Thursday, 10 July 2014

Chapter 25: Circus School for Kids, Airborne Circus and a Real Education

"We are revolting children, living in revolting times."

Have you seen "Matilda the Musical" in the West End?  Roald Dahl's story brought to life on stage tells the tale of a neglected child prodigy, Matilda Wormwood, who stands up to the local school bully - that happens to be the school's headmistress, Miss Trunchball - and ends up living happily ever after with her dream teacher, Miss Honey.  If that sounds too cloyingly sweet for you, hold on.   It's essentially Roald Dahl after all, sharp and witty, while Tim Minchin's music consistently hits the right note, and his lyrics are acutely funny.   The costumes and staging are a dark delight, it is hilarious, disturbing, touching and uplifting.  And the scene on the swings in the photograph above, from the number "When I grow up..." is, ironically, in part responsible for me signing up for the trapeze at circus school.  A whole new education.

The kids have been asking for it as well - circus school, that is - so on Monday I took them to a trial class at Airborne Circus in East Finchley, North London.  "Are we in, like, the North of England, Mum?" the kids wondered, as the tube emerged overground. The journey had taken a good hour. Worth every minute.

Halo Adam at Airborne Circus
(Photo:  Classes 4 kids website)

Airborne Circus was set up by Adam Cohen, and the Monday morning classes in the Finchley Youth Theatre (another converted church, hallelujah!) run for children the whole year round.   I hadn't fully appreciated that we were crashing a course run by Adam for the local home education community.  "So, how long have you been doing home education?" asked one of the mothers.  "Oh, we  don't, we go to a private school down in South London" piped up my son.   Having been avidly following the Wimbledon tweets for the tennis finals at the weekend, I could almost hear commentator Rufus the Hawk twittering away ha! #hawkward.

Only I'm quite shameless, and before long we were swapping contact numbers and talking about a group outing with the kids to the circus-themed Matisse Cut-Outs exhibition (see link here) at the Tate Modern. Adam, himself home-schooled, is passionate about the benefits of home education, sure,  but he also reaches out to schools as well, running circus workshops.   As well as being fun, the key value that I see in promoting circus skills, and yoga, as part of any educational curriculum is the development of core strength, the back-bone to good posture and long-term health.  From what I see, games lessons at school generally favour competitive sports, with emphasis placed on sports like football or netball rather than more gymnastic activities that are generally extra-curricular, and over-subscribed.   I wonder how much of that is parent-driven in the desire to see little Jane or Johnny "succeed", or schools seeking to demonstrate they are top of the league, where glory can be quantified in goal-scoring.  Just a thought.  Who knows?

So, back to circus school.  My daughter went into the 4-6 year old class first, and then my son went into the 7-10 year old class that followed.  Our Toddler didn't need to join a class - she is already a demonstrably accomplished Escape Artiste.  While her siblings were in class we breakfeasted on Turkish delights and dates in the cafe opposite, and then browsed in the second-hand bookshop next door.  It turns out that Black Gulls Books was formerly in Camden,  and used to have a theatre attached long before the Roundhouse was up and running, so there were plenty of performance-related texts to leaf through.  Needless to say, we came out laden.   And Brian, who was running it, has grandchildren himself so was very relaxed, more so than me!, about the circus acrobatics the Toddler was performing on the library ladder.

What her older siblings got up to is best illustrated in their own words:


Daughter:  "So when Adam, our teacher walked in, he said my name and told the class that I was new.  Then we did the register and we played a game.  In fact, when your name is called you would have to run like a spider to the end of the room, then back, backwards, and then you would warm up.  Then we played a game,  we did hula-hooping, juggling, handstands, forward rolls, and we can do the trapeze another time. My favourite bit was the hula-hooping, I chose a yellow and white one.  The other children were really nice and kind to me.  I made lots of new friends."

Me and my Diabolo

Son:  "Well, first of all we had little exercises to do, games, and handstands with alternate legs.  Then I started off with backwards roll, followed by some bunny hopping through hoops. I really liked how Adam taught me the diabolo, how to start it off and throw it.   There are loads of cool tricks to do, but I can only throw it in the air and catch it.  We did some juggling.  Well, I tried some juggling anyway.  I thought that everything was going to be really hard, but it ended up being easier than I thought.  The time went really quickly.  When are we going back again?"

When indeed.  By popular demand, the kids are now going back for the next couple of Mondays and have signed up to a two-day holiday workshop at the end of July.   I see it as an investment.  We have the circus-themed Camp Bestival to look forward to straight after that, and I'm working out the kids' charge-out rates ...

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