By Maia Castro-Santos
As someone without a lot of natural flexibility, dance and circus have both really helped me to push myself in this area and improve my splits and back flexibility. On my dance company, the dancers are usually expected to stretch on their own time, outside of rehearsal. Similarly, in my evening lyra class, we do a brief warm up and stretch before getting on the apparatus, but we generally don’t spend very much time in deep stretches. Ideally, I would find time to stretch every day at home, but with a busy academic schedule and dance rehearsal every evening, this isn’t always possible. I do most of my stretching on the weekend when I go in to open training at my circus studio. I used to not spend very much time on this, and would lump it in with a quick warm up, but over the past year or so I have changed my strategy. Now, I devote about a third of my training time to warm up and stretching (oversplits, middlesplits, back, etc.), and I have really noticed the difference. This progress in flexibility has helped me gain bendier skills on lyra, and it has helped with my lines in dance (leaps, arabesques, etc.).
While both circus and dance have helped my flexibility, strength is a bit more one sided for me. I feel that I have gained most of my strength (especially upper body and core strength) from my circus training; however, this strength from circus has really helped me grow as a dancer. My strength from circus improves my stamina, helps me feel comfortable in dance moves that require weight in my hands (like inversions), and allows me to be able to lift other dancers.
3. Lines/Grace/Fluidity of movement
Strength may come more from my circus training, but when it comes to lines and gracefulness, dance has really helped me grow as a performer. I have seen circus acts in the past where the performer is incredibly strong and flexible, but is lacking the fluidity of movement through transitions that comes from a background in dance. Ballet especially has helped me to discover certain things about my own body, that I might not have realized without dance. For example, I have a natural micro bend in my knees, so to keep my legs straight in both circus and in dance, I have to focus especially hard on engaging my leg muscles to improve my lines. Additionally, dance has helped me to work on my toe point, extensions, and connections between movements. These are all things that I am continuing to work on, and I know that they will help me grow as both a dancer and circus artist.
I have found balance to be an important factor in both dance and hula hooping. I’m sure that a wire walker or any other circus artist whose discipline requires balance would agree that a background in dance is very helpful in improving bodily awareness, and that their work in circus has helped them in this area as well. I have always been fairly right dominant, meaning that the right side of my body is stronger, more flexible, and better able to accomplish most tasks; however, when I first started working on my 4 hoop box, I was forced to maintain a position balanced on my left leg (while having a hoop on my left knee, my right foot, and one on each hand). Practicing just this one skill helped me to improve my balance on my left side in both circus and dance, and other hooping skills have helped me in similar ways.
5. Performance energy and stage presence
Performance energy and stage presence are so important in both dance and circus arts! A large part of why I (and many other dancers/circus artists) choose to perform is to form a connection with the audience. I think that this connection is at the core of the term ‘stage presence.’ The performers that have most captivated my attention are the ones who I have felt a personal connection with just by watching them perform. The ability to effectively convey emotion is a critical skill for any type of performance artist. Learning how to use body language and facial expressions to convincingly show different emotions to an audience is as important as all of the technical skill that goes into being a circus artist. Both circus and dance have helped me grow as a performer and find ways to more effectively communicate my emotions with my audience.