There are a few standout attributes I look for in a coach, and all are of equal importance. I recently have started working with a new contortion coach, and the first thing I looked at were some videos of her performing. It was clear right then that she was an amazing contortionist, which, having never worked with her, made me feel a lot better about the prospect of doing so. I looked at her experience performing, but after a certain point, reviews and online biographies don’t cut it. Honestly, the best thing to do when looking for a coach is to go to one of their classes. You’ll know immediately upon meeting them if their personality is supportive or gives off the right vibe for what you’re looking for. A big part of having a coach is trust and, especially with contortion, you need to feel really comfortable with them, otherwise you’ll have a much harder time learning from them. So I always make sure you can get along with your coach and really trust them because, let’s be honest, circus can be dangerous. Really, find a coach with experience and who is skilled in the discipline you’re looking for, and then train with them!! You’ll know after one session if their style works for you, but really look for someone that challenges you while remaining positive, and also that you want to spend hours working really hard with!!!
I am lucky enough to never have had a coach who is downright bad. It seems to me that most circus coaches have a really good understanding as to what each person can and can’t do. Most of the time, a really good teacher will know that you are ready for harder moves or classes before you know it yourself. I also prefer coaches who have a sense of humor. For example, right now I have a lyra teacher who acts so ridiculously, over the top peppy about all of the most painful moves that my whole class is somehow cracking up over the fact that they hurt so much. If she didn’t do that, the class would be boring and we would all complain about our aches and pains, but instead she has shown us how to take ridiculous, ironic pride in our hard earned bruises. A good coach will also help give a sense of community to the group they are working with. In many of my favorite classes we will take ten minutes or so while we are warming up just to talk about our days, any upcoming events, or just to tell anecdotes. Having a sense of community helps us trust each other, which in turn makes us better performers.
Finding a clowning “coach” is tough. You can’t teach someone how to be funny-only the tools that could possibly lead to something funny (see our recent article CLASS CLOWN for more on this subject). As a result of this, when I look for clowns that I want to train with, I am really just looking for clowns that make me laugh and that have a performance style that I feel is similar to mine. Furthermore, because of the unique nature of clowning, another great way to learn is just by observing. Comedic timing, for example, cannot be taught; it is something that a performer develops overtime, and there is not an exact methodology behind it to ensure the laugh. I was “coached” in comedic timing by watching old Marx Brothers movies, and observing when they would deliver a punch line or performed a feat of slapstick. Observing this gave me a far better understanding of timing than anyone could express in words. When we talk about clown training, more often than not the words “studied with” are used as opposed to “coached by.” The rationale behind this is that when you go to a clowning class or session, you are learning a certain performer’s take on what the clown is and how they should communicate, and are truly studying how they apply those theories to performance. Coached by implies that there is a right way and wrong way, which with clowning is not the case (there is a wrong way to be shot out of a canon, for example, but not a wrong way to make someone laugh). Finding someone to study with can be a challenge, but from my personal experience the best teachers are those that have developed material you already enjoy.
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