Circus to Good Health

By Jo Montgomery

Tell us your story.

I have worked for Children's for 23 years, 13 of them at Odessa Brown Children's Clinic. I have seen the increase in our patient's weight and decrease in their fitness over time.

One day I was watching my daughter at her gymnastics class and thought how most of my patients couldn't afford to take those classes. I also thought that if someone wanted to get more active but had not grown up playing soccer or baseball, it might be intimidating to start with experienced players.

I had returned to gymnastics after 23 years away, so I knew it was possible to get back into shape. I liked the idea of circus skills as a way to exercise. I have a number of friends in circus, so knew first hand what fun it is, and knew it is not competitive. There are many different skill areas in circus. People are rarely good at everything, and that levels the field a bit for students.

My friend Chuck Johnson is an exceptional teacher, and I rather naively thought I would just start a non-profit circus school, people would donate money to a scholarship fund, and we would teach all ages in our very supportive, safe and fun style.

I saved enough money to rent a small warehouse space for 6 months and pay a lawyer to help us get 501-c3 (non profit) status. We had 5 students our first week, and 9 the second, and the rest just evolved.

What does Children's mean to you, your child and your family?

That was January, 2004. We now have classes 6 days a week with about 350 students enrolled. Our overriding philosophy is to help people succeed- break skills into learnable pieces, and to encourage everyone with positive feedback and gentle nudging to challenge their notions of what is possible.

It is unimaginably rewarding to encourage someone to try a new skill, and see the grin on their face when they say "I did it!". We have been fortunate to have some of the professional performers coming through town come to the school to train, play, and hang out. It has been great to get to know them, provide some family feeling, and it is great for the kids and adults to see pros work out and play.

Most of our students are recreational, but we also have some local performers who train here, and we have just started a small youth troupe. It has been lots of work and extremely rewarding to have created something that is helping people feel better about themselves.