At Home Strength Exercises

Every day since I was about six and a half, I have challenged myself to make my own nightly routine consisting of strength building exercisesAt home strength drills are a great way to get you on the road to more complicated skills and benefit Chinese pole artists, aerial artists, tumblers, hand balancers, and just about everyone. Developed and strong (but also stretched and healthy) muscles are a valuable asset in your training. Below is my nightly routine, and then some of my very favorite exercises. 

MY NIGHTLY ROUTINE

  • Handstands {Tuck plance, L-sit, straddle sit, x1 one-arm drill}
  • Muscle {x10 handstand push-ups or x10 wide arm pullups, 30-60 sec. hollow hold or plank, and 30 sec. wall sit or horse stance, or x15 squats}
  • Physical Therapy {Exercises change but always an exercise for my right knee and both shoulders}
  • Stretch {A nice stretch for arms, shoulders, legs, and core}

NOTE: If you’ve never done these exercises before, it’s a good idea to do them first in person with a circus coach so that they can watch you and make sure you have good form. I also must remind you that after every drill to build your strength, don’t forget to match it with a stretch (at least 30 sec. long) on each set of muscles you were building up. It’s also a good idea to prep yourself with a light warm-up (jumping jacks, arm circles, etc.) before you begin your exercises. 

Push-ups

Builds upper body

There are many great variations of this exercise. There’s the regular: arms by your side, on your feet, kiss the ground and let your elbows graze your ribs, then push-up! There’s also the handstand push-up, which I find very helpful – especially for training my handstands and flags on the Chinese pole. For this variation, you’ll kick up to a handstand with your back against the wall and your arms fairly wide. Next, let your head almost touch the ground by bending your arms along the same plane as the wall, then push up, back to your handstand position. It’s tempting to arch your back or pike your hips in this position especially while pushing back up to your handstand position. Try to isolate the movement all in your arms and upper back. I love this exercise! Don’t forget to give your shoulders a nice long stretch after this one. 

Pull-ups

Builds upper body

There are so many different versions of pull-ups but the most basic version is to put your hands about shoulder width apart on a pull-up bar, trapeze, playground monkey bars, or anything you can hang from (SAFELY!). Take all the weight off your feet and into your hands, stay tight and try not to roll your body or pull with your arms at different times to pull-up. Pull the bar all the way up to your chest and come down slowly with control. If you do not yet have the strength to pull-up, jump up to bent arms and lower yourself down with control. A great way to get stronger is to train the negative! So, if you can’t yet do a pull-up, do lots of “resist downs to build up the muscles. 

Hollow holds 

Builds Abs 

For this exercise lay on the ground with your back on the floor. Press your back into the floor so that you couldn’t even stick your pinky finger under, lift your legs about 4 inches of the ground and lift your head, neck, and shoulders off the ground to about that same height. Next, squeeze your arms at your sides. Hold for at least 30 seconds, 60 seconds if you really want some abs, 90 if you’re Beast Mode, and 120 if you REALLY want a challenge (or if you have a death wish.) BONUS: If all of those are too easy then try it with your arms squeezed by your ears!

 

V-ups

Builds Abs

You will hold the same hollow position as described in the previous exercise, but now you will thrust your toes and torso to each other and hit your toes back down, over and over! Don’t let your limbs, head, neck, or shoulders touch the ground. Do at least 25 of these and if you’re feeling game, do 40!

 

Pistol Squats

Builds glutes, quads, hammies, and calfs

For this exercise make sure you have a carpet or pad you would feel comfortable doing a forward roll on. Next, stand on one foot and bend your knee as though you were doing a 1-legged squat and roll back. Then, use the energy from the roll to help you stand up. Try not to touch your hands or other foot or leg to the ground. If this exercise is too hard at the moment, do it next to a wall and use your hand closest to the wall to help you up. If it’s too easy, take out the roll back and simply do a one legged squat. Do an equal amount on each leg. I’d say a set of ten on your left and a set of ten on your right. 

Stair-Runs

Builds glutes, quads, hammies, and calfs

This one is brutal! But it’s good for you. As the name implies, stairs are involved. One simply runs up a flight of stairs and jogs with caution back down over and over and over and over. If an average flight of stairs has around 12 steps, I think you should go up and down around 15-20 times. If the stairs you’re working with are more than that, say about 20 steps, 10-15 should suffice. 

Tired yet? Good! I would recommend a good stretch, some rest, some water, and heck, why not a tasty snack? There’s nothing like a well-deserved snack bar after a workout routine. Repeat again sometime soon!

– Julaine

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Dyslexia in Circus

Hannah practicing aerials (Photo by Dawn Richards)

Dyslexia is a common learning disability that affects reading and writing, but what many people do not realize is it also can affect balance, coordination, confusion with instruction, and sense of direction. I have struggled with these issues all my life. I never enjoyed playing team sports because I was not very coordinated and had trouble with instructions. I remember my teammates getting mad at me for going the wrong way during a practice and not kicking the ball the right direction. So as a little kid, I pretty much avoided sports. However, as I grew up, I realized I enjoyed being active, so I joined cross country. It was simple enough: run until you finish. Running made me feel confident enough to try other fitness endeavors.

A lot of my friends at school are in the YMCA circus, and I often heard them talk about all the cool tricks and apparatuses that they got to perform on. I would see them playing together at lunch doing tricks, doing handstands and acro. Hearing them talk so passionately about circus made me really want to try it. I brought it up to my parents, who were supportive but seemed a bit skeptical that I would be able to succeed. I think they tried to picture their daughter, who couldn’t play catch for the life of her, juggling or walking the wire. Nevertheless, they hopped on board, and I started my first circus class that year.

My first season was challenging both mentally and physically. I started as a novice to circus at age 15. This meant that I was in an intro class with kids mostly half my age. Often I would stretch the wrong leg, and the child next to me would notice and comment on it as if they had solved a murder case. I would just patiently respond, “Well, we will do the other one next.” Although the first year was tough, after my first performance, I knew I was going to continue training no matter what. I was hooked!

As I have continued on in my circus career I have realized the unique challenges that dyslexics face when performing. For example, when you already have trouble going the right way, it only gets more confusing when hanging upside down. Learning new tricks is the hardest. I memorize the tricks not by method or side, but how the trick flows in my mind. So if I have been practicing a trick on the trapeze on my left side, when asked to switch it to the right it becomes very difficult. Verbal instruction can be very confusing and frustrating, not only to me, but to my instructors and spotters. I have gotten so frustrated that I have broken into tears, and there have been times where instructors make a teasing comment like, “Your other left!” or “Are your feet backwards?” Instructor please note – these comments can be hurtful when you are pouring all your efforts in, and encouragement makes all the difference!

Despite the mix ups and occasional falling over, I have learned a few tricks to keep up with the game. I fold the right side of my pants up just once so I can have a reference to which side is right. Practicing my routine multiple times and watching other performers practice helps me feel more comfortable with the act and helps me memorize my directions. I have also learned that it’s always good to let instructors, spotters, and partners know about my dyslexia and how tricks might be confusing to me at first.

I love circus and I think everyone should join, with disability or not. I have found the circus community to be very accepting and supportive of individuals of all levels, strengths and weaknesses. Being a trainer myself as well, I know it can be frustrating working with students who “just aren’t getting it” or have other needs special to them, but keep pushing through. The reward of seeing students succeed in and enjoy circus is worth it.

-Hannah

Overcoming Fear in Circus

“On the other side of fear is freedom.” – Marilyn Ferguson.

Imagine that you are about to walk onstage. The announcer is calling your name and you know that as soon as you step onstage, everyone will be watching you. How do you feel? If the answer is scared out of your wits, then don’t worry, you are in good company. As a circus performer, I know that some of the most frightening times are when I’m about to go onstage, when I’m in the air, or when I’m doing a new skill. I have found numerous ways to overcome fear so that I am not weighed down by hesitation and I can have a lot more fun as I pursue my love for circus.

Stage fright is the worst! I have definitely experienced stage fright before. In my experience, the worst fright is before you get onstage. You are waiting for your act to be called and your stomach is lurching around and you just think, “I can’t do it! It’s not going to work. I can’t do it.” Usually people give into this fear at first. But what you might not know is that when you actually step onstage and the music starts, your mind flips into performance mode. Once you are in performance mode, you stop thinking about the audience and your brain is focusing on other things like, “Point your toes. Climb up a little more, now right on cue…” You may occasionally need to force yourself into performance mode, but it is usually pretty natural. Now, just because you know this, it doesn’t mean that your pre-performance fear is going to vanish. I have been performing for three years and I am still scared before every show. Here is how you can deal with this fear: DO NOT fight it! When people feel fear, their first instinct is to try to get rid of it. That will only make your fear worse. Just accept it, acknowledge that you are scared and don’t be afraid to be afraid. Because fear isn’t bad! Sure it feels bad, but if you push it away, it will get worse.

Another common difficulty is fear of heights. While I personally don’t have a fear of heights, I knew someone who did and I admire her for her bravery. When I was first getting into circus, I was going to a camp in Chicago called The Actor’s Gymnasium. There, I made friends with a girl called Lina (name changed for privacy). The first time I noticed that she was afraid of heights was when our group was learning how to get up onto the trapeze. Lina took the bar, hooked her knees, and put one hand on the rope before whimpering that she wanted to come down. After the lesson, I asked her why she was so scared and she told me that she had a fear of heights. At that time, I had never really taken into account that people could be afraid of being more than a few feet in the air. Seeing as I had never been afraid of heights, I couldn’t relate to Lina’s fear. I saw how her fear impacted her circus experience, and I felt that she didn’t get enough credit. All of the instructors kept telling her to “be brave” and that she, “didn’t have to be scared,” but I think that anyone who has a fear of heights should be acknowledged that they are brave for challenging their fear, even if it means getting halfway to sitting on the trapeze. By the end of camp, Lina could sit on the trapeze! Even though she didn’t meet the goals of the class, she met her own goals by conquering some of her fear.

Even though I don’t have a genuine fear of heights, I do go through a lot of fear when it comes to drops. Drops can be very scary to a lot of people, even those who do circus aerials. You need to climb up very high, and do the wrap, and let go, and then just fall into space for around two seconds before you are caught by the fabric or whatever apparatus you are using. I am always scared before I drop because I think that as soon as I let go, I will fall into a terrifying abyss. Whether you are afraid of heights or scared of the process of drops, there are a lot of ways in which you can overcome your angst. Little by little, create a list of tangible goals. Break down the goal into smaller parts, and tackle them one at a time. The worst part for me is the adrenalin that comes before you let go. The best way that I deal with this fear is right before I release my hold on the silks, I tell myself, “All you need to do is let go. Just let go.” I convince myself to let go with my hands and then momentum does the rest. Trust your teacher, your equipment, and yourself. You just have to go for it, and you will be okay!

So, whether you are terrified of heights or have paralyzing stage fright, just know that there are ways to overcome your fear. You will find them! Remember to acknowledge your fear and work towards your own goals. Accept that every act, drop, or performance comes with a little fear. Know that the only way to practice bravery is to be scared.

– Lyra

REVIEW: The Greatest Showman

Warning: May contain spoilers!

If you have an interest in the circus, you probably know that there isn’t always as much hype around the subject as other sports or activities get, especially in the media. However, the new musical movie “The Greatest Showman,” told the story of mister P.T. Barnum, founder of the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus. The movie brought the viewers through a heartwarming tale of how Barnum brought misfits together, through catchy songs and colorful visuals. The movie tells of Barnum’s want to have an amazing, magical life for him and his family. In the movie, Barnum is portrayed as a fun, inspiring man, but in real life that wasn’t exactly the case.

Barnum was driven to become wealthy and well known. In the movie, his first act towards this goal is the purchase of the American Museum. The movie leaves out altogether his first endeavor, the purchase of a black woman named Joice Heth, who he showcased claiming she was 161 years old. Encouraged by the hype around this impossibly old woman, Barnum then purchased the American Museum in New York City, which contained stuffed and wax animals and “curiosities.” Barnum built on the idea of the strange and unique, bringing in live attractions from all over that had something strange or different about them. Many were fakes and lies like the “Feejee Mermaid,” but others, such as the 25 inch Charles Stratton that we saw in the movie, were quite real.

In “The Greatest Showman,” P.T. Barnum left his museum to go on an American tour with the famous Swedish singer Jenny Lind. This was a part in the movie where we saw his flaws, as Barnum left his friends in order to be a part of a higher social class. Before the tour, Barnum had never heard Lind sing, which proves how desperate he was to be remembered as more than a museum owner. Like in the movie, the tour ended early, but not because of a scandalous relationship between Lind and Barnum. Neither were interested in being more than business partners, but they got in a fight that made Lind want to return home to Europe. After the scandal in the movie, Barnum returned to his friends, realizing he shouldn’t have ever left. In reality, he wasn’t the good man who learned his lesson that Hugh Jackman portrays in The Greatest Showman. Although a few “oddities” were also his friends, like Charles Stratton, Barnum was more obsessed with creating spectacles to the public, and making a name for himself. He got to where he was and became so successful mainly because of his lies and scams. For example, the “Feejee Mermaid,” was a source of attraction that he marketed as a beautiful woman with the tail of a fish, but was actually the head of a monkey sewn onto a fishtail.

In 1865, the American Museum burned down, like in the movie. All the employees escaped and no human lives were lost, but some animals weren’t able to escape, and the museum was unsalvageable. Barnum set out to reopen a new museum within a year of the burning of the first one. However, the new museum was heated using boilers, which were new and not very well tested. The second museum burned down to a boiler explosion in 1868. It wasn’t until the end of his career that Barnum became affiliated with the circus. He was in his sixties when he first teamed up with a traveling show in 1871 that he called “The Greatest Show on Earth,” something you’ve probably heard before. By 1875 he had full ownership of the show, and in 1881 he teamed up with James A. Bailey and James L. Hutchinson from the Great International Circus, to form and manage Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey’s Circus, which is still referred to as “The Greatest Show on Earth” today.

Although the real P.T. Barnum wasn’t the good man we saw in “The Greatest Showman,” he celebrated the odd and the unusual the way we still do in the circus. By creating a museum of things that people hadn’t seen before, he demonstrated the spirit of accepting and praising people for being unique. The movie may have not been one hundred percent accurate, but it honored the beautiful message that we have in the circus today. Every single person is at least a little different, learns a little differently, performs a little differently, or has different strengths. Like the movie demonstrated, we all have a place in the circus because all our strengths and specialties end up fitting together perfectly. As a quote from “The Greatest Showman” says, “No one ever made a difference by being like everyone else.”

– Annika

Inside Circus Smirkus Live Auditions

My name is Eva Lou and I am a second year Circus Smirkus trouper and a third year auditionee. January 13th weekend, I drove with my family to audition for another chance to have amazing summer experience under the big top. Many of the forty-one kids and families that are invited to show their skill sets have come from all around the country, with just thirty spots open in the troupe. The audition process takes a total of three days, which may sound long but is completely necessary for the directors, Troy Wunderle and Mark Lonergan, to assess who you are.

The first day is only for a couple hours and is very relaxed. All the parents and auditionees meet in Brattleboro, VT at the New England Center for Circus Arts and spend the evening getting to know each other. We are introduced to some of the staff and, of course, the directors, Troy and Mark. The kids then separate themselves from their parents and go to a different space to play to icebreaker games. This helps us be less nervous because we can show up the next day already knowing each other.

The second day is probably the most stressful on everyone. We arrive at the gym in the morning and start the day off by checking in and giving the tech staff our music and cues for our afternoon performance. Before we start assessments, we have a group warm-up, which is led by one of the coaches. After we are warm, we are evaluated on our tumbling, group acrobatics, and clowning. During tumbling, there are different tumbling lanes, one for very experienced people, one for people who can do bendy versions of tumbling and one for kids who don’t tumble as much. The coaches ask what you can do and give spots if you need them. The number one priority is to not get hurt. The same rules apply during group acrobatics. We are divided into bases, middles, and flyers, and asked to do basic things such as two highs, and thigh stands. It’s okay to show things you don’t often do, because there are many spotters there to help. For example, I don’t normally practice partner acrobatics, but I did get a chance to show that I can fly hand to hand.

 

 

At about noon, there is a lunch break which gives us time to eat, get into our costumes, and do our hair and makeup. After the lunch break, the afternoon is dedicated to individual performances. We perform our acts for the directors and everyone in the audience, which includes staff, parents, friends, alumni and all the auditionees – approximately 200 people.

The directors and staff explain to us that we should try and be as comfortable as possible and if anything is wrong, to just stop and re-adjust our props or apparatus to make sure that it is safe. This year I auditioned on tight wire, but I do wish that I took their advice and used the opportunity to level out my wire. It was very wobbly on the mats, but I didn’t stop my act to make it stable because I thought it would be embarrassing. This was a big mistake and as a result I fell off the wire during a usually solid trick. If you are ever performing or practicing on apparatus that is wrong, my advice is not to be afraid to stop and adjust it, so it doesn’t jeopardize your safety or your act. I learned this the hard way.

The whole show takes a few hours, but it feels much shorter because everyone’s a little anxious. By the end of all the performances, it’s time for dinner, and we’re all invited to go bowling and eat pizza. Bowling is super exciting because we do this little thing called “community bowling”. This means we think of every possible way to incorporate more than one person into each turn we get, which means often more times than not there are bowling fails and the bowling balls get stuck in the lane or gutters.

The third and final day of the audition weekend is my personal favorite. When we get to the gym, there is casual discussion about everything that has happened so far as everyone arrives. Troy and Mark explain the next assessments and how they will work. There are stations with different skills, such as juggling, partner acrobatics, contortion, aerials, handstands, clowning and a couple others. Before we start, the parents leave to go to a special meeting where the process of tour is introduced and described.

After it is just the auditionees and coaches, we begin the workshop stations. There is no required order for each, and the goal is to get to as many as possible to show the coaches running each station what you can do. My favorite station is clowning. The coach leads us through a bunch of activities to show how we can express ourselves comically in different situations. The number of people that were at the clown station when I went was small, so it meant that I could interact a lot with the other auditionees.

During workshops, we needed to plan time to visit the photographer for headshots and another person for costume measurements. We also were interviewed by the directors. They asked us questions about what we thought we could improve and what acts we would want to be in this summer if we are invited to be on tour. The first year I interviewed with Troy and Mark, I was only 11 years old. I remember, specifically, that they asked whether I was ready to leave home for 10 weeks.

Once the workshops are over, our families come back to the gym to pack up our things and take us home. Leaving is the hardest part of the whole audition process because all of the auditionees become such good friends over the weekend and no one wants to say goodbye. Often there is an informal gathering at the local food co-op where everyone has lunch together one last time. We give everyone goodbye hugs, in hopes we will see them in the summer.

Welcome Hup Squad 2018!

 

Jordan is 16 years old and lives in Seattle, Washington. Jordan was introduced to circus in kindergarten by her P.E. teacher. She dove in and has never looked back. Around the same time, her mom took a job stage managing a circus cabaret. The show happens within inches of you; sometimes the performers even do handstands on your table. So Jordan spent a lot of time backstage watching the circus come to life. “Those first few steps were like magic. Like stepping into a fairy tale under a curtain of stars.” (Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus). Jordan focuses on aerials (especially straps), tumbling, and unicycling. She takes circus classes at SANCA Seattle, and once she wears her parents down, she hopes to truly run away to join the circus.

 

Hannah Jane is 16 years old and a member of The Great YMCA Youth Circus. She has been participating in circus for one, going on two years now, and she loves it! She focuses in aerial, hand balancing, and acro. She has many years of performance experience from my childhood of theater and she never gets stage fright. She also loves to run, do yoga, paint, and draw and she loves being out in the sunny Southern California weather!

 

Zoe is 15 years old and lives in Portland, Oregon. She loves circus because it makes her feel confident. Training and performing helps her feel in control of her mind and body, and like she can achieve anything she sets her mind to. She sees circus as a creative outlet that brings wonder to others and can make her feel like she’s magical. She spends most of her time in the fall training with a group called the Zig Zags at Echo Theater Company, and her summers creating with The Circus Project. She feels most at home while spinning blindingly fast on a trapeze.

 

Chelsea is 13 years old and lives in Fort Thomas, Kentucky with her family. She goes to school with one of her best circus friends. She has been doing circus with My Nose Turns Red for two years, but she have fallen in love with it. Her favorite circus activities are unicycle and aerial silks.

 

Julaine is 13 years old. She has been doing circus for 11 years and she loves it! Her favorite discipline is Chinese Pole but she also does lots more, including juggling, tumbling, straps, rope, and acro. She’s also performed in many different venues, including professionally at Teatro ZinnZanni Seattle.

 

Annika is 15 years old and from Maine. She saw her first circus when she was about five, and she still remembers the feeling of wanting to be in the air, doing what the performers were doing. Now she has been training circus for about four or five years. Her favorite disciplines are fabric and juggling, but she loves learning a whole variety of skills. Outside of circus, she enjoys reading, calligraphy, and hanging out with her chinchilla.

 

Eva Lou is a 7th grader from Melrose, MA.  She toured in the 2016 & 2017 Circus Smirkus Big Top Tour and plans to audition for the 2018 tour in January. Circus Smirkus is a non-profit traveling youth circus that tours all over New England for 70 shows over the summer and raises money for other non-profit companies. In the circus, Eva performs clowning, hand-balancing, contortion and hula hoops. She takes lessons at various circus schools including the Sellam Circus School, Aircraft Aerial Arts and Esh Circus Arts. Having started at just under 3 years old, Eva also takes dance classes in ballet and pointe.  She has also performed in the Melrose Youth Ballet production of “The Nutcracker” each year since 2011. Nominated “Youth Hooper of the Year” by Hooping.org in 2016 and 2017,Eva inspires young audiences whenever she hoops.  She is also the current world record holder for longest time hooping on her nose. Currently Eva is learning Rhythmic Gymnastics which combines her love of dance and hooping with gymnastics and other props. When she’s not hooping, you’ll most likely find her playing with her pug or solving math problems.

 

Lyra basing her sister on trapeze

Lyra is 13 years old and from Lambertville, New Jersey. She has been doing circus for three years. She loves doing aerials and balance and really enjoys performing.

REVIEW: A Cirque Nutcracker

A Cirque Nutcracker is the traditional tale with a twist, the original story presented in a humorous new way! A seasonal production at the Mesa Arts Center in Phoenix, AZ featuring Troupe Vertigo and the Phoenix Symphony, one word to describe A Cirque Nutcracker is ‘creative.’ The choreography, the storyline adaptation, and use of costumes to accentuate movements were all very inventive. As a lover of glitter, I adored the shiny and sparkly costumes. The main acrobat’s costume was wisely and carefully crafted. Her black and white striped tights emphasized her bizarre flexibility.

I found it comforting and inspiring as an aerialist to hear the crowds’ gasps whenever the entertainers displayed their unordinary talents. The passion and determination each artist held was revealed through their art. The performers were not the only impressive piece of the show, however. The Phoenix Symphony played beautifully and no mistake was heard to the untrained ear. Aspiring performers should audition for next year’s performance to gain experience!

– Cailey