trying to keep her garden gowing, Shayna has been invited to teach master classes around the world, from the UK to Malaysia, to Jamaica to the Aerial Dance Festival in Boulder, CO.
With over 18 years of circus experience, and 30 when you count gymnastics, Shayna has a strong understanding of body mechanics and an eye for act development. While she has mastered almost everything (silks, trapeze, lyra, rope, wheel and tumbling) she prefers to focus her attention these days on creating new fiends for rope and cyr wheel. Shayna is the head of the new Full-Time Training Program, Teacher Training and overlord of all things Aloft.
Zoe Sheppard - cyr wheel, trapeze, silks, rope
Zoe is a Renaissance Woman in every sense of the word. She began her circus training at Aloft in 2008 and has risen from the "girl most likely to fall on Shayna's head" to become one of our most beloved and trusted teachers. In addition to teaching aerial silks, rope and trapeze, Zoe is the Studio Manager, keeping everything hanging nicely in the sky as it's supposed to be. And, as if that weren't enough, Zoe is the resident costume designer, cake baker, photographer and label maker!
Oyunchimeg Yadamjav - contortion
A master of contortion Oyunchimeg Yadamjav is a meritorious artist of Mongolia
with over 25 years of experience performing internationally with the World-renowned Mongolian National Circus. She has twice won for “Best Act” with her solo and duo contortion act from the national circus. She has also received numerous state awards from Mongolian People’s Republic. Oyunchimeg has won the prestigious “Silver Crown” at the global circus competition in Monte-Carlo, awarded to professionals by an international jury under the Presidency of the HSH Prince Rainier III de Monaco. Very few artists in the world have the ability and the showmanship to win one of these coveted prizes in show business. She has also received gold medals from international circus competitions in Germany and Cuba. Oyunchimeg has also taught at circus “Juventas”, a performing arts circus school in St.Paul, MN. At present she is teaching at The Actors Gymnasium, Aloft and a variety of circus/dance studios. She is available for private instruction.
Natalie Abel - rope, straps, silks, hand balancing, hula hoop, tumbling, acrobatics
Explosive power, finesse, and thoughtful expansion of boundaries exemplify Natalie Abell’s artistic work and life philosophy. As a natural mover she was swinging from a bar before she could walk. Soon after she became a nationally competitive gymnast, and in her free time created acrobatic shows in her front yard that would literally stop traffic. She’s a multifaceted, award winning athlete and performance artist with a background in gymnastics, acting, dance, singing (rock bands, recording studios, choirs, and musical theater), and music production. Natalie is also a big nerd (and proud of it!) who took a four year hiatus from everything physical to become an engineer from Purdue University and a patent holding inventor. She specializes in rope, straps, silks, invented apparatuses, acrobatics, tumbling, hand balancing and hula hooping. Her passion to innovate is driven by her desire to expand the human experience. This same desire draws her so intensely to teaching and helping others find and build strength. Although Natalie found circus arts later in life, her practice has been a volatile ignition all of her passions with one spark. It turns out circus was the one missing puzzle piece all along. She is available for private instruction.
Leah Leor - straps, fabric, trapeze, hand balancing, dance
Leah Leor is a professional dancer turned circus performer. After dancing with Aerial Dance Chicago, she attended The New England Center for Circus Arts' Professional Program, and has since performed and taught across the country. Aloft is Leah's home base. She has been around since the Spring of 2012 both teaching and performing for the company. She is also a company member of Girls on Trapeze and frequently works with local circus companies on side projects. If you plan on attending Leah's classes, prepare to work. She is available for private instruction.
photo credit: Dan Plehal
Amanda Crockett - trapeze, manipulation, clown, act development, personal training
Amanda Crockett is passionate about transforming movement into laughter. She started clowning alongside her father at age 9, and has since performed in over a dozen countries spanning 5 continents. She's a NASM certified personal trainer, has over 25 years of experience onstage, and was most recently featured as a principal character and hat juggler in Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson ONE. After training at the Celebration Barn Theater, Crockett graduated from the Dell'Arte International School of Physical Theater and went on to study circus in Australia, Chicago and San Francisco. She is most well-known for her unique, hilarious and skilled fusions of comedy, trapeze, mime, and hat juggling that have made audiences around the world fall in love with her again and again. Crockett has been hailed as a “clown jewel” in Shanghai, “absolutely brilliant” in Seattle, “immensely gifted” in Chicago, won an audience choice award in Germany, and has been called a “virtuoso” by clown luminary Avner the Eccentric. In addition to performing, she has coached circus and taught physical theater around the country and the globe for over 15 years. Crockett is available for private and group instruction and personal training.
Destiny Maev - aerial silks, tissu loops, Chinese pole, trapeze
Destiny Maev received her training in the professional programs at both the National Institute of Circus Arts (Melbourne, AU) and the New England Center for Circus Arts (Brattleboro, VT) with a focus in aerial silks, tissu loops, Chinese pole and trapeze. She also has an extensive background as a visual artist having majored in interdisciplinary arts (sculpture, performance and writing) at the Kansas City Art Institute. Previously she enjoyed being on the core coaching staff of NECCA and in 2014 she relocated to Chicago to join Aloft as an ensemble company member. Destiny is originally from New Hampshire but has lived around the world pursuing artistic and circus endeavors for over 15 years. When not performing or coaching Destiny spends her free time volunteering at a local animal shelter, writing hand-written letters, cycling, and exploring Chicago. She is available for private instruction.
Charlene Numrych - aerialist, acrobat
Charlene was a Varsity Gymnast through college. After college she coached all levels of gymnastics, but missed performing herself until she tried Swinging Trapeze. From there, she continued to try acts and developed a sense for the ways movement had to change between the acts but training could be focused across the acts. Loving any act where you can flip (Flying Trapeze, Sky Swing, Cradle, Double Trapeze, Partner Acro), she also loves any balancing act with partnering such as stacking chairs or Rola Bola. She is available for private instruction.
Molly Plunk - tightwire, clown
Molly Plunk is a clown and tightwire artist. She possesses an extensive knowledge of the static trapeze, physical comedy, improvisation, and the art of mime. As a teacher and performer, Plunk values emotional risk, commitment to play, and attention to form and technique. She is available for private lessons
Kelly McDowell - silks, trapeze
Kelly McDowell found her way to Aloft in mid 2009 when a few teammates on the Windy City Rollers suggested she try trapeze. She fell in love with it immediately, learning trapeze and silks, along with a little bit of rope and lyra. She has performed locally at El Circo Cheapo, the Windy City Rollers Awards Ceremony, and at student showcases at Aloft, as well as performing a duo act with Zoe Sheppard at the Denver Aerial Acrobatics Arts Festival in 2011. Kelly is currently working on expanding her set of circus skills, as well as continuing to teach them to others! She is available for private instruction.
Elis "Dizzy Lizzy" Gifford - hula hoops, lyra, trapeze
Elis “Dizzy Lizzy” Gifford started her circus career at the tender age of twelve, performing with Dr. Reg Bolton’s youth company the Suitcase Circus, Circus Y and Cirque Bizirque. After studying theater at John Curtin College of the Arts, she attended the Australian National Institute of Circus Arts, where she specialized in hula hoops and sundry aerial apparati. Lizzy has performed all over Australia, Asia and the U.S with companies including the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, Aloft Circus Arts, the Actors’ Gymnasium, Midnight Circus, Fliptease, Throw Down, and Bizircus. When not spinning, dangling, balancing or climbing, Elis spends her time reading, writing, improving her impulse control skills, working towards a BA at UIC, and jumping up and down to various incarnations of punk rock music.
Chloe Zabicki - trapeze, pogo, juggling
Chloe Zabicki is an aerialist, pogo stick aficionado, and dancer. Her exploration of space and movement is joyful. Chloe began her artistic career by studying ballet and ballroom dancing as a child, and throughout high school and college. She was a member of Smith College’s synchronized swim team where she performed and choreographed routines. Chloe began training at Aloft Loft in Chicago with a focus on static trapeze, single point trapeze, and pogo jumping. In 2014 she premiered her static trapeze act, "Malambo No. 1" for Aloft's Solar Vortex show. She currently performs and teaches around the Chicago area. She is available for private instruction.
Julie Marshall - aerial fabric, aerial anchor
Julie Marshall is a Chicago based aerialist and performer, specializing in aerial fabric and aerial anchor. Julie studied performance art at School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and has trained aerial arts and circus all over the United States. Julie also works with a variety of circus and aerial arts, including static and single point trapeze, aerial hoop, aerial sling (hammock), partner acrobatics, and contortion. Julie can also see the future and move objects with her mind.
Catherine Jett - trapeze, partner acro, straps
Catherine Jett is a Chicago-based circus artist and performer. Static trapeze is her first love, and she also enjoys working in other aerial and ground-based disciplines, such as partner acrobatics, duo trapeze, straps, stilt dancing, and physical theater. Catherine’s performances meld raw power and strength with tenderness and emotion, transcending mere spectacle. She has trained in aerial work and acrobatics at Aloft Loft and Frequent Flyers Productions, as well as with coaches based in Montreal and Chicago. Catherine teaches several static trapeze classes at Aloft and is available for private instruction.