Acrobatics and vaudeville at Boulder Circus Center

A space for experimenting and delighting in movement on Boulder’s northern edge

By Jess Mordacq Nov 4 2021

Driving down a mysterious gravel road in far north Boulder, I questioned whether or not I was lost. That’s when I saw the colorful “Boulder Circus Center” sign hanging off a wooden porch, near a sweep of fields with the foothills in the near distance, and became intrigued.

True to BLDRfly’s vision, I reached out to discover who founded it and to learn more about the space at 4747 26th Street, the insight behind it and how it fits into Boulder’s cultural landscape.

After touring internationally with a vaudeville acrobatic team that incorporates juggling and lighting effects in a circus version of Blue Man Group, Cindy Marvell founded the 10,000-square-foot Boulder Circus Center in 2004 to serve mixed-level circus and vaudeville artists.

Cindy, a juggler and writer, and her family settled in Boulder after she and her then-husband, who was also in the troupe Lazer Vaudeville, bought the facility as a training site with profits from the group’s shows. Cindy, her husband and son once lived upstairs. Now Jonathan Canby, Boulder Circus Center’s resident manager, work-trains at the facility in return for his upstairs apartment.

Cindy Marvell. Credit: Boulder Circus Center

Cindy rented the space to other artists, increasingly so after Lazer Vaudeville dissolved, rarely declining requests to use rooms for various classes and growing the facility to include arts across the board. This has been a helpful model in expanding services outside what most people consider as circus: acrobats and clowns in large tents.

Enter, Lani

Credit: Paresh Rana 

Fresh out of a small California town, and having dabbled in circus with a metal band there, Lani Gordon moved to Boulder and quickly became intrigued by the building’s rural location and what was inside. Lani was only further captivated by the high, curtained ceiling of the building’s largest rehearsal space.

The Rastelli Room. Credit: Boulder Circus Center

By 2012, she became manager, spending many days in the Rastelli Room, which contains a 27-foot-high aerial corridor and eight, 34-foot-long steel beams running lengthwise across the ceiling for hang-points.

Today, Boulder Circus Center’s management includes a seven-person team, made up of Lani, Cindy and other instructors and renters. On five acres with a western view of the foothills, the team creates a welcoming space people can share creative circus in, especially since art has no parameters.

The Boulder Circus Center doesn’t just offer classic acrobatic classes, but also martial arts, dance, yoga and aerial skills, all for multiple age groups and skill levels.

“Circus attracts a mix of humans, sometimes those who struggle socially,” Lani says. “So it’s nice, like any community, to have a place to gather and share a language of learning new skills.”

As manager, Lani quickly realized the opportunity to support the infinite subsets of circus routines, as Cindy had renting the space out before her.

Lani continues Cindy’s foundational practice of always saying yes to those who want to create a space for something they’re interested in at the center. In the past, that’s included singing bowl sound sessions and handstanding.

Cindy continues to encourage the community she’s created to get involved with different artistic expressions that incorporate similar values to circus, like teamwork, open-mindedness, and celebrating every persons’ unique gifts.

Classes and jams

The Boulder Circus Center has affordable drop-in fees for most classes and sessions — like aerial skills, cyr wheel (a human-sized steel circle that people roll in) and acroyoga — as well as three studios, community spaces and technical areas to rent in-full.

Credit: Boulder Circus Center

Open gym jams on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays are only $10 and open to all skill levels for up to two hours. Jams practice community-based play, which brings in more curiosity, new players and skills to the space.

While some jams require a base-level experience, the center’s staff has offered free, Sunday evening juggling club jam sessions for the last 18 years. Throughout all jams, the center’s website encourages inclusivity between all skill levels so its students might learn and grow together.

As the Boulder Circus Center looks for more teachers to offer more classes, they also offered another way for frequent visitors to get more involved in the community.

In 2019, the Boulder Circus Center started a community-supported circus model. Like community-supported agriculture, this model allows members to pay up-front to support the facility, and in turn receive reduced rates for classes.

Featured image of the front of the Boulder Circus Center provided by Jessica Mordacq.