Wickiworld: Tumbling Down Memory Lane

Suellen Epstein is a fixture in Tribeca—well, at least to any of the thousands of children and families who have tumbled in her loft on Murray Street. Epstein founded and still runs Children’s Tumbling. She loves what she does, but this was not her life’s goal.

Suellen, as everyone calls her, grew up in St. Louis as the third oldest of nine children, all born within 12 years. Yikes! There must of have been lots of tumbling and tussling in that group. But that isn’t how she came to run one of Tribeca’s most cherished institutions. She came to New York City in 1971 to be a dancer. And she worked for the Multigravitational Aerodance Group, whose dancers hitched themselves to ship masts in South Street Seaport and hung from ropes at Studio 54 and performed at the edges of the experimental world of the 70’s and 80’s. Suellen danced with them and taught at Little Red School House in the Village.

Every artist I knew, or still know has a calling, a real métier, but until fame hits, they have a way to pay the bills. Suellen was no different. She moved to her Tribeca loft in 1978 and as soon as she got her digs in order and carved out a dedicated space, she began to offer classes. Many parents at Little Red suggested she teach gymnastics. “Believe me, there were no services downtown,” she says. “Really nothing! And so I had most of my students come from the Village and Brooklyn Heights and soon the sands shifted. In 1982, I began a toddler program and I’m still here and we are still growing.” Now Suellen teaches over a dozen classes a week to kids as young as two and even offers classes to adults, if you want to learn stiltwalking or circus silks or trapeze.

“The best part of still being down here in Tribeca is running into the kids—’the alums,’ I call them. I recognize most of them, and they always say, ‘Remember when we did this or that?’ and they get so excited. How come they remember all of that and so vividly? That is wonderful for me.”

Suellen Epstein and Children’s Tumbling is one of the oldest businesses in Tribeca. “In the old days we were all these mom-and-pop artist businesses; lots of dancers teaching in their lofts. Once upon a time that was how we were. Now it’s different. I think a lot of people don’t even know that I live here. That’s fine.”

Suellen is planning to stay and continue teaching. “I never planed to do this for so long, but I love it and I love my students.” (That’s her on the trampoline at the top of the article.) “Because I have competition, the folks who want to come, really want to be here. They find me, they like the program, and they appreciate that it’s not a competitive atmosphere. It is all about fun and skills and I’m really proud of it.”

About the author: Wickham Boyle, known as Wicki, has written for The New York Times, National Geographic, and other publications. She was a founder of CODE and ThriveNYC magazine, executive director of La MaMa theater, and author of A Mother’s Essays From Ground Zero (2001), which debuted as an opera in 2008. She has an MBA from Yale and worked as a Wall Street stockbroker. At Memory & Movement, she writes about memorizing poems while walking along the Hudson.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for the article. I’m an alum…from the 80s! Go Suellen!