Our Teachers

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, cyr wheel, red dress
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 enrollment 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. 

Zoe Sheppard, rope, purple leotard
Zoe Sheppard - Studio Manager- 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
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. 

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Hayley Larson - silks, duo trapeze, handstands, straps, instagram

Hayley Larson (she/her) is a multidisciplinary circus performer specializing in aerial arts, as well as Cyr wheel, and handstands. With a degree in Dance from Oberlin College, Hayley uses her background as a dancer to bring a crisp, complex style to her choreography that underscores the commanding stage presence so often found in her performances. As a coach Hayley strives to create self-sufficient, intelligent movers and thinkers through a focus on apparatus theory and healthy movement mechanics. Her recent performance credits include, The Ghost In Gadsden's Garden (2020) with The Actors Gymnasium, and Brave Space (2018 —) with Aloft Circus Arts. When not flying through the air herself, she can be found playing collaborative board games with friends or snuggling a cat on the couch.

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Chantal Bustamante - straps

Chantal Bustamante is an international circus artist and founder of The Drifters Collective, a contemporary performance company. She started circus in Santa Fe with Wise Fool New Mexico, and moved to Chicago in pursuit of a professional path with Aloft Circus Arts. As an aerial straps coach, Chantal is a strong believer in the fact that progress is never a straight line and that circus is for everyone.

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Camille Swift - trapeze, sling

 Camille Swift has most recently taught and performed with CREACTIVE by Cirque du Soleil at Club Med Opio-en-Provence. She has performed multiple years at the Moisture Festival  and won the Audience Choice Award at the 2015 Aerial Acrobatic Arts Festival. She has performed in numerous shows and cabarets throughout the Midwest:  Aloft Circus Arts, the Aerial Expo, Misfit Cabaret, Circus in Progress, Untitled Supper Club and Acrobatica Infiniti. She currently teaches in Chicago at Aloft Circus Arts and also enjoys teaching workshops outside of the Chicago area. She has taught at SANCA, the Aerial Expo, the Iowa Circus Academy, Cirque Wonderland, the Actors Gymnasium, Detroit Flyhouse and Firefly Circus Academy. Her classes focus on proper technique, building strength, dynamic movement and aerial awareness.   

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Carmen Kingsley - silks, lyra, pliates

Carmen joined the circus community while living abroad in Argentina. There she launched her performance career through clowning, trapeze and lyra. Through working and living abroad and interacting with different communities Carmen became fascinated with body mind and spirit connections. She loves how any body (no matter the shape or size) can find its place in circus.

Carmen attended the Aloft Full Time Program and now teaches aerial apparatus and handstands classes  She is also a Pilates instructor. Carmen fosters a sense of community and comfort when working with her students pushing them to improve their skills while ensuring they understand anatomy and safety. In addition to being an aerialist and instructor, she can also be found participating in community clowning with Opera-matic (in non-COVID times).

 

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Rachel Nesnevich-hula hoops, silks, dance
 

Rachel Nesnevich is a circus artist and instructor who loves to move and groove, whether it be in the air or on the ground. Her work showcases her years of dance training, emphasizing lush movement, thoughtful transitions, and strong musicality. As an instructor, Rachel strives to make circus approachable and fun, regardless of skill level. Rachel specializes in aerial silks and hula hoops. 

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Kristi Taff-lyra, youth program director, student liaison

Kristi has been involved with Circus for 13 years and is a graduate of NECCA and Aloft’s professional training programs. She has been teaching at Aloft Circus Arts for 7 years and is highly specialized in lyra but also loves flexibility, trapeze and silks. She is currently in graduate school studying to become a therapist.

Kelly McDowell, silks
Kelly McDowell - silks, trapeze, bookkeeping

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.

Elizabeth Gifford, lyra
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.

rebecca taylor-kids classes

Rebecca is a performance artist and early childhood education enthusiast in Chicago. With a background in competitive gymnastics and theatre, she began taking static trapeze classes at Aloft in 2017 and has loved every minute of being in the air! She has been working with children (and sometimes adults!) for nearly ten years in a variety of endeavors such as coaching gymnastics, teaching playwriting and acting, and being a lead preschool teacher. Currently, she can be found rolling around her apartment with her two rescue pups- Lord Pumpernickel and Bailey.

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Nick ng-rope, silks

 

Nick is a pirate captain, space tiger, and aerialist that prides himself on gravity-defying technique that some would call “falling with style”. He loves balancing dynamic sequences with still moments, combining awe-inspiring movement with physical storytelling. Winning awards and hearts across the U.S. in the before times, he has spent years working with internationally renowned instructors and performers, and now brings his experience to Aloft. Nick is following his dream and hopes to inspire you to follow yours. Let him bring you on an adventure.

Chloe Zabicki, aerialist
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. 

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Linnea Ridolfi-sling, stretching

Linnea completed Aloft’s Full Time Professional Training Program in 2015. Since then she has had the privilege of training, coaching, and performing circus arts in the Chicago area. She is one half of the acrobatic partnership DuoBabe, and last year she toured with Aloft’s full-length circus show Brave Space. These days she mostly shuffles around her apartment eating snacks, occasionally doing some handstands and completing one pull up every time she goes into her bathroom.

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Luke Greef-dance

Lucas Greeff (xe/they) is a dancer, choreographer, and amateur circus artist whose work focuses on expanding the scope of queer performance, engaging inherent energies, and challenging physical extremity through movement analysis. Luke received their BA in Theatre from Florida State University, where xe performed and worked for the FSU School of Dance and well the FSU School of Theatre. As the Founder of Blue Fire Dance Collective, Luke was the lead architect of the Trapping Butterflies Project, a community arts initiative dedicated to amplifying the voices of victims & survivors of domestic abuse. Former dancer for Level Dance Company and the St. Petersburg Ballet Company, Luke currently performs as 1st Company Member with Joel Hall Dancers and works with Ashaand Simone as the movement collaboration Such Creatures. Luke has been teaching movement classes at Aloft Circus Arts since 2019, building xis curriculum to serve the circus artist through focused physical work. 

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Alisa Gaylon-silks, yoga, sling

 

Alisa started training at Aloft in 2016 after beating breast cancer, and began teaching there in 2019. She teaches sling and ABCs (Aerial Basics Classes), as well as aerial yoga and fitness classes. She is a chef and former restaurant owner and is currently a college professor of culinary arts in her "real life," as well as mom to 3 dogs and 2 cats.

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Char Tai-contortion, lyra

 

Char is a circus performer with a strong focus in contortion. She is a graduate of the Aloft fulltime program with Oyuna Yadmajav, and is currently training primarily with Anna Batchuluun Brown and  Serchmaa Byamba.

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Christine conroy-trampoline, silks

 

I love seeing things “click” with students, and getting excited for/with them! I’m really interested in teaching basics in a way that makes them truly become “easy”, because everything else is built on that. I really pride myself on the ability to teach to all types of bodies. I’m an aerialist with ass, and it’s taken me a long time to figure out how to haul it over my head reliably. In the process I learned a lot about all kind of bodies, and how different weight distributions change things like inversions, drops, climbing, bouncing, everything. It makes me feel great to share that with others. I also love when I get to coach people on act creation and bringing a concept or idea to life. Every person has such a unique voice, it just never gets old.