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

Ben was first introduced to the Buffalo circus community at a Circus skill share night - people shared their love of acroyoga, juggling, fire spinning, and hooping.  He has taught acroyoga 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 performed locally in acroyoga, standing acrobatics, fire spinning, aerial arts, and hopes to perform in many more!  He is also working on completing a 250 hour yoga teacher training from the Downward Dog studio in Toronto.  

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Emilee Phillips

Emilee is passionate and driven in her study of yoga. A natural and inspired instructor, Emilee is eager to share her love for the wisdom of this profound healing art. Her appreciation of the teachings of hatha yoga led her to teacher training in 2014 at the Himalayan Institute where she earned her RYT-200 certification. In 2017, she completed the SeattleAcro Teacher Training where she learned the skills of growing a community and teaching students of acrobatics. She is also an active member of the AcroYoga Buffalo group, where she practices, performs, and travels to grow her skills in this playful style.

Off the mat, Emilee is a versatile, creative, and dexterous artisan of jewelry. She has earned a certification through the Gemological Institute of America as an Accredited Jewelry professional. Emilee is compassionately motivated to empower others through her intelligent and stimulating teaching style.


Christina Vega-Westhoff

A livelong mover, Nina Vega-Westhoff began modern dance, dance trapeze, and improvisation studies with ZUZI! Dance in 2008 and 2009 in Arizona, later expanding her aerial practice to include invented apparati, silks, static trapeze, lyra, rope, and sling. She has taught movement, aerial arts, and writing in Spanish and English in Mexico, the U.S., and Panama to students of all ages and was a primary instructor at Buffalo Aerial Dance from 2015-2016. Nina’s movement studies include certifications in Hatha Yoga (2013), MomentOm Arts Aerial Yoga (2014), Nimble Arts’ Intro to Aerial Arts (2016), and Adult & Pediatric CPR/First Aid/AED; intensives in Luigi Jazz Dance, yoga therapy, Skinner Releasing, modern, improvisation, aerial dance, and site-specific performance; and classes in many movement styles. She has performed and/or choreographed for New Phoenix Theatre’s Pinocchio, Monica Harvey’s While Moving on Purpose, Stanzi Voubel’s Unknowable Worlds and Indeterminacy Festival, Project Grant’s 48 Hours: Seeds, the Contemporary Circus Arts Festival of Toronto’s Creation Relay, O-T-O’s Migrations, solo works, and various shows with ZUZI! Dance, Katherine Tesch, Buffalo Aerial Dance, The Bird’s Nest, Canopy Arts, and more. 

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Andrew Kutnyak

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 since performed at various festivals or private events such as US Foods Customer Appreciation Banquet at Buffalo Riverworks, Business First Best Places to Work Award Ceremony at Buffalo Riverworks, City of Night, GoBike Buffalo SkyRide, and the Nights of Fire Festival.

Juliana Burkhart

Juliana approaches acrobatics with an infectious sense of playfulness, an eye for form, and a passion for training hard. She began learning AcroYoga at the same time as she began practicing yoga, in 2013. The two practices have evolved together for her, and she places special emphasis on translating the yogic principles of loving-kindness to her acro practice. Over the years, she has enjoyed being a part of the growing AcroYoga community in Buffalo. She has studied acrobatics in Buffalo, Denver, Toronto, Los Angeles, and New York City. In 2017, she completed the SeattleAcro Teacher Training where she learned the skills of growing a community and teaching students of acrobatics. As an instructor of both Acrobatics and Handstand Conditioning, 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. Juliana enjoys performing stunning feats of acrobatics with dramatic flair. She has performed at events and venues such as City of Night, Cirque de la Lune, Hotel Lafayette, Buffalo Riverworks, Canalside, GoBike Buffalo SkyRide, Business First Best Places to Work in Buffalo, Towne BMW 7 Series Release Party, and more.


Jay Mpelezos

Jay began practicing Acro in 2015. He began teaching in 2016 and has taught at Build A Machine Fitness, Sol Rise, East Meets West Yoga, and The Bird's Nest. He has performed at venues such as Buffalo Riverworks, Flying Bison Brewing Co., GoBike Buffalo SkyRide, and Canalside. Jay has expanded his acro practice while studying under teachers like Niko Douwes, Joy Chen, Hobs Hobotus, and Josh Young, and Lizzy Tomber. Currently he teaches Handstand Conditioning at The Bird's Nest. He is known for being a strong and supportive base, focusing always on the safety of his flyers and- most importantly- having fun!

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Larris Acker

Larris began his physical discipline through the practice of yoga in 2012.  It wasn’t until a year had passed by that his friend and mentor Jeanna encouraged him to attend his first aerial fabric class.  One might call it love at first sight, but from that day forward Larris would maintain a weekly aerial practice for the next four years.  After about six months of intense training Larris began assistant teaching, and not long after that he became a full fledged instructor in the Buffalo area.  He received his first aerial yoga teacher training at Aircat Aerial Arts in Boulder, Colorado in 2014.  A year later he received his second level of training at the same institute under Cathy Gauch.  Larris has thus far accrued four years of teaching a multitude of disciplines including aerial yoga, fabric, rope, lyra, and flexibility. Since starting his aerial career, Larris has been trained in several movement arts including hand balance, contortion, and ballet.  He has received extensive training at several circus studios throughout Central and North America including Aircat Aerial Arts and Frequent Flyers in Boulder, Colorado, as well as Danza Aerea in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico.  He has also trained under internationally renowned fabric instructor Fred Deb at The Collective Space in Toronto, Ontario.  Not only does Larris have an extensive training background, he has performed all over Buffalo for the past four years at events such as City of Night and at venues like Hotel Lafayette.  Being a veteran of over 20 performances in fabric and rope, he continues to build his career as both a choreographer and dancer.  


Sarah’s movement background began with an unsuccessful attempt at ballet between the ages of four and five, but her passion for movement arts was luckily (re)awakened in 2014 when she began pole dance. Her movement repertoire has since expanded to include yoga, AcroYoga, partner acrobatics, adagio partner acro dance, Aerial Dance (primarily aerial silks and aerial hammock, but also dabbling in dance trapeze and lyra) and Contact Improvisation. She loves to play with authentic movement, improvisation, fluidity, and emoting through movement. She also enjoys incorporating choreography, technique, strength-building.

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, and more. She has also sought training for partner acrobatics and acro dance from teachers like Niko Douwes, Hobs Hobotus, Daniel Walsh, Jenny Mahler and others. Sarah has worked and performed with Aerial Verde Dance Company, Canopy Aerial Arts, Glamour and Glow, Torn Space Theater, and now performs regularly with The Bird’s Nest.


Samm Haney

Samm is a Buffalo native, and is excited about the resurgence of circus arts in her hometown. She attended the Cleveland Institute of Art, before returning to Buffalo in 2010 and eventually starting her business here. 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, as well as pursuing certifications. Samm began taking an interest in aerial when she saw silk performers at an outdoor festival, and after stumbling upon some beginner classes, the Lyra quickly became her new best friend. 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. Samm is happy to of found her aerial home at The Bird’s Nest, and is proud to contribute to the positive and encouraging energy that makes it such a special place.


Asha Mathis

Asha is a professional hoop performer, fire goddess, gogo dancer, and all around glitterbomb. She has performed at venues such at The Bird's Nest, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo Iron Works, Leonard Oakes Steampunk Festival, City of Night, Okeechobee Festival, the Ukranian Cultural Center, VENU Buffalo, Suwannee Hulaween, Electric Forest, and many more! She is a dynamic performer, dazzling audiences with fire and LED flow props. As an instructor, she focuses on providing students with a fun and memorable experience, teaching them to move with the music and with their prop as one.