Cue the music... the circus is now in town. Rather, a new circus school is in town.
Gregory May, a former Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey clown, opened Center Ring Circus School in Columbia on Dec. 1 to bring the fun of the circus to the community.
"Circus skills hold a near magical quality," said May. "But the truth is, with the right tools, teacher and attitude, anyone can learn them. The physical advantages of this training are obvious, but the mental benefits, though less visible, are no less exciting. To conquer a skill few others possess is a delight of the soul."
The school teaches circus skills such as aerobatics, theatrics, juggling, stilt walking, rolling globes, unicycling and even aerial skills using fabrics and static bar trapezes. Located at 6770 Oak Hall Lane, off of Snowden River Parkway, the school offers classes for all ages and levels of skill.
May got his clowning start when he performed as a jester at the Maryland Renaissance festival when he was 12. Then in 1990 he went through clown college and was selected by the owner of Barnum and Bailey as one of 11 clowns who would go on the road with the circus.
While in the circus, he met his wife, who performed as a dancer and elephant rider.
In 1995, May quit clowning around with the cirucs, and took his talents on the road, performing for private shows across the globe. He was featured on David Letterman and taught a class at the Kennedy Center.
During that time is when he fell in love with teaching the circus arts.
Seven years ago he started a summer camp in Howard County that attracted enough students that he ended up moving it to a more permanent location in Greenbelt during the summer.
As the Greenbelt summer program grew, he said he realized it was time to open a full-time facility.
So May, who is now 43, managed to find a location in his hometown of Columbia.
"What I enjoyed most was the teaching, watching kids fail," said May. "You're not going to learn tightrope without falling off a thousand times. [The kids] fail constantly and they fail in front of other people and they learn it's no big deal, that it's OK to fail."
He said the failures don't result in defeat, but give kids a feeling of greater accomplishment when they do an act correctly.
"I have kids who it will take three years to get across a tightrope," said May, "and when they do they scream!"
After crossing the tightrope, kids sign the wooden stands that hold the rope up, enshrining their accomplishment for others to see.
At the Columbia location May offers the following classes:
- Parent and child dance and circus for 3- to 6-year-olds, which kids take part in with their parents
- Standard youth circus arts classes for 8 to 12-year-olds as well as an advanced youth class
- Teen and adult circus classes
- A set of aerial fitness classes for adults
May said participants in the aerial fitness classes use fabric in varying positions as a fitness workout.
"It's such an extraordinary workout," said May. "It's like doing pilates or yoga or that type of thing, but you're up in the air."
"We should be upside down a little bit every day," added May. "Over the last 20 years I've fallen down for a living. But when I started this training in order to become a teacher, my back has never felt better."
The cost of classes are $20 per individual for a single class, or $16 per class for a 10-week course, according to May.
School of Rock Coming to Columbia