Chicago’s Only Legal Circus Venue Hosts Premiere Show | WBEZ
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The Circus Comes To Logan Square

If you dropped in to the century-old, former Norwegian church at the corner of Wrightwood and Kedzie avenues, you could watch a student learning to juggle and another springing off a trampoline, flipping in the air.

Aloft Circus Arts in Logan Square has been a circus school since 2005. But as of March 7, it will no longer just teach the aerial arts. That’s the date of their first performance with a Public Place of Amusement License, which allows Aloft to charge admission and have more than 100 people in their space.

Aloft Circus Arts
Carrie Shepherd/WBEZ
Char Tai is studying to be a contortionist. She takes class for a few hours a day and fits in open studio time also.

Aloft founder and creative director Shayna Swanson said the Public Place of Amusement License creates another source of income for the company through ticket sales, and offers “opportunities for small touring [circus] companies to come to town and … enrich the arts culture in the neighborhood.” 

Swanson said there are 250 students who take classes, and some are there five days a week. Before getting a license, Aloft hosted small, free performances that highlighted students’ work. That was allowed since they capped attendance at 100 people and didn’t charge admission.

Aloft Circus Arts
Carrie Shepherd/WBEZ
Shayna Swanson is Aloft Circus Arts' founder and creative director.
One day, a city inspector knocked on their door and said those small, “on the down low” performances had to stop. This incident prompted Swanson to start the process of getting a license.

Still, there were hurdles. The biggest one was that the large, stained-glass windows didn’t open, which made Aloft fail an inspection. They were able to fix it by buying a new ventilation fan but for a price tag. In the end, Swanson said the fixes were about $7,000 and the actual license was $110.

Swanson said she wants audiences to “realize that circus is a legitimate art form, and that it’s not all spectacle and glitz and glamor.” She added that she wants Chicagoans to add “circus show” to the artistic agenda.

“Sanctuary Cabaret” happens on the first Saturday of the month at Aloft Circus Arts, 3324 W. Wrightwood Ave., Chicago.

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