A Short Shpeel on Circus School

Full-time circus training is no joke, and finding the energy to do other things is a feat, one that I manage to do now and again, but not in recent weeks. The last 3 have been a marathon of fighting fatigue and continued concentration. I had just enough time to go to school for classes and practice, eat, shower and sleep. Not much else. We have a short vacation coming up soon, but I am already out of steam so I am taking a self-approved day off. That is why I have a bit of time to write.

It’s funny – outside of Russia, China, and now Canada and France, many people do not know that circus schools exist. Some do not even know what a circus is. It has become one of my hobbies, trying to explain to these people what I do:

-So what do you do?

-I am a student at a circus school.


-Circus school, it’s where acrobats and circus artists are trained


-You know back flips?


-It’s a school where we learn back flips1.


…followed by a look of partial (mis)understanding and (un)recognition. And then some tell me how cool that is. Others just go “aaah. I see” though with the way they say it, it’s hard to know if they really do see. They probably have some vague image in their head of some person jumping and flipping through the air. Or maybe that is just me putting thoughts in their head. In any case, before the 90’s when Cirque du Soleil combined circus arts and the McDonald’s business plan2, the general idea of what a circus consisted of was clowns, lions, tigers, tight-rope walkers, seals, elephants, and a big circus tent. And this idea is not without basis; in many European countries and the United States, this was essentially the circus, the “traditional” circus. The word traditional here meaning old. Some traditional circuses still exist today, but I think they are slowly being overtaken by the contemporary circus movement that emphasizes human physical and artistic achievement and discourages the use of animals.

So, I am in circus school. Before arriving here, I didn’t appreciate all the different varieties of pain that the human body could feel. We essentially learn about human anatomy by getting injured. For instance, I learned that one of the bones of the wrist is called the scaphoid precisely because my scaphoid was dislodged by a ganglion cyst  and caused me quite some pain. The cyst occurred about the same time I had tendonitis on both wrists so I didn’t notice it until I could no longer bend my left hand forward and my wrist was swollen. It’s all fixed now: I rested my wrists and wore a wrist brace for about 6 weeks. That’s another thing: apparently rest, ice, massages, heat rubs and stretches can fix almost any muscle or joint injury, including the minor problem I had when the top of my right trapezius (shoulder) muscle was hyper contracted and caused tension in all the surrounding muscles, especially the top of my pectoral (upper chest) muscle, which consequently caused me to feel like someone was trying to rip open my chest near my sternum every time I moved my right shoulder. Joli, non?

Thus far, I am not sure if I am doing a great job of advertising circus schools, so I think I’ll change course. It’s not all gruesome injuries and pain: we also take dance and acting classes with professionally trained teachers which I think is brilliant. Some schools even have music and creative writing classes. On the whole, I am glad to be doing what I am doing, and (except on days when I haven’t slept enough), it doesn’t take much to motivate myself to get out of bed in the morning and head to school.

In any case, I hope you will accept this as a legitimate excuse for the lapse in blog posts.

  1. Well, we do learn other things, and a back flip is not as fundamental a skill to acquire as, say, a handstand – unless you’re a floor acrobat, a hand-to-hand flyer, a flying trapezist, trampolinist, Russian bar flyer or teeter boarder. I am none of these things and thus cannot do a back flip. I might learn eventually, but there’s no rush.
  2. This is merely an expression to describe the aggressively capitalistic nature of Cirque du Soleil, which sets it apart from other circus companies (except maybe the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Company). I have never actually studied any McDonald’s business plan, but I imagine that if it could be condensed into 3 sentences, they would be: “In yo’ face, all over the place”, “cut costs, at all costs” and “the staff are just part of the equipment – treat them as such”.

PS I strongly recommend that you check out as many of the links as possible.

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