A wheelchair-using master of circus arts is staging a teaching comeback at an local school thanks to a piece of equipment set to arrive today.
Former accomplished juggler Judy Finelli, who was able to juggle up to 10 clubs at a time, has been a quadriplegic since 2004.
Finelli was one of the original members of San Francisco’s groundbreaking Pickle Family Circus, which was founded in 1974. Ten years later, Finelli and another Pickle Family Circus pioneer, Wendy Parkman, opened the doors of the San Francisco Circus Center.
In 1989, Finelli was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The illness progressed quickly, and she was soon unable to perform. By 2004, she was quadriplegic.
The school has been struggling to raise funds to purchase a device that would enable Finelli to navigate the three-story building.
It was eventually able to raise $10,000 and purchase a secondhand portable wheelchair lift. Hankin Specialty Elevators of Sacramento is delivering the device this morning.
Company owner Neil Hankin brought the lift to the school six months ago so that Finelli could give it a spin.
Today, Finelli will use the lift to go up two flights of stairs to the main gym, where she will start teaching juggling and other circus arts to students in the school’s professional training program.
Students from around the world flock to the school for that program; this year’s students are from countries including Canada, France, England, Japan, Monaco, Peru and Russia.
Performers with some of the most recognized names in circus arts have taught at the Circus Center. Master teachers hail from Cirque du Soleil, Teatro ZinZanni, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey, the Big Apple Circus, Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe, Moscow Circus and Pickle Family Circus.
The school aims to raise an additional $6,000 to purchase equipment that would allow Finelli to better communicate and move around the center, including voice-activated software and an electric chin-steered wheelchair.