Joshua Oliver took the ends of two black straps that dangled from the exposed beam ceiling in the Circus Conservatory of America’s training center at Thompson’s Point in Portland.

Taking deep breaths, he wrapped the straps around his hands, then rose into the air.

For the next four minutes, Oliver turned somersaults, danced upside down and held a midair split with his feet in the straps – a move that took him five years to learn, he told an audience of two dozen students from Casco Bay High School on Tuesday.

If they sign up for the first round of classes starting Monday at the conservatory, and then follow up with lots more training, the students might be able to replicate Oliver’s solo act by the time they’re 30.

The conservatory is working to become the country’s first circus college. It has been holding recreational performance art classes for the past year and a half at North Yarmouth Academy, the YMCA in Portland and other locations nearby while a 10,000-square-foot former railroad maintenance building was converted into the training center.

On Monday, the conservatory will become the first tenant to open on Thompson’s Point, a 30-acre former industrial site by the Portland Transportation Center where a $100 million development – including an outdoor concert venue, sports arena and hotel – is planned.

The training center is only part of the circus school’s proposed project on Thompson’s Point, where it also plans to build a state-of-the-art 60,000-square-foot performing arts center.

“This will get us through a couple years,” said President Peter Nielsen.

The conservatory plans to start a college semester program this fall and a four-year bachelor of fine arts degree program for 150 students a year later, Nielsen said.

Sen. Rebecca Millet, D-Cape Elizabeth, is sponsoring a legislative proposal to authorize the conservatory to grant college degrees.

Nielsen said there are about a dozen circus colleges throughout the world, but none in the United States, where the performance art has gained popularity over the past couple of decades as it transformed from red-nosed clown acts and animal tricks to theatrical, acrobatic and artistic performances, best-known through Cirque du Soleil.

For now, the conservatory’s offerings are limited to recreational classes in the training center, where there are still more ropes to rig and a spring floor to install. An in-ground trampoline and a cafe are coming soon.

The slate of classes, which include handstand fundamentals and partner acrobatics, are held from one to six hours a week, depending on the class, and run through April. Prices vary by age (starting at 5 years old) and skill level, from $99 to $1,200 for a full session. Scholarships are available.

Madegan Lynch, a sophomore at Casco Bay High, said she was definitely interested in taking a class after learning how circus performing combines dance, acrobatics and theater.

“I love to do all of it,” she said.

She was among a group of students who chose circus for the high school’s weeklong intensive learning program, which also offered anatomy, snowshoeing and journalism.

As part of the class, the students got a sneak peek at the conservatory Tuesday.

A question-and-answer session with Oliver and other coaches at the school covered everything about careers in the circus, from costume design to the time it takes for calluses to form.

The coaches stressed the amount of hard work and tenacity it takes to have a successful career in circus, but also that anyone who tries hard enough can do it.

And if they’re not interested in joining the circus, classes can also be an alternative to the gym, said Cory Tabino, a coach and artistic adviser.

“Anything is possible,” he said.

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