Virtual classes help ‘circus girl’ reach her full potential

Coach Sara Agar and June Manville plan an aerial routine for an upcoming national competition. (Darren Svan/EdNews)

A self-described “freakishly strong” circus artist, 14-year-old June Manville is chasing an unusual dream.

The 5-foot-2-inch, 95-pound freshman has her sights set on attending Canada’s École Nationale de Cirque, a prestigious school that trains some of the world’s top circus artists — think the “Juilliard School” of circus performers.

But you won’t find lines of elephants and colorful clowns with enormous shoes. These girls and young women who train in aerial arts — or circus arts — are extreme athletes and graceful performance artists.

They possess unnatural flexibility as contortionists and the endurance, powerful strength and physique of an accomplished gymnast. They test the physical ranges possible for the human body.

“It’s extremely hard to get into,” June said about attending the circus college.

“I have a few coaches that have tried out for it. And it’s like an audition, and they haven’t made it, but they got very close … so my goal is to make it into there,” she said.

She is particularly adept at performing in aerial silks, described as creative, gravity-defying acrobatics. 

Two lengths of fabric are secured to the ceiling. Performers use strength to climb and maneuver the fabric, called silks. They wrap them around their body to display contorted poses and tumble down the length of the silks, creating spins and acrobatic movements.

“After I’m done training, I just feel happy,” June said. “It just brings me joy.”

She makes time for her passion and her education

Being in the gym and training around 30 hours per week, June opted for online school through iSucceed Virtual High School, which educates approximately 1,000 students in Idaho.

iSucceed provides an option for students who need an alternative to traditional high school. According to the school, it is ideal for students who are employed and can’t attend a traditional school; who are professional athletes; who struggle with peers or bullying; who have health concerns; and who have been expelled or have dropped out.

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Their teachers live all over the state but must be licensed in Idaho. The following are examples of unconventional students who attended iSucceed and were successful: 

  • Jasmine graduated despite her substantial health issues. She’s endured 31 surgeries, some reconstructing her spinal column, and major brain surgery. 
  • Steeve Biondolillo is a graduate who embraced online school and flourished. He was born in Haiti, adopted and moved to Idaho. He’s survived tragedies and extreme poverty.
  • Haley  is a professional ice skater who needed flexibility in her schedule for practices and competition demands.

In Idaho, there are 34 virtual schools that educate approximately 15,826 students — 12 are virtual charter schools and 22 are school district-sponsored virtual schools. 

“I was worried that my kids would have to be at the maturity level like a college online course, but it is actually the complete opposite,” said Jillonnie Manville, June’s mother.

With her black laptop and school notebooks alongside her workout clothes, June is flourishing at online school, even though she spends a significant amount of time training at Asana Climbing Gym. She even completes assignments while at the gym.

“It’s given me more time to practice with the people that I like to train with and has opened up more gigs in shows and rehearsals,” June said. “It’s also helped my learning, because I have a learning disability. I’m dyslexic.”

“It’s just a lot nicer that I have more control,” she said.

A trailblazer, she’s proud to be known as “circus girl”

After June’s mom discovered her interest in the circus arts, she spent a lot of time searching the Treasure Valley for a youth program. She met Sara Agar, the coach of Asana’s youth company.

The timing was perfect. Agar was just beginning to develop the gym’s new youth program when June walked in the door.

“She’s a trail-breaker, and she inspires a lot of kids,” Agar said.

Once June started training at the Asana program, Jillonnie quickly discovered that June has a natural talent and passion.

This month, June scored back-to-back top-two finishes in the professional youth division of The Vegas International Variety Act Festival. This summer, she plans to defend a title she won last year at the national Aerial Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Known around middle school as the “circus girl,” because she loved to contort in front of her friends, June has embraced that nickname to the fullest. 

The Vegas International Variety Act Festival.
Darren Svan

Darren Svan

Reporter Darren Svan has a background in both journalism and education. Prior to working for military schools at overseas installations, he was news editor at several publications in Wyoming and Colorado. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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