Meet Our Instructors

Our teachers have a passion for helping others learn and succeed! Not only are they highly trained and accomplished in their individual art forms, they are also leaders and creative pioneers in the circus arts community. Bringing students together with a sense of cooperation and creating a safe environment for everyone to explore and achieve is what we are all about!

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BEN MADOFF

Acro yoga & Standing Acrobatics Instructor

Studio Owner

Ben has taught acro yoga and standing acrobatics in Buffalo, Rochester, and several other cities in the northeast. He has a teaching certification from Acro Revolution and has additional trainings from New York City, Portland, Montreal, Boston, Chicago, Mexico City, and wherever good teachers can be found.

Ben has also locally performed fire spinning, & aerial arts. He is completing a 250 hour yoga teacher training from the Downward Dog studio in Toronto.

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CHRISTINA VEGA-WESTHOFF

Dance Trapeze & Aerial Arts Instructor

Nina Vega-Westhoff began her modern dance, dance trapeze, and improvisation studies with ZUZI! Dance in 2008 and 2009 in Arizona. Her practice today includes inverted apparatus, silks, static trapeze, lyra, aerial rope, and aerial sling.

She has taught in both Spanish and English in Mexico, the U.S., and Panama to children and adults alike. She was one of the primary instructors at Buffalo Aerial Dance from 2015-2016.

Nina’s movement studies include certifications in Hatha Yoga (2013), MomentOm Arts Aerial Yoga (2014), and Nimble Arts’ Intro to Aerial Arts (2016); intensives in Luigi Jazz Dance, Yoga Therapy, Skinner Releasing, Modern, Improvisation, & Aerial dance; and Site-specific Performance.

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ANDREW

KUTNYAK

Aerial Silks Instructor

Andrew is an Aerial Silks teacher and has completed the Nimble Arts Introduction to Teaching as well as the Foundation Level Teacher Training. He began his aerial journey in 2009 and as co-owner of Canopy Arts has been performing in Buffalo ever since.

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JAY MPELEZOS

Acro Yoga & Standing Acrobatics Instructor

Hand Balance Instructor

Jay began teaching & studying gymnastics in 2016 and has taught at studios all around Buffalo.

Jay has received trainings at LIFT School Of Acrobatics & Pitch Catch Circus. Jay has studied under the teachings of Ellio Blox & Niko Douwes of Rebel Circus Arts, Angela Buccinni & Yoni Kallai of The Muse Circus, Joy Chen of Aerial Arts of Rochester, and Hob Hobotus himself. Jay has completed module 1 of Josh Young & Lizzy Tomber's Acro Revolution Teacher Training Program.

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LARRY ACKER

Aerial Silks & Aerial Arts Instructor

Larris began his physical discipline through the practice of yoga in 2012. He received his first & second aerial yoga teacher trainings at Aircat Aerial Arts in Boulder, Colorado in 2014 & 2015. Larris has four years of experience teaching aerial yoga, silks, aerial rope, lyra, and active flexibility classes.

Larris has been trained in several movement arts including hand balance, contortion, and ballet. He has received extensive training at several circus studios including both Aircat Aerial Arts and Frequent Flyers in Boulder, Colorado; Danza Aerea in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico; and under internationally renowned fabric instructor Fred Deb at The Collective Space in Toronto, Ontario.

SARAH CAPUTI

POLE DANCE INSTRUCTOR

ACRO YOGA, DANCE ACRO, & STANDING ACROBATICS INSTRUCTOR

Sarah began learning pole dance in 2014. Her movement repertoire has since expanded to include yoga, acro yoga, partner acrobatics, dance acrobatics, aerial silks, contact improvisation, and more. She loves to play with improvisation, fluidity, choreography, and emotional expression.

Sarah is an X-Pert X-Pole certified pole instructor and has been teaching since 2016. She has trained under renowned teachers such as Marion Crampe, Colleen Jolly, Sergia Louise Anderson, Marlow Fisken, Natasha Wang, and others. She has also sought training for partner acrobatics and acro dance from Niko Douwes, Hobs Hobotus, and Elio Blox. She has been to LIFT School Of Acrobatics Advanced Immersion, Pitch Catch Circus H2H Intensive 2018, the Icarian Intensive with Acro Bear and Squirrel.

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SAMM HANEY

Aerial Hoop (Lyra) Instructor

Samm is a Buffalo native. She attended the Cleveland Institute of Art, before returning to Buffalo in 2010. Samm comes from a strong ballet and musical theatre background, and has been training and performing on Lyra since 2015. She is constantly furthering her education in the aerial arts by training with instructors abroad and at home.

Samm enjoys combining flexibility and strength in her training, and takes a special interest in spinning choreography in her acts. She looks forward to helping students increase their strength and body awareness, as well as their self-confidence as they discover the graceful beauty of the aerial hoop.

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BENJAMIN BERRY

HULA HOOP INSTRUCTOR

Benjamin has been teaching since 2015, when he connected with the online hooping community by participating in Hooping Idol Season 5 and the Electric Forest Hoop Troupe contest. This ultimately earned him Hooping.org's "Male Hooper of the Year 2015," as well as nominations for "Tutorial of the Year," "Instructor of the Year," and "Video of the Year." He enjoys helping his students become more confident, embodied, and expressive. Recently, he has begun offering hoop dance programs in areas such as after-school, libraries, and community events.

Check out more at www.benjaminberry.com.


Birds Nest Alumni

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EMILEE PHILLIPS

Acro Yoga & Standing Acrobatics Instructor

Yoga Instructor

In 2014 she earned her RYT-200 certification at the Himalayan Institute & in 2017, she completed the SeattleAcro Teacher Training. In 2018, she completed her Yogis in Service 95-hour Children’s Teacher Training (YISCTT). Emilee is compassionately motivated to empower others through her intelligent and stimulating teaching style.

She has since moved on to be Deleware North’s Health & Wellness Coordinator at Sequoia National Park, California.

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JULIANA BURKHART

AcroYoga, Standing Acrobatics, & Handstand Conditioning Instructor

Class Programming and Website Design

She began learning Acro at the same time as she began practicing yoga, in 2013. She has studied acrobatics in Buffalo, Denver, Toronto, Los Angeles, and New York City. In 2017, she completed the SeattleAcro Teacher Training. She focuses on providing students with safe and accessible progressions and partner calibrations to help them develop excellent technique for long-term success in their practice.

She has since moved on to teach Handstand Conditioning at Warrior Bridge, Cosmic Fit Club, and The Muse Circus Arts in Brooklyn NY.

You can find her on instagram as @thetallflyer, or on her website www.JulianaBurkhartWrites.com