Marzi recently interviewed her circus coach, Kiersten Van Houten, who is the director of children’s program at Trapeze School New York-DC and a longtime aerials, acrobatics and flying trapeze performer and coach.
What is your favorite part of working with youth?
Well that’s hard to say, because there are a lot of great things about working with youth! What I really enjoy is the way that kids are super open minded and really have a lot of capacity to learn, and have a lot of openness with that, differently than a lot of adults. And it’s really interesting too, to see different age groups where they have different needs for learning but still kind of that underlying principle of having a lot of capacity to learn. [A] major part of their life is still learning, they’re still figuring out everything about what it is to live life. So that means that they have a lot of space to soak things up.
What, in your opinion, are ways we can improve youth programs in general? How can we make them more accessible, and have more reach into the community?
I think there’s a lot of steps in the right direction. I was actually involved in youth circus as a teenager, and it was almost unheard of then. And now I think it’s a lot more accessible, just because it has a broader reach and there are more ways for kids to get involved, more clubs and more schools and more camps and more options there. I think continuing that, making sure people are aware that it exists and can consider it an option as a hobby, something that kids could do instead of focusing on dance, or music, or alongside one of those things. I think having that be an option for most kids is fairly new already, and there are certainly plenty of areas where it hasn’t gotten there yet, but I think the path that we’re on, with making it more available, and making it more of a thing kids can do, is going well.
What do you think is the future of youth participation in circus? Where can we go from here?
I think it would be neat to see more complete programs where circus is treated as a year round and life long activity that kids can participate in. Because it has so much to offer, some could argue more than other sports [or other activities], but at least as much. I think that more programs where there are ways for kids to start young and grow throughout the program, and that there are options for that change to happen and for it to accommodate the stages that they are going through.
Would you expand on what circus has to offer that’s different from other activities?
I think one of the major things that’s different about circus is that from the beginning, from traditional circus, it has been very focused on being very inclusive and finding a place for everyone. It can be traced back to circus families had to give each person a role because it was the family’s livelihood. So I think that the way circus allows kids to find what they’re good at and really excel in, that allows everyone to succeed, and to find something to focus on and to feel like they could do something that they never felt like they would be able to do. There are a lot of activities where you’re more compared to other people who are doing that same thing, so unless you happen to be really good at it, you don’t feel like you’re succeeding as much.
What is the best thing about having youth participate in circus, as opposed to it being just an adult recreational activity?
Kids have so much capacity to learn. Being able to start at a young age is something that can be a lifelong hobby, a lifelong pursuit–maybe it becomes more than a hobby, maybe it doesn’t–I think that they have that capacity to learn and that much physical ability to do things, you can really get a nice background setup for being able to really do it well in the future. I think that’s a great part about it for the participants. I personally like when we have kids here, I think it’s really great to be able to include lots of different people in our community, including children. I think it’s great for everyone involved to feel like we have a more inclusive and complete community of people, so to have kids programs or camps or classes going on at the same time as adult classes really makes a more complete feeling for everybody.
What does circus do for youth? What does it change in a kid’s life to be part of a circus community?
I think it really depends a lot, person by person. I have definitely seen it give kids a lot more confidence, and given them the ability to try other things in other realms that they wouldn’t expect, because of that confidence. Because there’s so much inherent community, I think it teaches a lot of skills of communication, teamwork, those areas of resilience that kids needs to learn. It’s kind of just embedded in the way circus culture is, so it doesn’t have to be a direct lesson, but it kind of just comes along with what they’re doing.