MIHS student finds passion in circus

Mercer Island High School senior Anna Partridge performs with Circus Smirkus last summer. Partridge is a skilled juggler and acrobat. - Contributed Photo
Mercer Island High School senior Anna Partridge performs with Circus Smirkus last summer. Partridge is a skilled juggler and acrobat.
— image credit: Contributed Photo

In 19th and 20th century America, the circus reached its height as a popular art form, and was one of the greatest sources of entertainment before the age of television. Circus acts still exist, as do circus schools and performers; you just don’t hear that much about them anymore.

Mercer Island High School senior Anna Partridge tried all manner of sports, but found her passion in circus performance.

“I did a lot of competitive sports — I did it all and quit every one of those sports to do this,” Partridge said. “They never held my attention.”

Partridge got the bug from her family nurse practitioner, who co-founded SANCA, or The School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts, a 501 (c)(3) located in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood. She started at age 8.

“I went and fell in love with it,” Partridge said. “The environment is so welcoming and safe. You can be yourself, get tons of exercise, but it’s non-competitive.”

Partridge has tried all the disciplines, but she specializes in juggling. Her favorite is the clubs, because “they’re cooler — flashier.” She said juggling requires hours and hours of repetition and muscle memory.

“You develop a really keen sense, a peripheral vision,” she said. “You develop a heightened awareness of cause and effect.”

She said she has juggled fire and knives, but mainly so she could say she’s done it. She prefers to see an artistic, well-done act.

Partridge is in SANCA’s youth performance company, which performs at SANCA’s facility. She said if you aren’t really connected with the circus community in Seattle, you really won’t know about their shows because they don’t advertise. She said the company has had three performances this winter, but they also do festivals on Mercer Island, street markets and fairs in various locations around the Seattle area, and the 15-member company has also performed at Northwest Folklife and Winterfest at Seattle Center.

This past summer, Partridge toured with Circus Smirkus, an award-winning international youth circus, in a performance group with kids from all over the world. The tour takes the kids all over New England and New York, performing 70-plus shows in 15 towns during the 2011 season.

Circus Smirkus is a non-profit “founded to promote the skills, culture and traditions of the traveling circus and to inspire youth to engage in life-changing adventures in the circus arts.” The 2011 season was her first with Circus Smirkus, for which she had to audition.

“They’re very well known and their graduates often are hired by Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey,” she said. “It gives kids the edge into the professional world.”

Partridge is also fond of acrobatics, particularly adagio, which is partner acrobatics. She said it’s great fun, and she really likes partner acts. She said having a partner on stage gives her more to work with.

“It can be more playful,” Partridge said.

Recently she performed at MIHS’s sports assembly, the first time she has done so in front of her peers at school. She said it was nerve-wracking, but it went really well and she received only positive feedback. That was the first time she performed for that many people — alone.

“I had 30 seconds of fame after that assembly,” she said. “I’m really glad I got to share that with the school.”

Partridge also tumbles and is working on tight wire walking. She can already walk on balls and swing from a trapeze.

She is applying to traditional colleges, and will attend college eventually, but she said she intends for next year to be a gap year in which she will only train for the circus. She hopes to audition for professional circus school, and if accepted, she will go. Professional circus schools last three to four years. She said there are jobs in several smaller circuses; Cirque du Soleil is certainly a prestigious show, but she is not sure that’s her ultimate goal. She would prefer to be somewhere where she can do what she loves and perform every day.

If she is not accepted into professional circus school, plan B, or a regular college, would go into effect, with her interest being in science or physics. Partridge has a 3.99 GPA and said that many things in life interest her.

Partridge lives with her mom, Fran, who is the “most supportive mom.”

“She really wants me to be happy,” Partridge said. “She’s really not telling me what to do.”

To see Partridge in action, visit


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