A year out from graduation, Jennifer D’Ovidio ’08 (multidisciplinary studies) was working as an assistant wedding coordinator for Radisson Hotel Rochester Riverside. Her husband, Will D’Ovidio ’07 (advertising photography), was a photographer for The New York Times. Then the economy crashed, and they both lost their jobs.
So they decided to do the logical thing and open a circus school.
“It was the best thing that could have happened,” said Jennifer. “It made me really think about what I wanted to do with my life. I knew where I wanted my life to go, so I said, ‘That’s it, I’m opening a studio.’”
Today, that studio is known as the Aerial Arts of Rochester. It’s the only school within 150 miles of Rochester where students can learn cirque arts like aerial silks, aerial hoops and ballet barre among many others.
The studio underwent its third expansion in November and is the home of the UP! State Cirque Troupe. In addition to running the business, Jennifer and Will also instruct several classes themselves.
“I had no idea that this was going to take off the way that it did,” Will said.
The couple opened the business in 2010 as a pole dancing fitness studio. Within a few months, however, they were looking to expand their offerings.
“There was a lot of competition and we decided we needed to figure out what made us different,” Will said.
Jennifer heard about a growing field of exercise called aerial yoga and became intrigued. Seeking training, she contacted Lynn Coleman, a renowned acrobatic instructor from Denver.
“She started explaining that there’s not just aerial yoga, there’s also silks, aerial hoops—there’s all these different apparatuses,” Jennifer said. “She asked me, ‘If you’re going to have me come all the way from Colorado to train you for aerial yoga, why don’t I bring this other stuff?’”
Once she completed the initial training, Jennifer began to incorporate cirque classes into her curriculum.
The classes proved to be popular, so she continued training in cirque arts and Will, a third-degree black belt in karate, began training, too.
Together, the couple studied around the country for the better part of a year and came to rebrand their studio as Aerial Arts of Rochester in 2011.
Since then, the studio has grown to offer more than 35 classes taught by 11 instructors, including Christopher Henry ’07 (computer science). Aerial Arts of Rochester’s unique focus on fitness and anyone-can-do-it approach have been key factors in the school’s success, according to the couple. Students from all age groups and walks of life train at the school, and the studio even offers therapeutic classes for people affected by fibromyalgia and those with special needs.
“There’s a common misconception that you have to be strong and you have to be flexible to do this, but really all you need is a sense of adventure,” said Jennifer. “We break things down in a way that anyone can do them.”
The couple doesn’t take their success for granted, however.
“We’re always training,” Will said. “We need to make sure we’re keeping people safe. It’s our No. 1 priority.”