For more than 20 years, Carrie Heller's life has been a balancing act between honing her circus talents and helping others. Today, the licensed clinical social worker, a founding member of the American Youth Circus Organization, blends therapy methods with big-top techniques at the Circus Arts Institute, benefiting children and adults alike with mind- and body-benefiting acrobatics that send students swinging, twirling, and laughing through the air.
Carrie and her team of instructors acquaint students with circus-performance fundamentals using the trapeze, tight wire, Spanish web, and juggling balls. They bolster core and upper-body strength during Circus Arts Fitness workouts, which have been featured on CNN for their exciting approach to toning. For students with special needs, such as sensory challenges or ADD, they host Circus Arts Therapy classes. These sessions channel playful and positive energy as small groups learn to navigate circus equipment, enhancing their confidence, social skills, and physical coordination in a much more natural way than going on a handstand speed date.
Since 2006, Academy Ballroom Atlanta's instructors have helped competitive and social dancers two-step toward mastery of ballroom and Latin dance styles. Their classes range in style from the fiery moves of salsa to the elegant steps of the waltz to the boisterous footwork of swing, all of which can be scaled to suit varying abilities. During private lessons, the teachers' personalized attention helps develop each pupil's dance floor skills before they improve their patterns and techniques among peers at group classes. Those lessons culminate in group practice sessions, during which guests review their newfound moves while making an effort not to dip their partner into another dimension. Along with in-studio training, Academy Ballroom Atlanta hosts monthly semiformal dance parties, and its performance company, Atlanta Ballroom Dance Theater, wows crowds with shows—up to 90 minutes long—performed by professional and pro-am dancers.
One of the great surprises about Atlanta is its bustling local theater scene. Actor’s Express is one of the most reliable and innovative groups in town, always focusing on challenging, creative work. Located in the King Plow Arts Center in West Midtown, the theater itself is rather intimate. You can easily spot the actors in the lobby after the show to congratulate them on a job well done, but the quality is equal to that of Atlanta’s larger, haughtier venues. Founded in 1988, Actor’s Express has always believed in pushing the boundaries of the local theater scene, as evidenced by recent productions like the sexy drama Venus in Fur and the historical rock musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. They also incorporate classics like Equus and Kiss of the Spider Woman into their seasons. Annual subscriptions are available, which make for an inexpensive and interesting gift.
Horizon Theatre Company is one of Atlanta’s longest-running small theaters, with a devoted following of season ticketholders. Located in the heart of Little Five Points, it is convenient to several local restaurants like The Vortex, but if you skip dinner before the show you can always indulge in one of the theater’s giant cookie-dough cookies. This company is known for comedic favorites like The Waffle Palace and David Sedaris’ The Santaland Diaries; these productions return year after year and are always popular. The shows also include offerings for the younger set like Madeline’s Christmas, as well as more adult-focused works by local writers, like Third Country and The Book Club Play. Seating is general admission, with certain sections reserved for subscribers. But the Horizon Theatre Company is intimate enough that there really isn’t a bad spot in the house.
Throughout nearly seven decades, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra has bridged musical gaps with an extensive catalog of Grammy-winning recordings that include symphonies, operas, and both gospel and classical choral works. Once helmed by the chorale superstar Robert Shaw, the orchestra has produced six Grammy-winning releases in its 12 years under current director Robert Spano. Its allied institution, the Atlanta School of Composers, provides training, support, and ear massages for hardworking contemporary artists.
When the Center for Puppetry Arts opened its doors in 1978, Jim Henson and Kermit the Frog were on hand to cut the ribbon. Fittingly, one of its first major exhibitions, The Art of the Muppets in 1981, attracted more than 50,000 attendees. Since then, the center has matured into a multifaceted complex equal parts museum, performance center, and hub for working artists.