Turbo-Charge Your Learning: Make more mistakes


Circus Skills are Hard

Circus skills are hard – and they should be. We wouldn’t call them circus skills if they weren’t a skill, and we wouldn’t call things tricks if they weren’t tricky. Circus skills take time to learn and a lifetime to master.

But students get frustrated if they don’t feel like they are progressing. Whatever you learn, there comes a point when you will probably plateau for a while. You’ll make mistakes, and you’ll probably make the same mistake frequently. This is common in learning physical skills – sports, music, martial arts and definitely in circus – where motor control is key.

As you practice you’ll notice you make mistakes and after a while you’ll probably start to start to notice that you keep making the same mistake. When students see that they are making the same mistake over and over (sometimes they don’t see that it’s the same mistake but see that they are making a mistake over and over), frustration and annoyance kicks in.

It’s very common when first learning to juggle, for instance, that after two or three throws your body suddenly freezes and you don’t make your third or fourth throw. It feels like the ball is stuck in your hand. If students get stuck at this point for too long they get frustrated and sooner or later will probably give up.

Practice Makes Perfect… Or Not.

When you repeatedly perform an action, you teach your body and your brain to perform that action, and the action (or movement) becomes easier. Each time you perform the action, the neural pathway for that action becomes stronger and the action itself becomes easier.

Looking at our juggling example, the neural pathway for juggling is new and that the brain can’t coordinate throwing the “stuck” ball – the synapse hasn’t been used before. Not throwing and feeling like the ball is stuck in your hand is the result of the neurological pathway being unused.

When I’m teaching I tell people that they have to throw the ball even if it’s a terrible throw. Once they force the ball out of their hand once or twice, the neural pathway starts to get worn in, the synapses in the brain become easier for the electrical impulses to cross, and throwing the ball starts to becomes easier and more natural.

Whatever movement you make, if you repeatedly perform that movement, the neural pathway activates more fluidly and the movement becomes easier. Of course, the movement may be correct or incorrect – but neurologically speaking the result is the same: more fluid neural pathways.

When you make a mistake over and over again you’re teaching your brain and your body to perform that mistake more easily. You’re actually practicing the mistake and the mistake starts to become automatic. You are getting better but not in the way you want. You’re getting better at making the mistake. This is what we call a bad habit.

We all know that “practice makes perfect” but by practicing incorrectly, it also makes bad habits.

To ensure that we’re on the path to perfect (rather than forming bad habits) we have to perform a new movement or action. It doesn’t have to be correct, it just has to be different.

Performing a different movement or action is difficult. It doesn’t feel natural or comfortable. You’re brain is “walking an untrodden path.” It’s using neural pathways that haven’t been used before and it takes a concerted mental effort to do something differently.

Until the neural pathway for that movement is “well-trodden” it will take focus, attention and mental effort.

Don’t do it right, do it different.

If making the same mistake over and over isn’t going to achieve what we want, we have to something different. I don’t care what our students do differently and often tell them to “make a new mistake.”

I want my students to keep making different mistakes. If they keep making new mistakes eventually they’ll get it right and then we can try to replicate the correct movement. This is especially important if they’ve already formed a bad habit. They must unlearn what they have learned.

Making mistakes is never a problem. I want my students to make mistakes – lots of them! Because only when they make mistakes will they get better.

Make mistakes. Make lots of mistakes.

Highlights of the Week at Airborne Circus – 27 May 2016

This week at Airborne Circus

In our 5-7s classes…

  • Everyone learned how to spin a plate like a pro.
  • H started practicing a 2-ball shower on the tightwire (unsupported) and successfully managed three rounds (off-camera!).

In our 8-12s classes…

  • Aerialists learned how to do Angel (or Mermaid under the bar) and Half Angel.
  • Acrobats learned how to stand on each others thighs and build a human tower.
  • S managed to balance on the tightwire for over 10 seconds independently!

In our teenagers class…

  • L started to learn hat juggling!

Loads more happened and lots of other circus skills were practiced by other students.

Next week is half term so our next update on the week’s accomplishments will be in two weeks.

If you want to keep up to date with Airborne Circus news, information, classes and workshops make sure you subscribe to our newsletter above.

Circus Class Schedule

Highlights of the Week at Airborne Circus – 20 May 2016

This week at Airborne Circus

The 5-7s…

  • We had a student, T, who started balancing on the rola bola – and did it independently!
  • One of the older students, H, made it 3/4 of the way along the tightwire totally unsupported for the first time!
  • And everyone practiced hanging from their knees on the trapeze.

The 8-12s…

  • We gave our students some coordination exercises to try. They did really well with it so next time it’ll be even more complicated! (Some of them were feeling shy and are out of shot below.)
  • H arrived with some brand new (and very brightly coloured) juggling balls and then successfully performed 60 catches! New target: 100 catches.
  • worked hard on his handsprings, while S and learned new ways of climbing a rope.

The teenagers…

  • We had one new student try out the class… who could already juggle 3 balls and spin a diabolo!
  • E started learning how to pass 7 balls.
  • C worked on walking backwards on the tightwire.


  • Bought some new equipment! We can’t tell you what it is though – sorry!

Loads more happened and lots of other students worked diligently on other circus skills. Check in next week for more Airborne Circus highlights!

If you want to keep up to date with Airborne Circus news, information, classes and workshops make sure you subscribe to our newsletter above.

How Circus Skills Will Help You Pass Your GCSEs (SATs and A-Levels)

Animals Exam

I might miss some classes this term.

Every year in the summer term our students (and their parents) tell me that they may have to miss several classes this term. It’s not because it’s summer and they’re going on an exciting holiday with their family. It’s because it’s exam season. Students (and/or their parents) are worried about failing their exams and think that they need to spend as much time as possible studying and revising – especially the dreaded Night Before An Exam.

It’s great that our students are committed to doing well in their exams. (When I was that age I didn’t care about the exam grades I achieved. What was important to me was studying circus skills!) However I’ve noticed that many students don’t study effectively and end up sacrificing their circus classes unnecessarily and possibly even to their detriment.

Most students feel like they should (or need to) revise – or worse, do their actual studying – the Night Before An Exam. They think that last minute cramming is going to help them perform better in the exam and achieve better results.

But does last minute studying – or cramming – actually work? Or could attending your circus class actually help you pass your exam? Continue reading

How to create an amazing circus team building day – A guide for group organisers Part 1: The Merlin Principle

Merlin PrincipleCreating an Amazing Team Building Event

At some point in the year most companies, organisations and teams will arrange some kind of event to bring their people together. Whether it’s a simply a social opportunity for drinks and dinner, or an activity to enhance teamwork, communication and job satisfaction. Creating an outstanding event can increase performance, forward business goals, improve working relationships and be a highly memorable event for all involved. The wrong event, bad planning or poor organisation can also be memorable (and sometimes expensive) but for all the wrong reasons so creating an amazing team building experience is extra-important.

Here’s part one of our guide to how to create an amazing team building day for your group. Although this is written with our circus team building events in mind, it is applicable to organising any activity or team building day.

Working from the Future Backwards: The Merlin Principle

Lots of groups and organisations come to us without a clear picture of what they want to get out of our team building workshops. Knowing where you are going is the first – and most critical – aspect of getting there.

To plan and execute an amazing circus team building day, you should plan from the future backwards. Working from the future backwards, known as the Merlin Principle (Merlin lived from the future backwards in time), will ensure that you fulfil on what’s important to you.

Like Merlin, you start in the future, with the intentions you have and outcomes that you want to create, and you work backwards through time, step by step, asking yourself the question, “what would have to happen to cause or create that result?”

This may sound unusual but we often find that we do it quite naturally without even realising it. Here’s an example:

Imagine you are going away next weekend for a three week luxury break. You want a restful, peaceful, enjoyable time (that’s an intention or an outcome). What has to happen to fulfil that?

In order to ensure that you fulfil that intention and get that outcome you’ll have to catch your flight.

To catch your flight, you need to arrive at the airport on time so you work out what time you need to arrive at the airport.

To arrive at the airport on time, you work out the time you have to leave your house.

And to leave the house, you need to have finished your packing, and to pack you need to have bought your new swim suit. And so on.

As you work backwards using the Merlin Principle write down each action or conversation that has to happen and eventually you’ll come to today, where you create a plan to fulfil a future. By working from the future backwards, we pull today’s reality, step by step, towards our created future, our intentions and our outcomes.

To create an amazing circus workshop (or produce any other intended result) be like Merlin: start from the future and work backwards.


The Merlin Principle

Merlin by XKCD


How to teach the parts of circus students don’t want to learn

Flying Trapeze

Illustration by Jon Worden from Learning to Fly by Sam Keen

Learning Circus

I’m a big fan of all our students – especially our young people – learning a broad range of circus skills. That’s one of the reasons our classes don’t specialise in just one skill. I believe that there is enormous value in being able to climb a rope, fly the trapeze, juggle, and tumble (amongst other things). But every week one student or another will tell me that they don’t like this or that – whether they don’t like acrobatics, juggling, diabolo or trapeze is different from person to person, and often from week to week. And every time they say it I ask myself the same questions:

  1. Should we really push our students to be a “Jack of all trades, master of none” or would it be better to let students concentrate on just the things they enjoy and become “specialists”? (And is it even true that you can’t be a master of many?!)
  2. How can we get them to see the value in learning something that they don’t enjoy?

Continue reading

Adam Teaches Mike Williams on BBC World Service

Why Does Circus Appeal to Adults and Children Around the World?

A few weeks ago Adam was asked to teach Mike Williams from BBC World Service some flying trapeze at the National Centre for Circus Arts.

If you missed the first live broadcast of BBC World Service’s The Why Factor (asking the question above) you can listen again below. It’s also broadcast again tonight at 23.32 GMT (that’s 00.32 BST which we’re currently using in the UK).

Wednesday Aerial Class Now Open to Beginners


Our Wednesday, 6.30pm – 8pm adult aerial class is now open to beginner and intermediate students.

Get class details

This means we now have two sessions each week that are open to beginners so you have a choice of day or the opportunity to train twice as hard!

If you’re completely new to aerial and have never been on any aerial equipment before, we still recommend starting with our Thursday evening session.

Get class details or contact us for more information