We were lucky to catch up with Jen MacQueen recently and have shared our conversation below.
Jen, appreciate you joining us today. What did your parents do right and how has that impacted you in your life and career?
My parents listened.
I mean, they REALLY listened. To whatever I was saying, and however I was saying it.
When I was little, I would do anything artistic I could get my hands on. I’d paint pictures. I’d compose music. I’d create stories. I’d write (really terrible) poetry. I’d choreograph dances. Anything and everything even remotely artsy, I’d do.
My parents would always listen. By that, I mean they’d pay attention. They’d look for what I was actually trying to express. It went beyond “This is pretty, let’s hang it on the refrigerator.” They’d ask me about the colors in the picture, the characters in the story, the inspiration behind the poem.
From that, I learned very early on that expressing my own thoughts and feelings could take place in a myriad of ways.
And I learned that this self-expression was a beautiful thing.
So I kept doing it. I grew up and became an professional dancer and actor. Then I moved into choreography. Eventually I found the circus arts, and began directing and choreographing pieces and full-length contemporary works there.
I never realized how much my parents, through this seemingly small thing, influenced how I live my life now until recently.
Most of my job nowadays is helping kids express themselves, and giving them a platform for the world to listen.
Yes, I coach circus arts, but that’s the least of what I do. Coaching circus arts is like teaching a foreign language. You start by teaching individual words. Then you teach the students how to string those words together into little baby phrases. Then you teach how to create sentences. Then paragraphs. Then full stories, with complex feelings and emotions. Then, you teach them how to break those “grammatical rules” to really express what they want to say the way they want to express it.
The kids are talking. I just show them a new way to speak.
Kids have voices. And real thoughts. And feelings. And confusion. And all the other things adults have…they just don’t always have effective ways to deal with them. They don’t always know how to “get those thoughts out” in a positive way; in a way that can help others. Growing up knowing my voice was powerful gave me the tools I need to help other kids express themselves. Their voices are powerful. And they are worth listening to.
Thanks, Mom & Dad!
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers.
I was originally an elite-level competitive gymnast. After a debilitating injury, I had to give up my gymnastics career, and I poured all my energy into dance. After completing her Bachelor’s of Science degree in Dance and Movement Education, I moved on to have a successful performance and choreography career in New York. Eventually, an old gymnastics injury came back to haunt me, causing me to have major back surgery. To rehab, the doctors said to find an activity that works your core. I had always wanted to try aerial arts, so I chose that. A few weeks in, I picked up a Cyr Wheel and never looked back. I met my coaching mentor, Eric Deschenes, (the head cyr coach of Cirque du Soleil, Ecole Nationale de Cirque, and the IRV / International Wheel Gymnastics Federation) and he helped me become the coach I am today.
I currently run Akrosphere Aerial & Circus Arts in Alpharetta, GA. We teach the circus arts to ages 4 through adult, though a majority of our students are between the ages of 9-16. I have pulled together an amazing team of nationally known coaches, and together we specialize in Aerial Silks, Trapeze, Lyra (aerial hoop), Cyr Wheel, Corde Lisse (aerial rope), Cloud Swing, Contortion, Aerial Net, and Aerial Sling. We coach beginner through professional levels, and we have several of our graduates placed in the top professional circus schools around the world. We also have a performance company, and we produce 2-4 full length original contemporary circus works every year, which perform in theatres and festivals around the greater Atlanta area.
We give our students an energetic, “non-screen” activity they fall in love with. As a result, our students quickly begin thinking of Akrosphere as their second home. We are home to many ex-gymnasts, as the stress on the body is much less than in regular gymnastics (no pounding and no hard landings!), but we also have students from every background in our circus family: soccer players, robotics experts, dancers, video gamers, kids with no “background” at all, and everything between. We love providing elite-level, compassionate coaching to all our students.
The highlight of our studio has to be our twice yearly student performances! Our gym transforms into a 200 seat black box theatre with full lights and sound, and our students take to the air! Everyone from age 4 to 50+ gets their time in the spotlight in front of a supportive live audience, and each student receives a professionally shot and edited video of their performance.
In addition to our countless safety measures (including rigging weighted up to 50,000 lbs, thick mats and safety lines), our Akro-Parents love our all-inclusive pricing. Many of them have history in other activities where there are extra uniform fees, costume fees, equipment to buy, etc…but not at Akrosphere! With our all inclusive pricing, there are no extra fees…ever. The student’s uniform (which doubles as their performance costume) is included in the monthly tuition, as is coach supervised open gym (so they can safely practice between classes), performance tickets, DVD downloads, and other surprises along the way like bring-a-friend days and the like.
What we are most passionate about, however, is our love of turning athletes into artists. Giving youth new ways to express themselves fills our hearts with joy, and we love graduating our “innovators of tomorrow”. Whether they decide to pursue a career in professional circus or not, we smile knowing we helped teach them that their voice is worth sharing.
What’s been the best source of new clients for you?
Honestly, Facebook has brought us more new clients than just about anything. We run several funnel ads on Facebook, and they work very well.
We also run trial days where kids can sign up and come try out the apparatuses before deciding whether or not to sign up, and advertising those on Facebook has been brilliant.
Any stories or insights that might help us understand how you’ve built such a strong reputation?
Honestly, our reputation all traces back to our coaching team. They really are some of the best coaches in the country, as evidenced by the joy-filled high-level students they consistently turn out with almost zero injuries. (One coach tripped over a mat and rolled her ankle…but that’s the biggest injury we have had.).
We listen to our clients needs yet stick to our guns when we need to (i.e. a parent telling us to move their child up a level; um, WHERE did they get their circus coaching certification?) to keep our students safe above all else.
Our QBR (queen bee role) is providing access to elite level coaching for our students, so supporting that main goal is the priority. Everything else stemmed out from there.
- Website: https://akrosphere.com
- Instagram: @akrosphere_circus
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/akrosphere
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/Akrosphere
- Other: Google My Business: https://g.page/r/CW18-8yOAzdbEAo
Greg Hunter Photography