Aerial silks

Campers watch as Lauren Breunig, an instructor at the Circus School of Arizona, demonstrates how to navigate the aerial silks.

 Photo by Mary AD Art

Circus School of Arizona owner Rachel Stegman admits that being a circus performer is a little “outside the box” when it comes to careers. But ever since she participated in circus activities at Club Med with her family as an 8-year-old, she’s had the “circus bug.” Then, at 16, she attended a circus program at French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts in the Catskill Mountains of New York and learned a few more skills and tricks.

Stegman, who grew up in Scottsdale and attended Valley Jewish Day School and Har Zion Congregation, went to Scotts­dale Community College and then to Lesley College (now Lesley University) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. After Lesley, she became a professional dog walker in Boston and then worked as a counselor and circus coach at a camp in the Poconos, where she picked up some experience working with teens. At a crossroads in her life, Stegman considered which direction to take. “I did a lot of thinking and (realized) circus is what I wanted to do,” she says. “My mom said, ‘Stop talking about it. Just do it already.’ ”

So Stegman started researching circus programs and schools in Florida, New York and California and sent out tapes showcasing her circus skills. She got a response from Gregangelo Herrera, who was then teaching at the San Francisco School of Circus Arts (now Circus Center, San Francisco). “He said, ‘Come on out. I’ll teach you’,” Stegman says. She not only learned the art of trapeze and aerial ropes, but also how to write contracts. “I ended up being his Girl Friday and office manager and learned a lot of ins and outs of the circus business.”

She spent eight years working for Herrera and then returned to the Valley with a fresh slate. “I wanted to start something of my own. I was bringing skills that didn’t exist here for adults and kids who didn’t have the opportunity to learn circus,” she says. Stegman and her husband also had another motive for moving back to Scottsdale – she “started getting the baby bug ... and what better place than where your parents and in-laws are?” She is now the mother of Zev, 4, and Ayla, 2.  

Stegman started the Circus School of Arizona in 2007. The school teaches a wide variety of classes and skills to youth as well as adults, including aerial acrobatics, static trapeze, aerial rope, aerial silks, wire walking, juggling, plate-spinning, feather balancing and contortion. Circus School of Arizona also offers summer camp, after-school programs and birthday parties.

Many adults take classes as a form of fitness, but Stegman says circus skills are in their own category. “It combines so many different things. It’s not just fitness or a sport, it’s also a performance art.” Some who stick with it to the intermediate and advanced levels want to perform, she says. Stegman’s former students are featured in Cirque du Soleil, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey and circuses across Europe.

Through CSA Arts & Entertainment, the event and performance division of the company, Stegman stages entertainment for organizations and companies as well as private team-building events. She has a variety of themes to choose from, such as cabaret, superhero, Baroque and futuristic. “Last year, we did 40 special events,” she says.

Stegman isn’t performing as much these days because she’s “stuck behind the computer” and on the phone building the business. “I have two little kids. Right now, my heart isn’t in it because I just don’t have the time to train,” she says. A couple of times recently she’s had to fill in at the last minute for a performer. “So I can still do it.”

For more information about Circus School of Arizona, visit circusschoolofarizona.com.

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