Miami's Only Contemporary Circus School Seeks to Open the Art Form to Everybody

Les Ailes du Désir works to make the circus arts accessible to a wider audience.
Les Ailes du Désir works to make the circus arts accessible to a wider audience. Photo courtesy of Les Ailes du Désir
When you hear the words “circus school,” you might think of honking red noses, oddly oversize shoes, and wiener dog-shaped balloons. But that couldn’t be further from the picture of Les Ailes du Désir.

From swinging trapeze tricks to body contortion and dizzying aerial hoop spins, Miami’s only nonprofit contemporary circus school is far more Cirque du Soleil than Bozo the Clown. And its Soirée des Arts show on Wednesday, April 20, seeks to show the community just that.

“When I came to this country in 2005, I couldn't understand why such a vibrant city like Miami didn't have a well-developed performing-art scene,” says Claudine Choquette, the school’s founder and director. “We have venues we all know, but where was the platform for emerging artists, whether it was in contemporary dance or in cirque?”

Choquette trained in dance and contemporary circus in the United Kingdom before moving into a career in finance. But she always kept her passion for performing arts, especially circus art. In 2017, she started Les Ailes du Désir (LADD) to make the circus arts, a typically expensive and therefore exclusive pursuit, accessible to the community.

LADD operates a 5,000-foot training facility just west of Wynwood, offering classes in Lyra hoops, aerial silks, trapeze, and other circus-art disciplines for kids and adults.

Three to four times per year, LADD puts on a Soirée des Arts to showcase the work of its students, instructors, and guest artists.

In March, Fisher Island Club commissioned the first production — a 45-minute cabaret with circus, theater, dance, acrobatics, and vocalists — of The Golden Cage. Wednesday’s performance will be a similar version of that show, but this time open to the public for about a quarter of the cost, thanks to a grant from the Miami-Dade Cultural Affairs Council.

"We're trying to make it as inclusive as we can, because we believe that the inspiration starts somewhere."

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The show is a fundraiser to support LADD's student scholarships and special-needs program. For instructor and COO Nicolas Allard, who will be performing in The Golden Cage, it’s all about the kids.

“I really enjoy performing, but performing for something, you know?” Allard says. “At the end of the day, it's really important to use what I do to help. And I think with the foundation, we can go really deep in the subject of helping people, especially the kids.”

Allard has seen the program's impact firsthand — with one of his students in particular, who has been in the school for three years and has autism.

“I saw her this summer, and I was like, Oh wow, she really progressed,” he adds. “You know, she opens up more, she smiles more, and she’s really having fun. And I think that's why it’s really important to me to really see all the kids evolve in their own way.”

Besides fundraising, Choquette hopes the show will encourage the community, young and old alike, to take a class and support the art form.

“If we, let's say, disappear in two years from now, there's no other place as inclusive as we are. Cirque is very elitist, and we're doing the opposite. We're trying to make it as inclusive as we can, because we believe that the inspiration starts somewhere,” Choquette says. “It’s important to create the awareness and make sure that we survive and that we have a long-standing future within our community.”

Les Ailes du Désir's The Golden Cage. 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 20, at Manuel Artime Theater, 900 SW First St., Miami; 305-575-5057; Tickets cost $5 to $100 via
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Emmalyse Brownstein a former intern at Miami New Times and a graduate of the University of Miami.