An Interview with Tara Jacob, Executive Director of the American Youth Circus Organization

By Bronyn Mazlo

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Tara Jacob, AYCO Executive Director

As a teenegaer, Tara Jacob first fell in love with the fun, creativity, and community she discovered in the circus at The Circus Space in London. Over the years, she founded the Circus Folk Unite! collective at Hampshire College, along with completing the 2012-2013 Professional Track program at the New England Center for the Circus Arts in Vermont. She is currently an instructor at SHOW Circus Studio in Easthampton, Massachusetts, instilling her love of circus in the youth of her community. Jacob now holds the exceptional role of Executive Director of AYCO (American Youth Circus Organization), but prior to her promotion she served on the AYCO Board of Directors and worked as AYCO’s Operations Manager.

The intention of the interview below is to introduce Jacob and to share her passion for her new role in the circus community. This interview was conducted by Bronyn Mazlo, a member of AYCO’s Hup Squad.

How did you discover circus and what has your journey been like?

I first discovered circus as a teenager when an outreach program came to my school and taught us stilt walking, juggling, and acrobatics. I was totally hooked – it was so much fun! I moved and there wasn’t a circus school near me, but I did as much circus as I could; gymnastics classes to learn acrobatics, flying trapeze classes, and self-taught juggling. When I got to college, I started a circus club there: Circus Folk Unite! at Hampshire College in MA. I realized I wanted to do everything I could to spread circus arts to others. After college, I did the ProTrack program at the New England Center for the Circus Arts (NECCA), and started teaching youth and adults at SHOW Circus Studio in Easthampton, MA. Then I began volunteering with AYCO/ACE, then served as a board member, and then came on as administrative staff. I am very excited to have been named executive director!

How has circus impacted your life?

Doing circus makes me happy! It has also become my career, through teaching circus to others as a coach and helping to advocate for, support, and grow circus arts through my involvement with AYCO/ACE. It’s a part of who I am and how I interact with the world. Circus has also led me to many human connections with new friends and colleagues, and taught me to be tenacious and flexible at the same time.

 You became a part of the AYCO family in 2015. And you became the Operations Manager in 2017. How did those roles prepare you to be the executive director of AYCO?

I have really seen AYCO/ACE from all sides – as a member, event attendee, volunteer, board member, and staff person. I’m familiar with the work and history of the organization. This has given me a lot of insight, and being involved over several years, I’ve seen the organization evolve and grow. I’ve made strong connections with many of our community members and gotten an idea of the challenges we all face, and also know firsthand the passion and resilience of the circus education community.

 As an executive director, what are your responsibilities?

There’s always a lot to do! The executive director represents AYCO/ACE as a whole, balancing big picture visioning with micro tasks and planning. This means that among other  responsibilities, I meet with the Board of Directors, do financial management like budgeting and reporting, manage staff members, supervise programs and communications, help produce events like AYCOfest, EdCon, and regional festivals, engage with board committees, and interface with our members, press and the public! 

What do you find to be the greatest challenges?

Running a non-profit like AYCO/ACE means that there is always a balance of what you want to do and what you can do with limited resources. Our events, programs, and the connections we support are important to the community. Though we always have big dreams, we need to take small steps and raise the support to keep going and growing.

  What’s the best thing about your job?

I love getting to talk to our members — the people and organizations all over the USA who are doing circus in so many different ways. It’s incredibly inspiring to hear about the variety and also the common threads through people’s experiences and the work they’re doing to spread circus arts.

 What do you think makes AYCO unique?

AYCO and ACE’s success is because we are for and by the community. As a non-profit, we have always been motivated by our mission to “promote the participation of youth in circus arts and support circus educators”. It is the passion and creativity of our members that keeps us going – especially youth circus members like you!

The article was originally published at CircusTalk.com, the international online resource for circus professionals

 

Jenna Lowery, Circus Runaway Photography

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Top Ten College Circus Clubs

By Nathalie Morton

Attention senior circus artists! Are you excited and ready to head to college, but do not want to give up your passion for the air? If that answer is yes, then worry no more, there are plenty of choices for you. Here is a list of the top 10 American circus clubs, but don’t forget to take a look at the list below the article for many more options.

#1: Flying High – Florida State University

The FSU circus tradition has been around since 1947 and the Flying High Circus is one of the most serious collegiate circus clubs in the country. A great place to continue your acrobatic education!

#2: Circus Folk Unite – Hampshire College

 A collective of acrobats, jugglers, unicyclers, and other admirers of circus arts who come together in a very collaborative environment. All levels welcomed.

#3: CirqueWes – Wesleyan University

Another great club at a great school. This new group practice and teach circus arts including acro, juggling, handstands, and aerials. Who wouldn’t want to join?

#4: Olin Aerials and Circus – Olin University

A student run club that focuses on general health and wellness through circus exploration. Learn more about yourself with Olin!

#5: Gamma Phi – Illinois State University

Since 1929, Gamma Phi has existed at Illinois State, making it the oldest collegiate circus in the country. It also performs regularly so you’ll get to show off your skills. So much fun mixed with a whole lot of history!

#6: Brown Aerial Arts Society – Brown University

Brown AAS is a student run club that also performs. You can catch some of their shows on youtube to see where you could be next year!

#7: Violet Circus Arts – New York University

The only club in New York City devoted to circus arts. They practice everything from juggling to acro to aerials. 

#8: Elon Circus Club – Elon University

Although this club is mostly ground skill focused, it is a great place to try new things. 

#9: ICircus – Ithaca College

Another serious place to continue your circus training after high school, accompanied by plenty of performance opportunities.

#10: Bates Circus Arts Club – Bates College

Bates CAC is focused on Aerials and is a relaxed place to go and keep up with your acrobatic knowledge. This club also comes with a ton of performance opportunities.

For the full alphabetical list click here! 

Don’t see a club on the list that you know of? Email claire@americanyouthcircus.org and we’ll add it!

Book Review: Body Talk, Basic Mime by Mario Diamond

By Julaine Hall

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Body Talk, Basic Mime by Mario Diamond is a fabulous guide for anyone interested in learning about mime. I read it having very little mime, basic theater, and some clown knowledge and benefited from it very much. Sure, one can do impressive athletic feats on stage and their audience will clap, but as artists it is our duty to give the audience the best possible experience while still being true to ourselves. Adding a bit of mime, clown, more intention with your movements, or simply thinking about proven techniques to make sure the audience can read your message well can be a great way to elevate your act to the next level. In the beginning, both the forward and introduction had me hungry for more knowledge on the art of mime. After this was a small section of definitions all for the  very same word: mime! Very detailed chapters filled with thoughtful exercises for each body part will cause you to consider the intention you give your movements with a new light. Also included was a thorough portion filled with information on The Seven Axes of mime (The Axes are a way of dividing the body into smaller expressive sections which you will learn more about if you read this book!) We then dive deeper into postures, energy and movement, general exercises such as imitating Chaplin and animals, visual effects, pantomime, and finally, improvisation. From this book, I gained an array of ideas to try to add to some of my old acts or incorporate into my new ones. It is a wonderful resource and I highly recommend it for anyone even the slightest bit interested in anything that has to do with the stage! Or as the dedication in the front says, “To anyone with a need to express themselves and cannot find the words.”

Staying Fit During The Summer

By Carleigh Saberton

If your circus is like mine, there is a time where there are no classes or camps to attend! Circus is my main way of staying active throughout the year so what should I do when I can’t do circus? With the American Youth Circus Festival coming up, we need to make sure we are keeping up with our strength and skills. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to stay in shape when circus isn’t an option.

First, you could go to a gym to get a good workout. Fitness centers like Planet Fitness, YMCA, LA Fitness, and Crunch Fitness all have locations all over the U.S. that you could attend. Some gyms, like Planet Fitness, even offer FREE summer memberships for teens! Fitness centers have so many different machines and equipment that you can use during your workouts. If you don’t want to go alone, find a gym buddy! They could be a family member or even a circus friend. Gym buddies help you stay motivated and can help make you more comfortable going to a gym. 

Sometimes going to a gym can get expensive so you can always find ways to workout at home. You can start by turning everyday things into exercises. For example, choose to take the stairs or if you don’t have weights use everyday things such as books, heavy boxes, or even your dog!

Workouts don’t always include pushups, squats, and sit ups. It’s good to have diverse workouts to work all different parts of your body. You can switch between things like yoga, stretching and regular workouts. Also, you don’t have to set a specific time that you must work out, you can just workout or stretch while watching tv, listening to music, or even while scrolling through social media.

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A good thing to remember is you need to rest between workouts. Working out breaks down your muscles so they can grow back stronger but if you constantly have tough workouts, your muscles don’t have time to grow back stronger which can lead to injuries if you aren’t careful. 

Other good ways to stay in shape are to take up other activities or sports. Running and swimming are great easy ways to get a good cardio workout in. But if other activities haven’t interested you, you can find other circus things to do at home. One thing to do would be to get your own props so you can practice whenever you want. Unicycle, juggling, hooping, diablo, poi and so many others are all circus activities that you can do at a local park or even in your backyard.

Although, some things such as aerials or German wheel can’t always be done whenever or where ever you want. By doing some research, you can easily find other gyms nearby where you can go to practice those things or even take more classes. For example, there is a gym that focuses on aerial arts near me and I occasionally go to open gym there to practice what I have already learned at my circus, My Nose Turns Red.

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Eating healthy is also a very important aspect of staying in shape. Starting a diet can be rough sometimes so it is best to ease into it. Start avoiding foods high in sugar or calories and don’t snack on things too much. Cheating is also a must when on a diet because if you don’t cheat you are more likely to stop dieting. Don’t forget to stay hydrated especially before, during and after working out! Getting enough sleep is also very important because your body needs rest. Not getting enough sleep can be bad for you and will affect your performance when working out or doing circus.

The very most important thing when trying to stay fit is to have fun! If you are miserable then you will lose motivation to keep going. Also, don’t compare yourself to others. Yes, there will always be people better than you but there will also always be people who look up to you. Its very easy to get jealous but with hard work you can become even more amazing than you are now.

Injuries in Circus

By Tessa Wallington and Bronyn Mazlo

Injuries. The thing in the back of everyone’s mind when playing a sport. Accidents happen, but there are ways to prevent and treat injuries. Keeping your body in shape, fueling before training, and doing tricks you are qualified to do can help to prevent injuries in the first place. Sometimes though, doing everything you can to prevent injuries isn’t enough, and accidents happen. When recovering from an injury, it’s important to stay positive, and help to keep the other parts of your body in shape, even when one part is injured. Based on personal experience, we know just how it feels to have to recover from an injury, and there are a few things you must always remember to help you get back to the thing you love that much faster. 

When first injured, it’s normal to fall into a star of frustration, anxiety, or depression. We get it. Injuries trap you in a place where you want to keep continuing to train, but there’s that internal voice whispering, “what’s the point?” Why bother training if you’re not going to be healed for a year? While it can be easy to fall into that mindset, keep training throughout an injury, no matter how small and insignificant it may seem. Even if you’re just pumping out a few squats, holding a few hollow bodies, or pushing through a couple of pull-ups, every little bit of strength will make your comeback easier when it is time to ease into physical therapy and, eventually, circus. It’s also very important to keep an optimistic mindset on your body during an injury. Be careful not to let losing muscle and gaining some weight affect your self confidence and grit to return to your passion. Stay in contact with friends from training, no matter how tempting it can be to isolate yourself and cut off connections to everyone. 

After an injury has passed, it’s time to get back to training! Once you’ve been cleared to begin exercising again, you must ease yourself back into your regular training. Going to classes even if you aren’t back to your full strength yet can help your brain mentally get back to your old mindset. I went to most of my regular classes, and when I wasn’t able to do something, I sat in oversplits or did sit ups. Although, one part of your body may not be one hundred percent, your other muscles could be better than before! Repetition may be your best friend when recovering from an injury, muscles will start to come back, and new and old tricks alike will begin to get better after exercises and tricks have been done many times. When dealing with an injury, it’s important to understand the difference between pain and soreness. My biggest problem was figuring out if I had pain and needed to stop, or if I felt sore, and had to push through to get better. Overall, the most important thing when recovering from an injury is listening to doctors, physical therapists, and your body.

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Injuries are painful and problematic, but they are also a reminder to take care of our bodies. The months of agony, tears, and physical therapy allow us to learn how our bodies work and ways to cope through inability. Returning from an injury is like returning from hibernation. Everything is tight, groggy, and weak. Conditioning, stretching, and relearning skills are frustrating, but once you push through the initial struggle, you break free of those long months and emerge strong and powerful. Remember, what happened happened. Don’t dwell on the “what if’s”. The recovery process may seem like forever, but it is only a small part of your circus journey. Stay positive and keep going. As Lao Tzu remarked, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Expressing Yourself Through Circus: How To Convey Different Emotions Through Performance

By Maia Castro-Santos

“Artistic expression” is a term that is often heard and used in the worlds of both performing and visual art. Expression can mean portraying a certain thought or feeling to the viewer/audience, or it can be a more introspective method for an artist to explore their own emotions. Often times, these two definitions overlap, and the artist’s portrayal of their internal emotions is what captivates the audience. In both traditional and contemporary circus styles, the art of performance is enhanced by the performer’s ability to express or convey some type of emotion to the audience. Whether the act draws laughter, tears, anger, or any other emotional response from the audience, this emotional connection enhances the audience’s experience of the performance. But how do you create an act that effectively conveys a certain feeling to the viewers? The following techniques are a few that have helped me with this question:

1. Music Choice:

Music choice is one of the hardest parts of act creation for me. The song sets the tone of the act and carries through the entire performance. A piece of music that compliments the style and mood of an act can clarify the choreographer’s desired message or theme. You could choose a up-tempo, bright, jazzy song, or maybe a slow, violin based, instrumental piece of music; maybe you want the song accompanying your act to have a soaring melody, or maybe you want a steady down beat. When I am choreographing an act, the song that I choose greatly influences the quality of movement and the emotion that I try to channel through my act. The way that a song builds and rises and falls in intensity can also influence the order in which you decide to sequence tricks. If there is a large build up, towards the end of the song, maybe you would decide to save a particularly crowd pleasing trick for that moment.

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2. Color and Lighting:

In visual as well as performing arts, different colors often evoke specific emotions. The psychology of colors has a very influential role in an audience’s experience of a work of art. Generally, the warm half of the color wheel (red, orange, and yellow) evokes more energetic feelings, while the cool colors (blue, green, and purple) generate calmer emotions. Red is a very intense color. Some of the many emotions that it can represent include love, anger, and power. Yellow and orange are typically joyful and energetic. Blue can represent sadness or loneliness as well as tranquility. Purple is also a calm color and can signify mystery. Green often connects the audience with nature and the earth. All of these assumptions about the emotions associated with colors are generalizations, but they can be helpful guidelines when costuming and lighting an act. The two pictures (one above and one below) are from the performances at the end of two circus camps I was a part of last summer. The theme of the lyra act in the photo above was sunshine (our showcase was themed “weather”). My partner in the act is not shown, but we decided to both wear yellow shirts and each wear one yellow leg warmer. The song we chose was “Blue Skies” by Frank Sinatra. The bright sound of this song, combined with the positive lyrics and yellow costumes helped us to convey the joy of sunshine to the audience. The second picture (shown below) is from a latin themed solo lyra act. The song I chose was a jazz song with elements of tango, and I wore a red leotard with a red flower braided into my hair. The color red worked with the music to create the happy and sassy character that I was hoping to portray in this act.

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3. Movement Quality:

Movement quality is another technique that can be used to create the mood for an act. Sharp movements usually have a higher level of energy and intensity, while slower, smoother movements are often beautiful and calming. The Laban effort actions can be a useful tool for identifying what type of movement will have the desired effect in your act. The Laban effort actions categorize different types of movement based on different qualities of weight, space, and time. These qualities are:

heavy / light

direct / indirect

bound / free

sustained / sudden

Different combinations of these qualities create eight movement types: glide, flick, float, slash, wring, punch, press, and dab. The chart below is helpful for understanding how these movements are categorized.

Of course these movement types are just guidelines, and you can create your own versions and combinations of all of them. An exercise that I find helpful when creating an act is picking one of these movement types to practice my choreography to. Then I pick a completely different movement type and see how that one feels. This exercise helps me explore different “feels” for my act that I might not otherwise have pursued.

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4. Facial Expressions:

Facial expressions are probably the most obvious way to express emotion in an act… but this is often easier said than done. “Concentration face” is definitely something to be aware of. When you are tired, sweating, and nervous about hitting your next big trick, it can be really difficult to remember to smile! Your eyes are critical for expressing emotions and connecting with the audience. You don’t need to make eye contact with your audience, but if you choose to, be intentional about it! Choreograph moments into your act where you can open out your focus to include the audience. These moments of connection are just as important as performing really difficult skills.

There are many more tips and tricks to creating a more emotionally authentic act then I have listed here, but I have found these four techniques to be a good starting place.

Chinese Pole for Beginners: A Guide

By Julaine Hall

If you are reading this article, you probably have some circus background or you are interested in circus and/or acrobatics of some sort. My guess is that you probably know what a Chinese Pole is. In case you don’t know, the Chinese Pole is a tall rubberized (but sometimes powder coated) pole that is in the ground acrobatics family. It hurts, it gives you bruises, it eats your clothing, but in my opinion, it is one of the coolest disciplines circus has to offer.

As an example, here is my performance from the SANCA Annual Spring Showcase: https://youtu.be/PE1zssvuA1o

 

STEP 1: PROPER ATTIRE

So…. leotard, leggings, and/or a tank top, sweatpants, and I’m good, right? *BUZZER* WRONG! That will hurt a lot! In pole there is a lot of friction on your knee pits, inner thighs, arm pits, shoulders, and stomach. What I usually wear is a pair of leggings under a pair of super high-wasted shorts under a pair of Jeans that I am okay with ripping, A tank top that is long enough for me to tuck in, a thick sweater or long sleeve over top of that, then a pair of “Bushidos” with the soles sanded down until there is no traction on the bottom. Another accessory that is nice to have is shoulder pads. I have a shirt with some neoprene sheets sewn on the shoulders for a bit more protection for things like shoulder hops and Fungees. This is just what I wear. I’ve seen many people wear shorts, rain boots, crop-tops, but as a beginner, I think something along the lines of what I wear will cause you the least amount of pain.

STEP 2: GETTING UP THE POLE

To do anything cool we have to learn to get up the pole, so the very first thing you’ll learn is how to climb.

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Monkey Climb

 

The most common used climb is “Monkey Climb.” As you can see, it looks pretty natural in comparison to other kinds of climbs. It is reminiscent of a toe climb on the rope with a lot less pain in the toes.

Climbing is difficult when it is your first time or when you have bad form, however, as you get better and you climb with your shoulders back and core tight… you should be able to whiz right up the pole! Like any discipline, pole takes a lot of….. you guessed it! PRACTICE. *whispers: and conditioning but shhhhhhhhh*

STEP 3: NEW SKILLS

The three next skills are arguably the most important skills for a beginner to learn: Sit, Fish, and 1st Position

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Sit

 

This is sit. This is where things get pinchy. Sit is a very traditional trick and look nice when done in synchronicity with others on the pole. Here you are pressing both feet into the pole with toes pointed at the ground. You take your shoulder around to either side of the pole and present both arms straight out. After this, you may take off the same side foot as the shouler that is in front of the pole. Great job! You have your first trick!

 

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Fish

 

This is fish. I think this is sort of like your first test in strength and form. Without good form it is terribly hard to have enough strength, and without the strength, it is terribly hard to find good from. Quite a spiral! Start from sit. When you get there, put your foot back on the pole, put your same hand as shoulder that is in front of the pole under that same armpit. Now, with your free hand, brace the pole and put your feet straight behind you like superman. After this, you can take off your bracing arm and just hold with one hand.

 

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1st Position

 

This is 1st position. This is your home now. Your bottom foot should be pressing into the pole and the pole should be caressed in the arch of your foot. Your top leg should be squeezing the pole and pressing down so that you can stand more comfortably. Your legs should be straight, toes pointed, and mouth smiling! Look how far you’ve made it! 1st Position is a safe zone where you can gather yourself and take a bit of a break without looking like you’re taking a break. It is one skill you should do every single time you get on the pole. I haven’t seen every single pole act on the planet but, I have never seen an act where someone didn’t at least pass through 1st position.

STEP 4: CONDITIONING

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Handstand

 

This is a handstand. This will get you ripped arms. To get into the handstand, place one hand at forehead height in a cup shape with no thumb wrapping and place one hand at the bottom right below your belly button. Kick the same leg as hand on top and drive that heal back as you pull with your top arm and push with your bottom arm. This should be enough to get you up to handstand.

 

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Shoulder Hold

 

This is a shoulder hold. This will get you ripped abs. Lean back on the pole and place your shoulder on the pole. Your head should be to one side. Next place both hands on the pole with the same side hand that has shoulder lower. Now engage your abs and lift your legs to a tuck. You did it!

These are HIGH-KEY crucial to becoming strong in the correct places for pole. It’s conditioning day my dudes. Conditioning is the most important part.

Are you intrigued by Chinese Pole? Does it sound more awesome than painful? Chinese pole has a very human element to it. It’s fascinating to watch and a joy to learn. I’m pretty sure my good life meter reading increased by 200% after I started Chinese Pole. I urge you to give it a try! I must thank my Coaches: Nick Lowery and Domitil Aillot for teaching me some of the coolest stuff ever and giving me some amazing opportunities!