Circus Goes National

National Centre For Circus Arts

Circus gets a National Centre for Circus Arts

In case you haven’t seen the news, British circus is going national today with Circus Space being elevated to “national” status and relaunched as the National Centre for Circus Arts 25 years after they first opened their doors.

Over the past 25 years, Circus Space has become one of the leading centres for teaching these nouveau cirque skills. Many have felt circus has been the poor cousin of theatre and dance and all but a few of the country’s traditional touring family circuses have disappeared. In their place a new breed of circus entertainment has emerged that balances artistry and acrobatics.

The Guardian

The announcement brings circus in line with theatre, dance and music, raising the credibility of circus as an art form and demonstrating that, after years (centuries?) of sweat, blood and tears (often literally), circus is finally being taken seriously.

We have a lot to thank National Centre for. Adam, as well as many of the other teachers here at Airborne Circus, have trained and taught at the National Centre and they have been a continued support to us since before we opened our doors, offering advice and counsel in all aspects of what it takes to run a circus school.

As the National Centre for Circus Arts we are taking a leading role in supporting the wider circus sector in the UK, creating opportunities for circus to be seen and for people to participate in training at all levels.

– The National Centre for Circus Arts

Looking forward, who knows what having a national centre will do for the circus industry? We hope that it will bring good things – increased opportunities, recognition and participation – and look forward to seeing the future unfold.

Congratulations for a job well done, Circus Space. And welcome to the world, National Centre for Circus Arts. We’ll definitely see you around.

What do you think having the National Centre for Circus Arts means for us? Will it change the industry? Let us know in the comments below.

What Can Young Kids Do?

What do you do with a 5 year old?

This is a question we get asked all the time. But I often think the answer is inadequate for people. ‘We teach the young kids the same stuff as the older kids – acrobatics, trapeze, juggling,etc.’

For some reason people seem to expect young kids to be less able than older kids. And that’s really not the case. In my opinion, it’s not that young kids are less able, it’s that they’ve had less exposure. Said another way, it’s not that they’ve been around on the planet for less time but that they’ve been around circus for less time that makes them less able.

We probably all know this but the main way that very young children learn is by copying. So if they’re brought up around circus they’ll copy circus. The earlier the exposure and the more time devoted to copying and learning circus the better they’ll be by the time they’re five.

My friend Lesley (incidentally it’s her birthday as I’m writing this – happy birthday Lesley!) runs the Wookey Hole Circus, a very successful youth circus in Somerset. Her daughter was watching all the people around her teaching, learning and performing circus from the moment she was born. Here she is at 18 months practicing her hula hoop and taking a call at the end. (In case you don’t realise, this is impressive for 18 months!)

I can’t wait to see what she’ll be like by the time she’s five.

Our classes for young kids have exactly the same content as our classes for older children. So what’s the difference? Well, there really isn’t any difference in the content – all of our classes include juggling, trapeze, tightwire, acrobatics and more – but the delivery style changes with the different age groups. Our 5-7 students have slightly more structure than the 8-12s who have slightly more than the teens. As students get older, they naturally gravitate towards certain skills and away from others, possibly disregarding some skills entirely. One of our teens told me last week that she’s not interested in acrobatics at all and doesn’t want to do it. She’s got her heart set on the unicycle and is always ready and eager to get back on it and practice each week. And that’s more than ok by me. Not everyone is built for, or interested in, every circus skill, and that’s one of the beauties of circus: there’s something for everyone.

Although at the moment we only offer classes for young people who are 5+ I’m committed that as Airborne Circus grows we start to offer classes for pre-schoolers and toddlers too. The early we get them the better they’ll become!

In the meantime here are a couple of videos of young children who started circus early on. They obviously didn’t learn this overnight but it should give you a sense of what young kids are capable of if they’re exposed to circus early and given the chance to learn.

Get more information about our youth circus classes

What Young Kids Can Really Do

Teaching Tip 4: Treat Them Like an Adult

A colleague made a comment a while ago that when I teach kids (I teach everything from 2-year-olds through teens to adults) I treat them like adults. And although that isn’t exactly true, it’s been sitting in my mind for a while.

Over the years, when I’ve watched other people teach young children, I’ve often cringed a little inside. It’s not that what they’re teaching is bad because it’s not. Often they’ve been teachers that I respect very highly. But what makes me cringe is when I see teachers patronise kids.

Children are smart. Until someone (including themselves) tells them they’re not, kids are unbelievably bright, intelligent and present. To talk to kids as anything other than smart belittles them. Continue reading

Teaching Tips 3: Take Fun Seriously

Ever since I started teaching I’ve strived to continually develop myself as a better teacher – either by learning (or refining) circus technique, learning related subjects (eg., gymnastics, first aid, leadership), or developing new ways of being and working with young people to get the most out of them.

Through these posts I hope to be able to offer you some new ideas, tips, and thoughts that will encourage and support you in being a better teacher.

Take Fun Seriously

Some of the worst teaching I’ve ever seen has been watching people work with children or young people and be very serious. I’ve watched coaches and trainers reprimand children in front of a group for doing nothing more than Continue reading

Teaching Tip 2: Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan

Lesson planning has been the bane of my life. Or at least it was until I started to get good at it. I think a lot of teachers – regardless of whether they are school, circus, or any other kind of teacher – hate doing lesson planning. Lesson planning takes time, and in this day and age time is something of a precious commodity. But I don’t think that’s what really bugged me. It wasn’t the time; I can always make time for stuff that’s important. It seemed like a lot of effort for something that wasn’t very important and didn’t really make any difference.

But as teachers all know lesson plans are really important and do make a big difference.

But if we know they’re important, and we know they make such a difference, then why don’t they seem important when it comes time to sit down and write them? And why are they always so much effort?

Continue reading

Teaching Tip 1: Know Why You Are Teaching

About a year ago I wrote six tips for teaching youth circus and I thought it was about time I followed up with something similar. Rather than write six more tips I decided that I’d go into a bit more depth into those six original tips one by one.

Photo by Claude Fisicaro

Context is decisive

I enjoy teaching far more than I ever enjoyed performing. My performing career was pretty short-lived. I didn’t love it. I performed because I should; because that’s what circus artists do. It wasn’t an authentic expression of my passions, my desires, or of me. It was a struggle, an effort and, although I enjoyed performing while I was actually performing, it was ultimately unfulfilling for me.

When I was about 10 and learned to juggle the first thing I did was try to teach the other kids in my class. Teaching for me has always been a much more natural expression of myself. It’s easy for me; it’s fun.

Why do you teach?

Stop and consider for a moment why you teach.

If you’re teaching because you love it, brilliant. But if you’re teaching because you have to, because you need the money, or for any other reason, you’re probably not going to be satisfied by it, and your students won’t get as much from your teaching.

Context is everything.

Even if you need the money – and believe me I still need the money I earn from teaching! – creating a bigger, more powerful context for yourself will give new life to your lessons, it’ll bring you more enjoyment, and it’ll have students respond better to your teaching.

Creating a Context

There are many ways to create a new context but before you try to create a new context make sure you distinguish your current context. Up until now, why have you been teaching?

Think about your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations leading up to, during and after your class. Think about the things you said and how you responded to students questions, comments or actions. Look at who you’re teaching for (are you teaching for yourself or are they for another person or organisation?) and what you or they have said about the classes, students, or even the business.

If you look at your whole experience of teaching you’ll start to discover the context you’ve had for teaching so far.

There’s nothing wrong with your current context, it just may not be as empowering or enlivening as you’d like. And there’s nothing to say that you can’t have an empowering context one day and a disempowering context the next.

Maybe it’s empowering, maybe it’s not, but whatever it is it’s the context you’ve had.

Once you’ve discovered and distinguished the context you’ve had so far you have an opportunity to create something new.

Creating a context could be as simple as making declaration of why you are teaching.

[A declaration] brings forth the possibility that it speaks, in the very act of speaking it.  Such speaking has a direct and lasting impact; in the very act of speaking, it alters the course of events.

~ Werner Erhard

It could be imagining or creating a vision board of where you see your classes or students in 5 or 10 years time.

It could be creating a dream holiday and realising that each class is moving you one step closer.

It could be creating a show with your students for the end of the year or term.

Whatever you create, it’s got to be big enough that it inspires you, that it pulls you forward and gives you a new lease of life for your teaching. A small, ordinary context will shrivel and die a quick death.

Having an unusually large goal is an adrenaline infusion that provides the endurance to overcome the inevitable trials and tribulations that go along with any goal. Realistic goals, goals restricted to the average ambition level, are uninspiring and will only fuel you through the first or second problem, at which point you throw in the towel. If the potential payoff is mediocre or average, so is your effort. I’ll run through walls to get a catamaran trip through the Greek islands, but I might not change my brand of cereal for a weekend trip through Columbus, Ohio. If I choose the latter because it is “realistic,” I won’t have the enthusiasm to jump even the smallest hurdle to accomplish it. With beautiful, crystal-clear Greek waters and delicious wine on the brain, I’m prepared to do battle for a dream that is worth dreaming. Even though their difficulty of achievement on a scale of 1-10 appears to be a 2 and a 10 respectively, Columbus is more likely to fall through.

The fishing is best where the fewest go. There is just less competition for bigger goals.

~ Tim Ferris

Once created, your new context needs to take root. If it only lives in your head it will be like a mug of hot chocolate: gone too soon, leaving nothing more than a yummy memory.

Now, there’s nothing to stop you from creating and recreating each time it fades, but for your new context to live, grow and even expand it needs to live outside your memory. Share it with your friends, family, colleagues, students; make a vision board, stick post-it notes around your home, book your holiday flights, create a business or draw a picture. It doesn’t matter what you do as much as it matters that you do something. The more it lives outside of your mind the stronger it will be and more real it will become.

Context is everything. And knowing why you do what you do is at the heart great teaching.

Six Tips for Teaching Youth Circus

Ever since I started teaching I’ve strived to continually develop myself as a better teacher – either by learning (or refining) circus technique, learning related subjects (eg., gymnastics, first aid, leadership), or developing new ways of being and working with young people to get the most out of them. Sometimes I get it wrong but I think that most of the time I manage to get the best out of the young people I work with and manage to have good working relationships with them.

Below are six tips for teaching circus to children and young people that I hope will give you some new ideas and thoughts that will help you to be a great teacher.

Continue reading

Back to the Flying Board

About a month ago some friends of mine, Marcella and Tanwen, who have recently been performing flying trapeze with No Fit State Circus, moved back to London. Since they came back we’ve been flying together once or twice a week. It’s the first time in about 8 years that I’ve been on the flying trapeze regularly (for anything more than just a swing or two).

The reason I stopped flying was that I suffered from bad shoulders. I’ve had trouble with them ever since I was a teenager but it had gotten to the point where if I flew for an hour on the trapeze, I wouldn’t be able to lift my arms or brush my teeth without pain for a week. Continue reading

It’s Just a Jump to the Left

On October 1st there’s a show you might want to see…

Dr Clive’s Circus Presents The Science Fiction Double Feature

Combining Circus with Rocky Horror, and featuring a bunch of my friends, including Jackie Le and Adam Oliver (who incidentally I grew up with!) it should prove be a good night!

All audience members are encouraged to get involved in whatever way they can. Should you wish to dress up, please feel free. Expect debauchery and a whole lotta fun!

Tickets can be purchased here.