Having successfully negotiated the school run this morning on flat-running tyres I pulled over to the petrol station on the way home. As I fixed the tube onto the air valve and watched the PSI reading gradually rise to the recommended level, I reflected on how children are rather like tyres. There is a recommended level of pressure for them to run well. Too much and they explode, and too little and they become, well, deflated.
And for me that is why learning circus skills strikes such a great balance for kids. My daughter is dying to start gymnastics classes but in our next of the woods they are hugely over-subscribed with long waiting lists. So when I started at Circus Space and began to look around, the penny dropped. Why not circus skills? They also develop gymnastics skills, and encourage core strength. You learn moves that make your body fly and your heart soar. And it's fun! It gives them a challenge, without cracking the whip.
So this summer I took them to Airborne Circus for a couple of classes and a two-day workshop (see Chapter 25: Circus School for kids). They had a terrific time but it is too far for them to travel after school, ditto the all the Youth Circus run by Jacksons Lane, Circus Space in Hoxton, Albert and Friends in Hammersmith, the Hangar over in Woolwich, and so forth (see links at the end). So when I heard the announcement by Flying Fantastic that they were going to start up a programme for young people in our neck of the woods, I was delighted, and my goodness, how lucky are we?
Chris and Edel are circus amateurs in the broadest, fullest sense. They both have full-time jobs and a young family together, and set up Flying Fantastic on top of that a few years ago running aerial fitness classes. The level of time and commitment they have put into making it a success is tremendous. Classes are now running in Farringdon and Battersea offering hoop, static trapeze and silks, and just before Christmas hosted the first student performance night (see Chapter 53: Circus for Ordinary People) that gave a space to students to show their families and friends exactly what they are doing every week. These are not people who will necessarily go on to be circus professionals - not that you'd know it from that evening! - but it is circus for ordinary people, as they say.
And now ordinary kids, like mine. Well, there might have been a tiny element of whip cracking where my son was concerned. Not because he doesn't like circus, but because he prefers juggling and diabolo with his feet firmly on the floor - "Mum, the thing is, I'm just meant to be grounded". And here is where I tread a fine line. Actually I did insist that he came along to give it a go at least. There was no forcing - unlike gym classes I remember of old with barking orders and red-faced teachers, there is nothing but gentle encouragement, and the space for children to just sit and watch if they prefer until they choose to participate. Encouraged by Chris, man-to-man!, I noticed in next to no time my son was off practicing knots and pulling himself up on his own, smile beaming. The same for his sister, challenged by the very height of the trapeze and then, gently, sitting first with legs extended, then experimented a little with poses and in next to no time swinging around by her knees.
And here's the other thing I want to pass on to my children. The lesson that it's ok to feel afraid about starting something new, but that fear should never hold you back or limit you. Circus is a great environment for presenting these challenges in a relaxed and supportive way, and I am incredibly grateful to those who give up their time and energy to create that learning space. Cheers!
Interested in your children learning circus schools? Here a few options in London I have come across. Please feel free to bring my attention to any others I may have missed and will update!
East Finchley N2 and Mill Hill East (NW7): Airborne Circus Youth Classes
Hoxton N1: National Circus (Circus Space) Youth Circus
Battersea SW11: Flying Fantastic
Woolwich SE18: Youth Circus at Aircraft Circus
If you are outside London, worth just a quick google for circus skills in your area - it really is a case of #circuseverywhere, and if not, how about starting up your own…