Interview with Jesse AlFord: AYCO Board President

By Carleigh Saberton

Jesse Alford is the Board president of AYCO, instructor at Suspend, lighting designer for many different events including Big Apple Circus, Circus Flora and Louisville Ballet and also the head coach at My Nose Turns Red Youth Circus. 

Jesse started circus at 6 years old at the Great Y Circus in Redlands, California and continued all the way through high school. He started coaching at about 16 and still coaches today! Jesse’s favorite circus discipline is unicycle and his favorite skills are any partner acrobatic work on a unicycle. “I think adding a second person to a unicycle just serves to exponentially highlight the skill that unicycle takes and opens up so many creative pathways to new tricks.” One of his favorite circus disciplines outside of his wide range of skills is Russian Bar! “Russian Bar exemplifies so many critical elements of circus and is just wildly impressive.” 

I’ve gotten to have Jesse as my coach since I started unicycling 5 years ago! He coaches us mostly in unicycle, juggling and partner acro but he also teaches us and works with us on other important skills like teamwork, act development and how to coach. Huge thanks to Jesse for the interview!

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My favorite picture! We have no idea what we were talking about before our performance but pictures like this show that Jesse is always there to motivate us!

How did you get involved with AYCO?

I attended my first AYCO festival in 2005, in San Francisco. It was a world-opening experience for me. Logically, I knew that there were kids all over the country doing circus but getting a chance to meet them in person (and to do circus with them), kind of exploded my understanding of what the circus community was. 

In 2008, I took a semester off of college, to do as much circus as possible. My main goal was really to figure out if I wanted to continue to pursue circus, and if so, in what capacity. One of the many things I did in that time was to intern for AYCO, basically helping David Hunt (the Board Chair at the time) put on the 2008 Educators Conference. Pretty quickly I was then the Programming Director for the 2009 AYCO Festival, and then joined the Board of Directors in 2010. 

What circus-y things have you been doing in quarantine?

I’ve been mainly trying to keep up with my own fitness in ways that I don’t always have time for. So more running and weight training, and less unicycling. But I’ve been watching a lot of fun circus and am enjoying the evolution of livestream variety entertainment.  

What were some of your favorite quarantraining tricks of the day you did on Instagram?

 Ha! Yes, I did 50 days in a row of silly #quarantraining tricks on my Instagram stories. The goal was to keep them appropriately dumb and silly, and yet be challenging enough to be impressive. My favorite by far was the sandwich flip, where I had all the ingredients of a sandwich laid out on a tray, and then flipped them up in the air and caught them all on the tray as an assembled sandwich. I’m currently taking a break from those, but I’m sure they’ll reappear soon. 

How do you see circus in the future after all of this clears up? Do you think it will go back to normal or will it be different? 

This is a big question! I think it will be a very long time before we get back to “normal.” We will definitely see a modification of circus as we know it, and it will certainly affect the skills and disciplines that we train. We are all separated from our apparatus, coach, gym, or some other component, and those things will not all come back at the same time. For example, we might all be able to go back to our circus gyms well before it’s safe to have a spotter close enough to be teaching you a new skill on trapeze. I hope that the silver lining of this situation is that we all find (or invent) a new skill that we had otherwise overlooked. It’s incredibly valuable in circus to be multidisciplinary, and maybe this is the kick in the pants we all need to finally get good at diabolo, or rola bola, or any number of other skills. 

Circus overall will certainly survive, and this experience will only give us more stories to tell, reasons to tell them, and a chance to stop and think about what we love about circus, and why we want circus as a part of our lives. 

Do you have any advice for circusers out there struggling in quarantine? 

It’s important to take care of yourself as a human first. It is very easy to focus too much energy on the things we feel we are losing right now, such as your pull-ups, splits, progress with a juggling or acro partner, and so many other examples. Your pull-ups will come back, you can regain your splits, and your juggling and acro partners will still be there, ready as ever. 

So use this time to build and maintain the things you can, and the things that keep you happy and healthy. Go for a bike ride, do some yoga, walk the dog, and don’t worry about how those things relate to your circus. Do the things that keep you happy and healthy. I know for many of us, circus was that outlet for physical health and happiness, so it may mean that you’re trying something different, such as trying to skateboard for the first time in 20 years, and making a fool of yourself (yep, that’s me), and that’s okay. 

It’s a hard time for everyone, so make sure that you’re staying in touch with your circus family. Go to the zoom classes, because your friends want to see you! Send each other snapchats about how you’re getting better at skateboarding, but you’re still hilariously bad. And get your quarantined family in on the circus! Teach someone how to juggle and teach someone else how to do a headstand. Our circus community is not something that we need to lose during quarantine. The pull-ups may be missing at the moment, but we still have each other, and we have so many different ways to be in touch. 

How has COVID-19 affected Circus schools?

By Tessa Wallington

During this crazy time each person is affected in a different way. Many aspects of daily life have changed and circus schools and performance troupes are no exception. By now, the Covid-19 pandemic has affected each person in some way or another. Circus schools have been challenged to keep their students engaged and in-shape while remaining safe and healthy at home, as most of the country remains in some level of quarantine. 

Stephan Cote, co-owner of Trapeze Las Vegas said, “Thanks to the amazing commitment of all the coaches and administration of TLV, we were able to quickly react and start an amazing offering of classes that we can put out on a daily basis.” 

Trapeze Las Vegas was shut down in accordance with the stay-at-home order in Nevada per Governor Steve Sisolak on March 15. The staff at Trapeze Las Vegas jumped into action and by the second week of quarantine were rolling out classes for their students online. TLV continues to offer classes every day through the online program Zoom and have even found new disciplines they weren’t previously offering such as musical theater, hip-hop and makeup tutorials. Recently, TLV has launched an outdoor, socially distant training program at their flying trapeze rig. Students remain socially distant, train with the same coach while wearing masks and follow guidelines to ensure the safety of all students and staff. 

The major transition to online and socially distant classes has been no easy task, however. Trapeze Las Vegas co-owner Lisa Cote said, “We have lost contact with some of our circus sisters through no fault of their own — internet access issues, finances, parents with more pressing survival needs, lack of structure to their day.” 

Although this switch poses many challenges, we have found some good in this stay-at-home order and attempted to find a bit of normalcy through these trying times. Unfortunately, many circus schools were unable to continue to connect with their students and ended up closing their doors. Another circus troupe, Le PeTiT CiRqUe located in Los Angeles, is also offering online sessions to keep their troupe members in shape and their spirits high. “We have persevered, SO FAR,” said CEO Nathalie Gaulthier. “Tremendous community support that I am just so moved by. People donated, people wrote things that I never knew.” 

Circus schools are hoping to get back to functioning normally as we continue to advance in the fight against the pandemic.

Circus and Social Media

By Maia Castro-Santos

Many of us are spending more time on social media lately, as it is now one of the only ways to communicate with people outside of our households. I thought now would be a good time to talk more broadly about the role of social media in the lives of circus artists — the benefits of sharing circus online, the harmful parts, and how COVID-19 has changed circus-related social media.

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photo by Elsie Smith

The Good

Social media provides a very useful platform for professional circus artists to share their work and promote themselves to the public. Even for recreational circus artists, sharing performance photos and training videos online can serve as motivation to develop new skills and sequences. I film myself while training a lot. I find it useful because I can watch the videos back and notice parts of my sequence that look great and transitions that need work. Filming while training also helps motivate me to perfect a sequence enough to get a video of it that I feel good about posting on social media. I follow many circus Instagram accounts — from friends to coaches to professional artists that I have never met. I find inspiration from all of these accounts because watching other people discover new skills and tricks inspires me to do the same.

Additionally, receiving encouragement and affirmation on a post feels really good! If you work hard to achieve a new skill and you post a video which is met with enthusiastic comments from coaches and friends, you will likely feel even more proud of your accomplishment. Social media provides a platform for artists to support and encourage each other to continue to create and discover new skills.

The Bad

While social media can be great for circus artists, it can also become problematic. Most Instagram accounts are highly curated, and circus accounts are no exception. The majority of public posts are not ugly videos or fails (unless the account is @notsoacrobats). This can lead to feelings of inadequacy if you are having an off day and it feels like everyone you follow is more skilled and advanced. Obsessive comparison to others can slow personal artistic development while also degrading mental health.

Additionally, if you are always trying to take videos of impressive skills to post on Instagram, you might not spend as much time on conditioning or exploration. Sometimes you have to try several transitions or skills before you find the one that looks and feels good enough to perfect. The pressure to put out content on social media doesn’t often leave space for this part of the creative process.

Now? 

With most of us quarantined and studios closed, artists are hunting through old training footage to post. Besides posting throw-backs to when training space was readily available, many circus artists are creating at-home conditioning workouts and challenges. This can be a great way to stay motivated and active. However, there is a lot of pressure to condition constantly with the extra time the pandemic has provided. I know that I worry about losing my skills and getting out of shape while my training space is closed. This is a stressful time for everyone, and the last thing we need is anxiety about missing a daily core workout. Keep moving, get outside, and condition if you feel like it — but also know that this will not last forever and your abs will come back.

Bringing Circus to the St. Louis Teen Talent Competition

By Lacy Gragg

Earlier this year in February and March, my friend Eliot and I decided to compete in the St. Louis Teen Talent Competition performing a unicycle act. The Fox theater in St. Louis has presented this contest for 10 years. The competition has three rounds and finalists can win scholarships in multiple categories. The first two rounds are private with a panel of four judges. The final round will take place on stage at the Fabulous Fox theater open to the public. Eliot and I and made it all the way to the semi-finals. This year over 100 people participated in 85 acts. Semi-Finals were narrowed down to 42 acts and the finals will showcase 16 acts. My circus, Circus Harmony, initially entered six acts and has two acts with three performers in the final round, a juggler and a lyra/contortion act. Two Circus Harmony students have won in previous years. The majority of the other performers were dancers, singers, and musicians. It was really awesome to meet other people from different styles of performing. And to learn a little bit about dancing, singing, and performing music and how it contrasted to circus performing. 

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Circus Harmony students

Eliot and I created a Dirty Dancing themed unicycle act to the song, Time of my Life, by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes. We tried to make our act more about the story instead of the tricks; some tricks can be harder to learn but less impressive to an audience. This is something that you have to consider since you are performing for people who do not have much circus experience. We had giraffe unicycles halfway through the act which you may know are rather similar to riding regular unicycles but because they are taller they are more impressive to an audience.

The biggest feedback we received was that our act did not have a big finish. It ended with Eliot and I leaving an empty stage. This can work fine in a show with multiple acts but for a single act that is supposed to stand alone it does not work as well; it left the act feeling incomplete. If you are putting together an act that is not part of a bigger show, make sure to have a strong finish. It was very interesting having judges who were not familiar judging circus and were not really aware of what was harder or easier in circus. When I messed up a unicycle mount, a judge told us that she was not sure if it was an intentional of part of the show. Your acting has a lot to do with what the audience thinks is happening when you are presenting a story. When you let your face fall someone will pick up on it but if you act like everything is going as planed its harder to tell something is amiss. 

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Eliot and Lacy

The finals have been postponed due to the pandemic, but I am excited to cheer on my friends! I learned some great lessons from this experience and made a lot of new friends. My big take-aways are what elements are needed in an act outside of a show, how to add acting to my unicycle act, and how to take feedback and adjust my act. This was a great experience and I think it made me a better performer.

Social Circus – Promoting Diversity in Circus Schools

By Mira Gurock

Circus Up Founder Leah Abel on Why She Chose a Career in Social Circus 

Leah Abel is the founder of Circus Up, a nonprofit organization in Boston, Mass. that focuses on making circus more inclusive, joyful, and accessible. To learn more, visit circusup.com.

Mira Gurock: How did you initially become interested in social circus?

Leah Abel: Growing up in Cambridge, Mass. in the 80s and 90s, people highly valued diversity and inclusion. These were issues that people openly discussed and debated, too. That experience and environment instilled many values in me that I eventually saw were missing in many circus communities. Social circus felt like a way of addressing social justice issues through an art form I already loved.

MG: In starting to imagine Circus Up, what were some of these personal values that inspired you?

LA: I grew up in a very diverse neighborhood both ethnically and socioeconomically, and I just thought that was the norm. I think this shaped a huge part of who I am, including my values. When I got to college and started doing circus, I saw that circus arts were moving away from being more of a family-owned business. Circus was becoming more recreational, very expensive, and exclusive. At least in New York, unlike the traditional circus families of the century before, circus was attracting a more homogeneous crowd. So the art form that I fell in love with didn’t at all look or act like the communities I grew up in. I wanted to change that for two reasons. First, thanks to my strong social justice background, I saw social inequities and just wanted to work to change them. And second, I didn’t totally feel like I belonged either. I didn’t feel comfortable in some of the circus communities I participated in. In other words, I wanted things to change so that selfishly, I could feel more at ease. Even though I looked the part, I didn’t fit the mold in terms of other social norms. 

MG: What do you think is the most effective way for small or large circus schools to promote diversity?

LA: I would say by dismantling the patriarchy, working on equal access, and elevating the amount of attention paid towards valuing creativity and joy. I think the first step for people is to start learning about issues of social justice, white supremacy, and equality/equity. I also think talking less and listening more is generally a good idea. Observe what works and what doesn’t work in other organizations doing social justice work (not necessarily even circus organizations) as you build an effective strategy for promoting social justice. Also, if you’re trying to do outreach to particular communities, it’s important to watch and learn from the leaders of those communities! People don’t want to be told what to do and likewise, people don’t ever want to be told what they need. Instead, listen to people when they tell you what they need, and build an organization or program around those needs. Telling another community what they need is paramount to telling another person what their gender appears to be, or should be. Listening is key and responding to the needs of the communities that you say you want to work WITH is the most effective and respectful thing you can do.

MG: Have any of your definitions of what it means to support diversity changed for you since you started Circus Up? 

LA: Yes, of course. In this work we should all be committed to continually learning and growing. That should mean our work grows and changes over time, too. If it doesn’t, that is an indicator that no growth is happening either.

MG: What aspect of social circus needs the most work at this time?

LA: Diversifying circus staff and maybe working on what is a general lack of funding for the arts.

MG: What do you think are some benefits of belonging to a diverse circus community?

LA: To me, being a part of a truly diverse community is always more interesting. It also means that you’ll have your viewpoints challenged, which is a good thing. People have cultural norms that we often assign as correct “rules” of communication and interaction. But when you have a more diverse staff and student body, dominant cultural norms are challenged and we’re all encouraged to grow. When people learn to work and play with one another while truly creating space for diversity, we build empathy, respect, understanding, and connection. Moreover, we learn to understand cultural, political, social, and historical contexts for why the world is the way it is. This helps everyone avoid making stereotypes or from oversimplifying things.

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Mira Gurock and Leah Abel

Interview with Kerren McKeeman: Cirque Du Soleil Aerialist

By Emily Fulton

Kerren McKeeman is a professional aerialist who has performed with Cirque Du Soleil’s O, Varekai, and now KÀ, among many other circus shows.  She was a founding member of The Flying Gravity Circus in Wilton, New Hampshire of which I am currently a trouper. I had the honor of meeting and watching Kerren perform at The Flying Gravity Circus’s 2018 Starburst Gala.  She is a true inspiration to young performers and was happy to share her knowledge with me.

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How old were you when you started circus training?

I began learning how to unicycle and juggle at age 11 with Jackie Davis’ after school program and the Hilltop Circus at Pine Hill Waldorf School, in Wilton, NH. My first aerial training experience was with Circus Smirkus in 1998.

Did you do any cross training when you were a teen (dance, gymnastics, etc.)?

Yes, I began with gymnastics and ballet at age 6.  I began more intense circus training when my friends and I started the Flying Gravity Circus in 1999 when I was still in high school.

Did you attend a college or professional circus program? 

I chose not to go to professional circus school and did all my professional circus training with individual instructors in varying locations, from Montreal to Los Angeles. I attended Middlebury College in Vermont, and continued my athletic training there through dance while I was earning my BA.

What is your preferred circus discipline? 

My true love is trapeze, but anything that brings me into the air is a joy— I have most recently fallen in love with straps and have always loved partner acrobatics and hand-balancing.

How did performing with Cirque Du Soleil’s ‘O’, Varekai, and KÀ compare?

Great question. These are such dramatically different shows, all so beautiful in their own unique way! Performing at O took my breath away— it was my first Cirque du Soleil show, and if you’ve seen the show you remember the opening scene where the swimmers come out and chop up the water with that beautiful choreography along with the captivating opening song… and I got to see that from above backstage, sitting on my trapeze right before I started my act! Talk about a rush while you’re preparing to go on stage! Varekai was my dream come true— I fell in love with Varekai as a teenager because it was the first Cirque show in which the two main characters were acrobats! I felt, yes— we can tell the story too! Little did I know that I would eventually join Varekai and perform Triple Trapeze, then my solo single point trapeze act as the Huntress— a character created to further tell the story of Varekai— and finally I was given the role of backing up the main female character with my trapeze act during the end of the show’s run. Varekai completely stole my heart— the unique characters, bright costumes, the moving story, the vibrant love and conflict, transformation and hope, and the music that drives the soul of the entire show.  And KÀ is of course another journey and another story all together. At KÀ I perform Duo Straps with Pierre-Luc Sylvain, which is a coming-of-age and a love story called Duet.  It is such a gift to perform with a partner who is as much a partner onstage as he is a dear friend to me in real life.  He and I both feel at our freest in the air, so it is a dream come true to share the air with him! 

What is your favorite part of performing with Cirque Du Soleil?

Performing at Cirque du Soleil is rewarding for so many reasons— mostly it’s the collaboration— we are a large family who shares a deep love for something that we all pour our hearts into every night. We may not have language in common, or religion in common, or nationality, identity, culture, or really anything in common with fellow technicians, staff members, or artists, but we have passion in common— we have the common goal of putting on a live story, a living shared experience with immensely powerful moments from huge acrobatic stunts down to moments of minute but powerful detail— which all takes massive love and takes a team who can do anything we put our hearts and minds to.  

Out of all the shows you have been on, what was your favorite to perform with?

Wow, I have been lucky enough to have had incredible adventures with so many shows—Midnight Circus, Cirque Mechanics, Circus Smirkus, Flying Gravity Circus, Troupe Vertigo, Cirque du Soleil, Seven Fingers, Circus Couture…all such unique experiences created by brilliant people who know how to make art that gives more love and life back to their communities. It’s very humbling to look back on all that, especially now when we cannot have live performance in our lives. I don’t think I can pick a favorite— I’d need days to share all the amazing moments!!! But…I have to say that being a part of the wild machine that makes KÀ tick is incredible… there is nothing like watching the stages move in and out, knowing the automation technicians who make that happen, seeing the carpenters and riggers prepare the airbags and throw the nets, feeling the lights turn on at exactly the right moment, knowing the stage managers who make all the detailed calls, seeing the artists hear those calls on a mic in their inner ear and then plan their flips accordingly, and then stepping onto lift 5 and ascending into a cloud of falling yellow petals as our dear riggers lift up the straps and Pierre-Luc takes me up in his arms to begin our Duet… this show is an intricate machine that is truly like no other in the world!

Do you prefer performing with touring or resident shows?

Touring with Varekai in South America, with 7 Fingers in Asia, with Cirque Mechanics in Europe were some of the highlights of my life! Touring is an incredible experience that allows you to learn so much about the world— and yourself— if you let it!  Performing in a resident show is also a beautiful thing, and it is wonderful to come home to your own place every night. I learned so much from doing both, it depends on the stage of life you are in, and what you want to learn from your time spent not performing.

What is the most unique opportunity you have had as a circus artist?  

Telling so many stories onstage— I’ve lived and relived coming of age, falling in love, protecting and watching out for my sisters, transformation, bliss, joy, loss, redemption, and the feeling of rising above.

How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted you? 

Certainly live performances cannot continue during this time. Most live performers are completely out of work, as I am and almost all Cirque du Soleil employees. Of course this is very challenging for all of us. During this time it’s important we social distance for the sake of everyone’s safety, and that we take all measures to continue training so that we are ready to come back as strong as ever when the situation improves.  Surely this time is showing us all just how much we miss sharing a live experience together, so it will be that much sweeter to see a live performance in the future. Everyone will forever remember the first show they see after the pandemic is over! 

What advice would you like to give young circus performers?

Learn! Learn as much as you can from experts and then… keep learning! And be yourself! The stage is not a competition, it’s your place to be the best you can be, and that means doing things that make you feel free and challenge you to be your best. If you love something that has never been done, it might be harder to begin because you have to forge your own way, but there is always the first person who did something. Do it! Also, in this day and age we draw lots of inspiration from online sources (things I didn’t have at my early stages of training— we had to wait months to see a certain move or skill because we had to see it live!). When you are in creation mode, I suggest you turn off the social media, and get into a zone with some music, and see what your body comes up with naturally. The skills that I learned this way have lasted my entire career because they came from a unique place of discovery and not a place of replicating something I had seen. 

If you did it all over again, would you have done anything differently?

Keep a circus journal! You can put pretty much anything in there– a trick you saw that inspired you, an idea you have for an act, something that made you smile, a show you want to be in… the next trick you want to master. I have always written things down but I could never find all the notebooks and pages now– I wish they were all in the same book! And the best advice I can give is stay true to your values—why and what you love about what you’re doing—and allow yourself time to reflect on what you’ve done and accomplished. Ask yourself– what did I learn from that? Sometimes life moves so fast we don’t have time to absorb the lessons we’ve already learned. Take that time, it’s worth it.

Do you have any ‘blue sky goals’ you still want to achieve?

Yes! I have many goals on straps and I am still taking my solo trapeze act to the next level. There are still things I’ve never done so that keeps me going. I also want to do a hand-to-hand press with my friend (and extremely talented world-Champion) Ayla Ahmadova…one day!  I also would love to share the stage with Shakira, Zoe Keating, Aurora, and Isabelle Dansereau-Corradi.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the youth circus community?

Keep going, friends. Keep moving and sharing what you love— you never know you who are inspiring!

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The Importance of Being Humble

By Julaine Hall

In this very small circus community, it is easy to meet people and reconnect several times after. Whether it be on purpose, or accident, you will probably wind up seeing that friend you made at the festival, or that student you had for a workshop, or that guest coach that came to your school several times after you first met. Everything in this community is tightly knit and interconnected which makes it all the more important to make a good impression and be humble to everyone you meet.

Before we begin, the definition of humble according to the Oxford dictionary is “having or showing a modest or low estimate of one’s own importance,” which I know sounds kind of sad, but it is always better to underestimate your importance than to gloat and come off as rude or entitled. I have been coached by a lot of different people with a lot of different personalities and backgrounds. Every coach who I have been coached under, who has earned their students’ respect, has always been humble and kind, no matter their level. Their response to compliments are always down to earth, kind, and sometimes funny! Being humble is a sign of respect for all things. If you can be humble, you can also be respected.

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In terms of peers and students, someone who is humble may not always receive the most praise but they deserve it. I have met, toured, performed, trained, and been in classes with many people who were modest and many who were not. I would much rather hang out with the down to earth person who can juggle 5 balls and do a standing back tuck, than someone who is full of themselves who can juggle ten and do a standing double back tuck. Sure, circus is about art, and it’s competitive, and you want to show that you are good to those around you, but you also have to remember, you’re going to have to collaborate and work in a team. In any show, you’re going to have to get along with people and not be cocky. If you don’t humble yourself, life will do it for you and it will sting a lot more when life does it.

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Humble people are the best people to hang out with in my opinion because they restore my faith in society! I know it can be so hard to be humble, because as acrobats and aerialists, we are all literally attempting to defy gravity! You can always improve in every way because there is no such thing as perfect. I am going to start checking in with myself more often about my humbleness and I encourage every circus artist to do the same. We all have to

DREAM BIG

WORK HARD

STAY HUMBLE.

Hup Squad’s Favorite At-Home Conditioning Drills

Hey circusers!

We know that many of you are not able to circus in your normal way right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still get your circus on! Check out these at-home conditioning drills from our Hup Squad!

Submitted by Lacy:

My favorite conditioning drill is to a song called “Flower” by Moby. You can do this drill many different ways and the instructions are simple, just listen to the music and every time the lyrics say ”green sally up” you go up and when it says “green sally down” you go down, in between you hold whatever position was last said. You can do this with squats, high & low planks, push-ups, V-ups, and whatever else you can think of. For example if you are doing high low planks you would start in a high plank position with straight arms, then when you hear “green sally down” you would transfer to a plank on your elbows and repeat until the song ends. This is a quick workout because the song only lasts about three and a half minutes. Despite this it is very effective.

Submitted by Tessa:

My favorite at home circus conditioning is 30 v ups, followed by a 30 second hollow body hold, 30 second tuck ins from the hollow body and repeat.

I also love plank on elbows to plank on arms, 5 push-ups and repeat three times.

Submitted by Julaine:

My favorite exercises for at home are…

–  Handstand holds (free standing and belly toward the wall)

– “Suicides” or “Relays” (pick four different relay points and a starting point across a runnable stretch of ground. Start at the starting point, run and touch the first relay point, run back to the starting point and touch it, now, go to the second starting point, run back, run to next point, run back, run to final point, run back… that equals 1 rep)

– Holding hollow hold while solving Rubik’s cube, knitting, or playing catch.

-Wide pull-ups, wide chin-ups, regular pull-up, regular chin-up.

– Pistol Squats (Squats on 1 leg, you can use a wall or a “candlestick roll” to build up to it)

-Stair runs

-Arch holds (feet together and arms by your head. Hold as high as you can.

-“Plank hold (or any hold) Music Roulette” (Go to a playlist that has a bunch of pumped up jams and just swipe, then press! Are you holding for 2:31? 4:09? Maybe 3:47? You won’t know until you start going!)

Submitted by Maia:

Here are two of my favorite conditioning drills! All you need for these is a yoga mat or a floor that you feel comfortable lying down on.

Core:

-Start lying on your back in a hollow-body position (legs together, arms by your sides. Abs engaged with legs and arms hovering just off the floor)

-Tuck-up – come to a balanced sitting position with your knees bent and arms parallel to your shins.

-Return to your hollow-body.

-V-up – come back up to your balanced sitting position with legs extended straight, reaching for your toes.

-Return to hollow-body.

-Side Tuck-up – Just like your first tuck-up, except both arms reach across your body to the left while your knees crunch in to the right.

-Return to hollow-body.

-Other Side Tuck-up – Repeat your side tuck-up, but send your arms to the right and your knees to the left.

-Return to hollow-body and repeat the whole sequence!

I like to shout “Tuck! V! Side! Side!” while I do this to help keep the timing of the exercise. If you like to listen to music while conditioning, this exercise goes along well with most songs because it has four parts, so your favorite song can also help you keep a consistent tempo. You can do as many reps of this exercise as you choose – I like to keep going as long as I can while maintaining my form. Then I will “swim” in a hollow-body (gently kicking my legs and moving my arms up and down while staying engaged on my back) for another minute or so.

This is a very simple ab workout, but I find it to be an effective way to warm up and activate my core quickly and efficiently.

Legs:

To activate and warm up my legs before I do any stretching, I start with my favorite kick sequence. I like to use ankle weights, but these exercises work just as well without if you don’t have access to ankle weights at home.

-Start lying on your back with your left foot planted on the floor, knee bent, and your right leg extended straight on the ground. You can extend your arms out to the side in a T position or lace your fingers behind your head.

-8 kicks to the front with your right leg, trying to get your knee to your nose (but don’t actually hit yourself in the face). Repeat on the left.

-Roll over to your side with both legs straight. You can prop yourself up on your bottom forearm.

-8 kicks to the side. Make sure you keep your turn out in your leg so that your knee is turned to the ground at the top of your kick. Repeat on the left.

-Come to hands and knees table-top position. Extend right leg straight back.

-8 kicks – bringing your right leg up to your shoulder. Try to keep your hips from moving out of alignment. Repeat on the left.

-8 kicks to the back, bending your knee at the top and arching. Repeat on the left.

-From your table-top position, lower from your hands onto your forearms.

-8 kicks to the back, keeping your leg straight the whole time. Repeat on the left.

Submitted by Rachel:

The best one I think is to work on the tricks that you maybe have not worked on at the gym because you would rather do something else. For example, handstands and press drills can be such an easy and rewarding thing to practice because they don’t take much space and can really help your other skills, too. Another one is juggling since it’s really just something that takes time, that you now have! And you can learn to juggle with pretty much anything (I taught my friend how to juggle with orange peels), and it doesn’t take up too much room (over a bed if there’s fragile stuff everywhere). Plus, there’s an infinite amount of juggling tricks (and you can make some up if you want) and so many videos on YouTube with cool juggling moves.

As for conditioning, the article I wrote (Tips on Injury Prevention) I think has a few good exercises that can be done at home, but for cardio, if you live in a house with stairs, maybe run up and down the stairs.

Another piece of advice is to try to connect with your circus group if you have one and do stretching or exercises over FaceTime. My troupe is actually going to do conditioning and stretching together over the app house party today, just so we can motivate each other and get some needed human interaction.

Submitted by Carleigh:

One of my favorite drills is a squat series from Suspend in Louisville! You start with 8 normal squats, then 8 plié squats (like a normal squat with feet turned out instead of straight forward).

After than you repeat with every number counting down from 8. So, after 8 of each, you do 7 of each, then 6 of each, then 5 and so on.

Another one of my favorites is backwards sit ups! This is where you lay on your stomach with something holding your feet down, maybe a family member or even just put your feet under a couch, then you try to lift your chest up off of the ground without using your hands. Your hands could be on your head or straight out in front of you and you are trying to lift up as much as possible. To make it harder you could try to go as high as you can and hold it. For the more bendy people the goal could be to try to reach back and touch whatever or whoever is holding your feet!

Submitted by Calista:

I would recommend, if you can, to have your regular teacher create a strength and stretch routine just for you.  They know you best and know what parts you need to work on to continue your training (for me it is my strength and maintaining my core).  Remember that your teachers may be out of work and arranging for a creation of a routine for you may also help them; mine have all been willing and able- using zoom to show me anything I do not understand. And, please, please remember to warm up!

Flexibility is important for me- so center splits against the wall and bridges against the wall to maintain back flexibility.

For strength, I walk across the floor on my hands, touching my shoulders with each “step.”

Here are the sites I am using for free online training during the school closures:

Acrobatic Arts (Instagram):  Flexibility and conditioning, live streamed through Instagram

CLI studios:  Dance classes live streamed, times listed on their Instagramor Facebook

I also zoom with my friends and we create our own challenges.

Submitted by Emily:

*NEW* UNICYCLE ABS! (5 min. Plank Workout) by cirqueLIFE:

This video has some great conditioning drills. I find it is a lot more fun to train with other circus people than by yourself and that can be especially hard when socially distanced. ‘Training’ with Cirque Du Soleil artists from Totem can help to fill that gap, without even having to use Zoom or FaceTime!

Handstands on the Wall: Kick up to a handstand so that your back is on the wall and hold for as long as you want.  If you’re looking to get in some great conditioning, try doing 3-5 sets of 1 minute on the wall with a 1 minute break in between.  Or if you want to work on holding your handstand on the ground, try to gently kick of the wall and hold for as long as you can, only balancing by tapping one of your feet on the wall periodically.

Tips for Performing in Front of an Audience

By Mags Farrell

You may or may not be familiar with the terms, “Introvert and Extrovert.” I’ll give a brief description about what they mean. Introverts are associated with reserved behavior, tending to be more shy and quiet in social situations. Extroverts however, tend to be more outgoing and expressive when surrounded by others. So what does this have to do with performing in front of an audience? For an Extrovert, this might be easier to do. Hopping up on that stage and getting the job done would come off as no problem. For an Introvert however, this situation would play out in a completely different way. From their point of view, it’s a little like this. Every person in the audience is watching you, waiting for your next big grand trick. The attention is overwhelming, overpowering, too much to handle. The cheers are one of two things: Louder than a shampoo bottle falling over in the shower, or that eerie silence that occurs when you do something you know you’re not supposed to do. There is no in between. At least not for an Introvert. You can take it from me, a former Introvert. I say former because I find myself with little to no problem performing in front of an eager audience these days, and that’s because I reassured myself with a few simple tips, which I will now share.

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One of the most popular pieces of advice I’ve been given for overcoming stage fright is, “Picture everybody in their underwear,” which is dumb for multiple reasons. For starters, doesn’t that make it even weirder considering you’re the only one clothed? We can go ahead and throw that out the window. So what else? Remind yourself that you’re not the only one performing. There are multiple routines and acts besides yours, so it’s not your responsibility to carry the show. Unless of course, you’re a one person show. Under those circumstances, it’s easy to mess up. Play off your mistake with a joke, or a witty expression to the audience. If you can perform in front of your friends, you can surely perform in front of an audience, right? Okay okay, I can hear you all screaming in the back, “Performing in front of your friends is easier than an audience where you barely know half the names of the people in it. You’re being closed minded Mags.” But see, here’s the thing. An audience of people you barely know and a group of friends you know like the back of your hand are the same thing at the circus! We’re all one big circus family, cheering on and supporting each other no matter what! No one is out to get each other, or prove that they’re better than the rest. And nothing is gonna happen if you mess up. The ground isn’t gonna open up and start emitting dinosaurs to the top ground. The trees aren’t just gonna grow arms and legs and start roaming the earth. Not only is that scientifically impossible, we can all agree that it just isn’t gonna happen, right? 

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Let’s talk about that a little more, mess ups. They’re very common, all too common. If you’ve ever said to anyone, “I’ve never messed up in my life,” It’s very obvious that you’re lying. Come on, you’re not an alien, you’re human. Unless you’re not a human. Shout out to all the other species out there. Back on topic, “What if you forget your lines, or your next big trick on your apparatus?” One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been told about this situation is that the audience doesn’t have to know that, and they don’t! Going into depth about what I said earlier, play it off with a joke, or use body movements to fill that empty void of stillness. There’s no way the audience is gonna know your routine from top to bottom. I can confidently say there isn’t one show I’ve done where I didn’t mess up at least once, but I didn’t let the audience know that, because i didn’t have to.

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I’ll present a few examples to dumb it down a little. On the 27th of February 2020, I got the chance to perform at my school in a variety show. I had two jobs. One of which was to perform a Juggling routine from an earlier show. When it was my turn, I got up on stage and did the routine as best as I could. In my first minute, I ended up dropping the last catch of my trick. So what did I do? I improvised, looked up to the audience and shrugged. Playing off of this mistake, I purposely dropped the last catch of the rest of my tricks, except for the last one. The crazy part is (get this) the audience didn’t notice a thing! If they did notice, they’re automatically good people in my book because they didn’t say a thing. One more example, I promise I won’t take too much of your time. Wise Fool New Mexico has an annual summer camp show where the kids take the skills they’ve learned over the past two weeks and put it into a show. During the last 2019 show, my brother and his two friends had a scene that was supposed to introduce a Dragon into the story. I wouldn’t be telling this story if something didn’t go south, and it did! The Dragon prop was delayed for whatever reason and missed it’s cue. So what did they do? What could they have possibly done in that situation? Did they cry? Did they tense up? Not at all. They went with the flow, improvising jokes and claims questioning the Dragon’s existence. And it worked! The audience wasn’t even suspicious, and just like that they had convinced the audience that the show went exactly as planned!

And now, the last tip I’ll be disclosing and arguably the best (drum roll please)… don’t be worried about what other people think about you, they’re too busy worrying about what you think of them! Think about it. You’re never gonna get up on that stage if you let other people’s opinions hold you back, and that’s on period. There are bigger fish to fry, like the critics who boo people for nothing but their own enjoyment. That’s disgusting.

Tips on Injury Prevention

By Rachel Ostrow

We all know the rush of finally getting a new trick after so many hours of strain, sweat, hard work, (and chalk). How proud we are, and should be! Although, one misstep and all that hard work can easily go down the drain. We have all experienced when the smallest movement tweaks our ankle, wrist, or knee, and the discomfort doesn’t go away for months! Or ever! These accidents seem to happen more and more often as the level of circus tricks increase, which can be, quite literally, a huge pain. 

As someone who has had plenty of setbacks due to injuries, I have learned (unfortunately the hard way) to appreciate how certain exercises and warm-ups help to prevent these accidents. And over time, I have compiled some exercises that I learned from trusted coaches, physical therapists, or discovered on my own that I believe make a real difference in preventing injuries, and helping to build overall strength. Although, before I share them, keep in mind that circus is a dangerous sport, and exercises work differently on different bodies, so you should always be careful while testing new ones out. That being said, here are the exercises (and general tips) that I would recommend incorporating into your warm-up. 

**for some of the harder to explain or less well known tricks, I found a video of people demonstrating the skill on youtube, so just click the blue underlined text

Calf Raises: 

Calf raises are an amazing way to warm up your legs and feet while also strengthening your ankles. They can be done quickly if you are working more dynamic movements, or slowly if you want to work more on waking up your ankles and calves. If these become too easy, you can also do them on one leg or on a step. Holding the dip down from a calf raise can also be a great stretch for aerial toe hangs.

Handstand Blocks: 

Handstand blocks (and some other more difficult drills) are not only great for tumblers warming up dynamic movements, but can be super useful for pretty much any apparatus. This is because handstand blocks really warm up and engage your shoulders, and shoulder strength is super important for anything where you are hanging or just generally moving your arms a lot. Since this exercise requires good body lines and form to be executed correctly, it can also bring to light those specific areas to work on in your handstands or tumbling. 

Jump Squats: 

Jump Squats not only warm up your body for more dynamic movements but they also warm up your glutes, which help with stability. They are also just a great way to warm up your knees, legs, and body in general, since when done energetically can be a form of cardio (like jogging or jumping jacks). 

Core engaging abs: 

Go with whatever core engaging ab exercises help you warm up for your particular apparatus. If you want to warm up for aerial and you want a more difficult version of an ab exercise, combined with the stamina of hanging, stall bars leg lifts would be great. If you are a tumbler, maybe consider a set of tuck ups where you can combine abs and form refinement (since the correct reaching position at the top of a tuck up is also the ideal position and dynamic movement required for a back tuck). It is absolutely not a requirement to feel like you are pushing your limits, but rather wake up your abdominal muscles so they can perform best when you actually begin training. 

Stability: 

One big thing about warm ups is that they aren’t necessarily used just for conditioning, they are also used to discover if there are any tight muscles or areas where your body has some unexpected weakness. These areas may behave fine throughout your normal day’s activities, but can be uncomfortable when doing circus skills, and can become a potentially dangerous issue if you throw a hard skill before discovering the weakness. This happens pretty frequently, especially in my experience with tumblers, since one unexpected reaction from a joint can lead to a painful landing or an ankle sprain. 

Some exercises that can help with this identification are the ones that require you to engage many of your muscles while doing that exercise. A good example is holding a handstand (with or without a wall), since everything needs to be pretty active, and it is easy to get a general sense of how your muscles and joints are engaging. Another exercise that my current coach uses for this is standing on one foot with your eyes closed. This really helps with balance and understanding your present state, but it is also a great way to center yourself and focus before you start training. 

Start with the basics: 

I cannot stress this enough, if you are doing a trick that can be dangerous, or is on the newer side, then do a slightly easier version during the warm up. For example, don’t connect two skills that are usually connected, warm them up seperately. Or, move your apparatus closer to the ground. Or, if you usually spin while doing the trick, warm it up without spinning. Use these modifications to make sure you are capable of doing the tricks with lower stakes before you begin working on the harder versions, instead of just jumping right in. This does not take much time, and can drastically reduce risk of injury. Doing this easier trick successfully can also boost confidence and help with consistency in the long run.

 

I did not specify a number of repetitions for any of these exercises because it really depends on how strong you are and how many you need to do to feel warm. Since this is a warm up, you should do enough to feel a bit of soreness, but not too much that you are going to tire yourself out. I would start with the lowest number you can do and feel warm, and then work this number up as time goes on. 

Ultimately, you are going to be the one making choices to protect your body. I seldom do a really extensive warm up, but these exercises help so much in the long run, and can be done so efficiently, that I now have the habit of doing them before any intense skills. They will definitely help with injury prevention and building strength (leading to harder, cooler tricks). And to state the obvious, it sucks to be out due to injuries, or even just not functioning at your best level. So, I highly recommend trying these or finding others that you like better.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading, and good luck with your circus careers and avoiding injuries!