New Trier Menz Dance students merge circus and dance during visit from alum

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Justin Durham, who graduated from New Trier High School in 2014 before earning his Bachelor of Arts from the National Centre for Circus Arts in London, returned to his alma mater to share various circus arts and dance techniques with the students of Menz Dance, one of his favorite performance groups from his time at New Trier.

As part of the New Trier Fine Arts Association's (NTFAA) Guest Artist program, Durham, currently a member of Chicago's Midnight Circus, visited on Tuesday, November 21. He engaged 38 Menz Dance members in various performative exercises, from hand-balancing and aerial techniques to group acrobatics and counterweight balances.

The NTFAA is a not-for-profit parent organization dedicated to promoting and enhancing the student experience in the Fine Arts, as well as connecting the families of Fine Arts students. Similarly, Midnight Circus believes in the power of live performance to engage, inspire, entertain, educate, and empower audiences and the community beyond, which made the workshop particularly compelling for Durham, faculty member Chris Rutt, and participants alike.

"The legacy of Menz Dance is a strong one, and alums continue to return to New Trier to give back to a community to which they felt connected," said Rutt, who teachers Menz Dance. "This is a win-win, as students see how dance serves alums pursuing a career in the arts while learning some skills in the process."

During Durham's visit, Menz Dance students learned physically challenging movements often used by circus and aerial performers and hand-balancers, combined with more traditional dance components. In addition, Durham discussed his path since graduating New Trier, inspiring current students to continue working hard while envisioning a future path in the arts.

As for Durham, who seeks to merge circus with dance to push the boundaries of the art forms, the students' enthusiastic response to the workshop proves the power of "cross-pollination" between disciplines.

"I definitely enjoyed this and think it will be cool to incorporate these movement ideas into future dances," said junior Zach Blickstein.

Founded in 1976, the NTFAA raises money throughout the school year through donations, raffles, and yard sign and car magnet sales to fund guest artist visits and summer scholarships.