The Covid Chronicles: Reopening the Circus

Local Businesses Return to the Ring in the Covid Era

Note: This is part one of a four-part series highlighting the gradual reopening of DMV businesses.

At the outset of 2020, local businesses teaching circus skills to DMV residents had a lot to look forward to. Many schools had dedicated followings, well-established reputations, and programs in high demand.

Then the pandemic hit.

As the pre-Covid era and its sense of normalcy became a distant memory, businesses reckoned with how to adapt, respond and pivot in unprecedented circumstances.

With governmental restrictions now loosening, owners and operators of schools teaching acrobatics, trapeze, pole fitness and aerial arts spoke to the District Ringer about the process of reopening in a world fundamentally altered by Covid-19.

From the collective shutdown to the current state of affairs, representatives of these four companies specializing in recreational, artistic and competitive circus skills shared how the global pandemic has reframed their industry.

Our series starts in Laurel, Maryland.

“There’s nothing we can do. You can’t stress on something you can’t control.”

When you take a virtual tour of Emilia’s Acrobatics and Gymnastics in Laurel, it’s reasonable to accept that this expansive gym with beautiful equipment is home to some of the nation’s most elite acrobatic squads.

However, to imagine a business that draws the bulk of its revenue from youth gymnastics programs moving to such a posh facility in the middle of a global pandemic seems like too much of a stretch.

But for owner and acclaimed acrobatics coach Daniil Kostovetskiy, 73, this process has been a lifetime in the making.

After emigrating from Ukraine to the U.S. with his two children, Daniil opened Emilia’s in 1995, naming the gym after his late wife.

Today, Daniil’s son, Yuri Kostovetskiy, manages the gym while his father oversees the high-level acrobatics teams.

“I was born in the gym,” said Yuri, who was coached by his father to become an accomplished tumbler and acrobat in his youth. “I truly think I was created to run his (Daniil’s) legacy.”

While that may sound like a tall order, particularly in Covid times, Yuri said the shutdown was a blessing in disguise.

When Emilias’s former location closed in accordance with Maryland regulations on March 15th, some of his staff members were surprised by his optimism in what felt like a dire moment.

“There’s nothing we can do. You can’t stress on something you can’t control,” he told them.

During the hiatus, they were able to move all of the gym’s equipment — tumble tracks, mats, springboards and trampolines — into Emilia’s brand new, 19,000-square foot facility.

“I’m grateful for the shutdown because it allowed us to move everything peacefully. We took our time and we made sure that everything was set up and acceptable,” Yuri said. “So everything was set up, but we were still closed.”

“It was very hard for him to understand why, in America, he could not open up his own business.”

With no end to the shutdown in sight, Yuri was concerned about the mental health of kids who typically spent multiple hours in his gym every week. 

“We had a large following, and the hardest part about this is how it affected kids,” he said. 

With hundreds of families now unable to support his business, Yuri decided to offer them free lessons on Zoom, paying coaches out of his own pocket.

After five weeks of sponsoring his staff and students from home, he realized that he couldn’t sustain the free service any longer.

While the new gym received a stop on its mortgage, Yuri said they did not get any assistance from the Maryland government. 

Luckily, Emilia’s was able to resume in-person classes in the new space in mid-June, with strict safety protocols including masks, health questionnaires, temperature checks and physical distancing. 

Since reopening, Yuri said the biggest challenge has been assuring his clientele that his operation is safe.

“We closed down with 549 clients, and right now we’re at 140,” he said.

Lately, he’s been holding open houses — for former clients and new families alike — to ease their worries.

With air circulating through giant fans and four bay doors on each side of its facility and office staff frequently emailing parents about health and safety protocols, Yuri hopes that his father’s gym will slowly regain its footing.

“I definitely teared up a couple of times when I got to the gym, and my father is just walking in the dark, cleaning,” he said to describe the difficult process of waiting to reopen. “It was very hard for him to understand why, in America, he could not open up his own business.”

Yuri has also worked with his staff to develop EAGC Academy, which is currently open for enrollment. This day-long program, run by a full-time staff teacher, will open with the school year in September, providing a space for students to do distance learning while taking breaks for yoga and gymnastics throughout the day. Parents can even add electives in French, Spanish or Chinese to round out the experience for their kids.

“When we opened, the kids’ smiles when they ran in and saw the brand new gym, I mean you cannot express that feeling,” Yuri said, conveying his gratitude that Emilia’s could once again give the families in his community an outlet to maintain their physical, mental and emotional health. “I can’t even articulate the feeling that I saw on those faces.”

To learn more about Emilia’s Acrobatics and Gymnastics and sign up for their listserv, visit their website.

“It was like I was on the freeway, and I didn’t have an off ramp.”

Stay tuned for the next edition of The Covid Chronicles, profiling Pole Pressure DC owner Devon Williams.

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