Moni Santini-Kelly teaches circus arts in Menlo Park
At some point doesn’t every child fantasize about running away and joining the circus? In Menlo Park, they don’t have to run far thanks to circus arts classes taught by Moni Santini-Kelly (pictured top) at the Arrillaga Family Gymnasium covering such disciplines as aerial silks, rope trapeze and partner acrobatics.
There is some irony in the fact that Moni is teaching circus arts. She didn’t know anything about the subject when she moved to the Bay Area from Italy 11 years ago. In her native country she’d studied ballet and swam competitively (butterfly). But she discovered the Circus Center in San Francisco and took acrobatics from master instructor Lu Yi.
“He was in his 70s then and I was in my 40s,” she says. “He was a strict teacher. I liked that.”
Watching others on the aerial silks apparatus, she got hooked and is largely self-taught. She brings a bit of Lu Yi’s strictness to her teaching, setting firm physical requirements for all of her classes as well as asking students to sign an agreement regarding safe conduct and correct attire.
Children as young as 7 can take classes but she’s willing to teach adults as well. “For kids, the adrenaline kicks in, it feels adventurous while being safe,” she says. “For adults, as their skills develop, they feel more powerful than they did in the past.”
Moni is grateful to the facilities in Menlo with a gym that has high ceilings and an abundance of safety pads. “You can never have too many,” she says of the latter.
Her greatest challenges are not only that each student, be they child or adult, has differing abilities, but as they get better, so must Moni. “The more the students advance, the more I have to bring advanced material to teach them,” she says. “More of the acrobatics are in the air, and it’s a lot more technical.”
She adds with a smile: “That makes it harder for me to demonstrate!”
Photos of Moni Santini-Kelly and various students by Betsy Sergeant Snow (c) 2017