Swat Circus: Diabolo, Stilts and Circademics

Motherpuckers, Earthlust, Dead Yiddish Poets’ Society — Swarthmore has its fair share of groups with whimsical names, but the zaniest one of all is perhaps Swat Circus. The group’s practice was in full throttle last Friday night.

Dyan Rizzo-Busack ’15 took the lead, instructing the four other attendees on the art of diabolo-ing, a form of juggling. “Instead of going up and down it’s a faster and lighter touch,” she instructed the other Swat Circus members.

“Remember, parallel to the ground. Parallel to the ground,” she said.

“Let me know if you need help!” however, was Busack’s most common phrase.

Jackie Morgen ‘13, who founded the club her freshman year, refuted the assumption that circus is solely about clowns and dangerous tricks. Morgen, a double major in Biology and Dance with a concentration in Circus Arts, said that there is a budding set of developmental psychologist-physicists, sometimes referred to as “circademics,” that are discovering the benefits of Circus Arts as an agent for social change.

Its physical demands, along with the trust and openness it encourages among participants, can serve as a release for at-risk children and children with special needs. Last summer, Morgen worked at a Circus Arts therapy program in Georgia catering toward kids who were either homeless or had special needs.

“Heavy work is good for these kids,” said Morgen, “even if it means pulling the mat.” Morgen credits both “Rola Bola,” which involves balancing on a wooden board placed atop an ever-rotating cylinder, and “partner acrobatics,” which involves the formation of a human pyramid, for instilling both physical and emotional strength in the campers.

Morgen credits a family trip to the circus at age eight for igniting her love for everything Circus–one glance at static trapeze and there was no turning back. Throughout middle school and high school, Morgen spent her summers at Circus Arts Camp in upstate New York, where she learned everything from juggling to wire walking to aerial trapeze. She is now a Circus Arts Camp counselor.

“I wouldn’t call myself a risk taker!” said Morgen, in regards to the potential dangers of circus tricks. “The Circus is supposed to look risky but a lot of it is skill and over time, you gain control–you are adding as many different elements as possible to an act–and you get good at it. I think Circus’ reputation as being dangerous has hurt me in the running of this club.”

The administration has not yet permitted Morgen or other members of the club to rig ropes on campus. The club does receive funding for off-campus trips, and last semester, went to the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts on three different occasions, where they dabbled in both static and flying trapeze, rope, and silks.

At the Friday practice, the atmosphere was both light-hearted and encouraging.
“I feel really badass,” said one of the participants. “Just don’t die,” said another to her friend on stilts. Jo Wong ’14, on a mile-high pair herself said, “We can all walk and all feed ourselves so we definitely have the motor skills to do this stuff.”

Swat Circus meets every Friday night 6:30 in the Wrestling Room. No experience required. A clown nose will do.


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