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Hey, Hup Squad – What was your favorite circus related moment or experience of this year?

In our final post of the year, we’ve asked the entire Hup Squad to come together to tell us their favorite moments of this year!

Interested in being on AYCO’s Hup Squad? Applications for our 2021 Squad are open now until January 1, 2021. Click here to learn more and apply! Questions? Email claire@americanyouthcircus.org

Calista Faragalli: Looking back on 2020 I was very lucky because I was able to still have some training, even though it was limited. I have two favorite memories. The first is attending Joffrey Cirque Arts in Las Vegas. They were able to manage a performance where parents were screened, escorted to a seat six feet from the next seat, and everyone wore masks. However, it was my only performance of the whole year! I learned my first routine on the straps and I was introduced to the teeterboard by the Cirque artists.

My second memory will be of all of the amazing circus companies that opened up online classes. I was able to take classes from The Circus Project in Portland, OR and Cirque LA. I was even able to get my sister to take a class and now she is learning to juggle! (I’m so proud of her). These are experiences I would not have had if this was a normal year. It also taught me to try and find opportunities and make the best of things. As my state is now in our second “lockdown,” I am busy trying to see what other classes I can pop into online. Although I benefit from the classes, supporting current artists is very important as someday I hope to be working as an artist, too!

Calista Faragalli

Carleigh Saberton: 2020 was not a very eventful year in my circus world but the small things that did happen were awesome! Everything was shut down for a little while and I was dying to get back to doing circus in person and, finally, I got to attend the advanced summer camp at my circus! I learned so many awesome things with my circus friends for 2 weeks and we had so much fun doing hoop tosses outside and unicycling in the rain and then we ended it with an amazing virtual performance. Having everything virtual is very new but so far, it’s worked out pretty well! There are some things that don’t work very well online so I was really excited to get back into german wheel at MNTR and start taking aerial classes at Elevated Aerials! I can’t wait to continue making circus memories both big and small.

Carleigh Saberton

Emily Fulton: I spent this year like I’m sure many of you did: Zoom training and, eventually, outdoor classes. Masks and sanitizer were the new norm at my studio. I should probably mention that my studio was either the top of a hill or a sheep field (plentifully covered in manure and fully equipped with electric fencing) depending on the day. I certainly had my fair share of pandemic circus trials and tribulations, but I also had a host of meaningful experiences that I probably never would have had the opportunity to experience had there been no pandemic. 

One of those experiences happened when I was practicing my newly minted (outdoor) slackwire skills. So, it was a windy, cold day, and my feet were freezing on the steel wire. I was pretty new to slackwire, so I was constantly falling and I was making mistakes all of the time. Anyway, I was practicing when a car pulled up, with a maybe five-year-old little girl inside. The car stopped and the girl excitedly yelled “hi” to me, and I waved to her. Then, I did the only slackwire tricks that I knew: stand up on the wire, stay on for maybe five seconds, lose my balance and fall down. But, the little girl, she was so excited! She started enthusiastically yelling something like, “Daddy, look, that’s the really hard trick,” and, “Wow, nice job, that’s amazing!”  It was obvious that she was thoroughly enjoying my beginner tricks, and my heart was warmed by her happiness. After maybe five minutes, we yelled goodbye, and the car pulled away. I think that was when I truly realized that the whole point of circus and performance is to make people happy, to fill their hearts with joy, even if only for a few minutes. Through circus you can make connections with strangers, you can bring happiness even during a pandemic. Thank you to circus coaches everywhere for all of the great COVID adapted training, it has sustained the bodies of many young performers during these…weird…times.  2020 definitely hasn’t been easy for the performance community, but circus still brings us together!

Emily Fulton

 Julaine Hall: This year has been FuNkY to say the least, but amidst all the inconveniences the year threw at me, I was still able to train and have circus in my life. My parents installed a Chinese Pole and aerial rig for me in the backyard (I am so incredibly lucky!), I got to be a part of the San Diego Circus Center’s Annual MYI program through virtual connections, I got to train a lot with a friend and major inspiration of mine, Terry Crane, and continued to keep all the skills I could as well as learn new ones. Throughout all this, I have learned the value of having a community to train with, that pushing yourself when alone is a different type of grit, and that quality over quantity is key to improving. Even though we are cooped up, that doesn’t mean we can’t collaborate! I was able to participate in a “rope relay” which will be featured in Acrobatic Conundrum’s online show this winter and premiers on December 26th at 7pm and will be available until midnight on New Year’s day.  Here’s the link if you would like to get tickets!

Julaine Hall

Lacy Gragg: This year has been full of ups and downs, and sometimes it’s hard to look on the bright side. Circus for me has changed drastically. I went from seeing my friends and circus family almost every day to barely talking to people outside of my family, that made me feel very alone. But circus has given me the ability to set concrete goals and commitments, and something to work on and look forward to. It created a different kind of outlet than it was before the pandemic. This year I performed in a show called The Balancing Act where I created a solo unicycle act. This was quite a daunting task for me. I have never done an act on my own before and, at first, I felt very lost; I wasn’t sure what I wanted my act to look like. Eventually I decided it should reflect my feelings toward the pandemic. Most of the act I rode around in a small figure eight occasionally stopping in the middle to do tricks. I am a very social person and quarantining away from people has been really hard for me. I feel almost as though I am wandering around in circles. I look forward to circus going back to something similar to what it was before but I think that everyone learned something valuable this year, and as a community we have learned to adapt and change.

Lacy Gragg

Mags Farrell: 2020 has been a crazy year, and with it came some crazy experiences. In this past fall, I got to perform in Wise Fool NM’s first ever virtual show, CircAspire: Press Play! 2020 has been a rocky year, to say the least. In light of the recent pandemic, most extra curricular activities were (and some still are) canceled, including Circus. Our biannual show, CircAspire, was set to be performed live at the end of April. But due to quarantine, we did the show in November! In the show, I performed various skills. And let me tell you, the process wasn’t easy by any means. Constructing acts, ideas, and scenes exclusively through a few zoom calls a month was challenging. But to no surprise, our amazing cast and crew pulled through to get the job done! By doing it virtually instead of canceling it all together, it was a great opportunity to flip a negative situation into a positive, and I’m glad I was a part of it!

Mags Farrell

Maia Castro-Santos: 2020 was undoubtedly a year of new challenges, but it was also a year of new solutions. As studios shut down and limited their students, I realized that I would not be able to train as frequently as I had in the past. One of the most inspiring parts of this year for me was watching my friends and family adapt to constantly changing circumstances, and I tried my best to do the same. Even though we were physically separate, my circus community stayed close to me through the isolating months of social distancing. Although it was difficult, I was able to find new places outdoors to practice and perform. My audience became a video camera. Applause became comments, views, and likes. The parking garage, the cemetery, and the rooftop became my stage. I look forward to the day when stages and circus rings will open again, but in the meantime, it’s comforting to know that even a pandemic won’t stop us from creating the art that we love. 

Maia Castro-Santos

Mira Gurock: This year has been absolutely bananas for my circus community. Realizing the privilege of aspects of circus that I thought to be given has been eye-opening. Being able to perform with a crowd of more than 15 people (or performing at all!), going to practice without worrying about leaving a mask at home, watching a demonstration rather than listening to my coaches explain the instructions for a sequence, etc. The list goes on. This year has presented numerous unforeseen challenges for my circus community. Having to switch to online lessons without the use of rigging was a tough transition and one that felt fruitless for a long time. However, I am endlessly grateful for the time, energy, and hard work that my coaches and staff have put in to keep us moving, safe, and passionate. I was even able to perform in a small fundraiser in early November. I will forever feel thankful for the little things I took for granted because of my experiences this year and am wishing a huge thank you to all my community members that made this year of circus-ing possible. 

Mira Gurock at a fundraising event in November

Rachel Ostrow: This year was certainly unexpected and challenging, but luckily it has still been circus-filled. My favorite moment this year has been producing a virtual winter fundraiser for the San Francisco Circus Center. I have been able to work with such a wide variety of people thus far (from youth circus members/professional circus performers who are alumni of our very program to amazing other circus artists willing to participate). It has been so fun to explore these different avenues of circus and take on such an amazing role in my community.

Rachel Ostrow

Tessa Wallington: To say this year has been different for everyone, would be a wild understatement. Like the rest of the world, Covid-19 has affected everyone in the circus community in some way or another. I have been extremely lucky during this time and able to continue my training at both my studios — in a safe and socially distanced manner. Both Le PeTiT CiRqUe and Trapeze Las Vegas have offered me an escape during this challenging time. In fact, I have found two of my new favorite specialties! My studio in Las Vegas moved their space to an outside circus lot this year, and through this change, I have been able to train new things I never would have been able to try if we were still inside. I have trained an act on both the Wheel of Death and the flying trapeze. My favorite moment from this year would definitely be achieving my double on the flying trapeze. I worked so hard to reach my goals in flying trapeze, and although I have such a long way to go, I am seeing amazing progress and look forward to continuing my flying trapeze career along my circus journey.

Tessa Wallington

From the Coach’s Perspective: Adapting with Creativity for Distant Learning

By Mira Gurock

This year has been a whirlwind for all circus communities. In a world that has had to make so many adjustments to function in any capacity, the very basics of what it means to coach has been turned upside down. I was able to reach out to a diverse group of circus coaches to ask what their experience has been like spotting, demonstrating, and instructing in these unprecedented times. 

When asked about the challenges of coaching under these conditions, T Lawrence-Simon, a Boston-based circus performer and coach responded by saying, “Honestly, the most challenging part is that I have a very hard time hearing most of my students. As a former theater person, I am quite used to and capable of speaking in a slightly more boisterous and enunciated manner. Not everyone is good at/trained at that, and not knowing exactly what my student is saying puts me on alert, cause if they are saying they are hurt or unsure of something, I need to know”. 

Zoë Heywood, a coach and performer for Moody Street Circus, has also experienced challenges. She said, “The first thing that comes to mind is setting expectations and…helping students navigate a whole new way our circus can and must operate! Guiding them through their expectations about returning to the air after a 4-9 month hiatus has also proved challenging as an empathetic human! Some come in mentally ready and expecting to pick up where they left off, which is dangerous, and others are very hard on themselves about what they have lost which is self-defeating”. 

Marlon Archer, a coach at NECCA (New England Center for Circus Arts), offered his perspective on coaching online. For him, the hardest part about coaching online is, “Probably camera positioning for online coaching.  Sometimes it’s a really awkward struggle to get the right angle.  There’s also a time delay that makes cueing less effective”. 

Quarantine has also offered an exceptional creative challenge for coaches. They have been forced to step out of their comfort zone and make adaptions to their regular coaching regimen. 

When asked about this, Lawrence-Simon responded by saying, “There are so many skills that I’m just not teaching right now, because it wouldn’t be safe to have someone try it for the first MANY times unspotted”. 

Heywood recalled how things changed quickly this past spring.  “The biggest adaptation was beginning to work on ZOOM when things first shut down. Inspiring students to train on their own at home has been a fun challenge. I developed motivating challenges for pull ups, core work and flexibility – motivating my student base from afar and online”. 

Archer has adapted his coaching style to be more expressive, “I’ve started using a lot more gestures, and sounds.”

Finally, spotting has always been an important part of coaching, but as Lawrence-Simon put it, “I mean, there is no spotting…so there’s that”. 

Heywood responded by explaining how her family-owned studio has delt with the issue of spotting: “As a small family business we get to know each one of our students very well. We require students to keep an open mind on communication and feedback with us, discussing their strengths, weaknesses, fears, goals etc! My coaching style is predicated on building body awareness so that my students can move through pathways confidently that do not require spotting.”. 

Archer, who focuses mainly on coaching hand balancing and partner Acro, was asked how he has been spotting his students: “[You] can’t do it!  Safety lines are an option for some things.  Otherwise it’s a lot of mats and careful progression”

As a student in my circus community, I have felt such immense gratitude for my coaches over these past eight months. They have worked quickly and creatively to adapt in order to keep their students passionate. As we transition into the new year, it is important to recognize the people in our community that have worked so hard to keep our lives feeling as normal as possible. Make it a mission of yours to reach out to your coaches, staff and fellow circus-ing community members and express your gratitude towards them for all the effort they have made over the course of this wild year. 

Performing Arts During the Pandemic

By Lacy Gragg

Circus Harmony’s virtual show The Balancing Act

Performing arts have had to adapt and create new ways of performing due to the Corona virus. These include social distance shows, virtual shows, and outdoor shows. This has led to different ways of training and communicating as well. I interviewed people from different circuses and other arts about what they are doing to stay safe while still performing during this time. While doing research for this article, I noticed that some places have canceled performances completely. One example is the Kansas ballet. They decided to cancel all of their shows including their annual nutcracker in an effort to keep their audience and performers safe, but they continue to teach classes. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, on the other hand, has been doing outdoor shows at different parks and neighborhoods in Cincinnati, Ohio. They are also offering live digital music broadcasted from their music hall.

I talked to people from two different circuses, Circus Harmony and Fern Street Circus. I also interviewed someone from a visual arts organization to get a broader perspective on what other arts are doing during this time. Circus Harmony is a social circus in St. Louis, Missouri. Fern Street Circus also is a social circus located in San Diego, California. Both offer a wide variety of circus classes including aerial, contortion, and juggling.

ArtScape Lebanon is a visual arts organization in Lebanon, Ohio. They teach art classes and workshops from painting to music journaling. “We offered outdoor classes at our building location with limited class size and mandatory masks” says Kristen who is on the board.  They also have been able to continue to plan art shows with other local organizations following social distancing guidelines. 

From Circus Harmony I interviewed Maddie, a teenage hula hopper and aerialist about their virtual show, The Balancing Act (you can watch the show here). They used zoom calls to communicate. Maddie felt that virtually it was harder to understand instructions in a clear way. She felt like it was also harder to draw attention to points that people wanted to make. She liked being able to re-record because she knew if she were to mess up a trick it was easy to fix by re-recording the video, but she also felt more stressed and rushed. Maddie talks about how performing without a live audience means that there is no feedback. She usually is able to tell by the response from the people watching what they like and don’t like. Then she is able to use this information in her next show and she can take out or add tricks accordingly. Prerecording before the show made it so that she had to predict what the audience would enjoy. Usually Maddie performs hoola hoops and sometimes aerials. Maddie says, “I’ve definitely had to focus on hoola hoops more since I don’t have access to an aerial rig at home.” She has also had more time to work on her juggling which is something she didn’t have much time for before quarantine. One thing she liked about performing this way was that “it challenged everyone to do something new that no one has ever done before.”

From Fern Street Circus, I interviewed Haragni, a contortionist. They performed a virtual show and also communicated through zoom. One of the disadvantages of training virtually that Haragni mentioned was that some of the students experienced internet troubles and some people didn’t have enough room in their house. An upside is that she was able to take more classes because there was no commute; everyone was able to get from one class to another quickly and it worked better around people’s schedules. Haragni talks about the differences that recording and performing without a live audience. She says, “You got to show the audience exactly what you want them to see. Not having a live audience certainly made me less nervous but performing live gives me a different type of energy, and it makes me want to do my skills even better.” With the pandemic she has had more time to focus on her leg and hip flexibility, an area that she feels she should improve. Haragni has also been able to learn how to juggle balls and is now working on juggling clubs. “Usually, I just do strict contortion acts. I used to only take one class a week, so that’s what I chose to focus on. But now, since I’m able to take more classes, I’m doing contortion, juggling and acro/dance. Next show, I’ll hopefully be doing a physical comedy act, fingers crossed.”

If you would like to support any of the organizations mentioned in this article, the links to donate are included below:

Circus Harmony: https://circusharmony.org/support/  

Watch Circus Harmony’s The Balancing Act here

Fern Street Circus: http://www.fernstreetcircus.com/https/coclickandpledgecom/sp/d1/defaultaspxwid93080 

 ArtScape Lebanon: https://www.artscapelebanon.org/

Book Review: Juggling: What It Is and How to Do It by Thom Wall

Book Stack

Pre-order your copy here! (anticipated release date 8/31/20)

Reviewer: Emily Fulton

Rating: AAA+++ I would definitely recommend this book!

Thom Wall’s latest book Juggling: What It Is and How to Do It is definitely a must-read for any aspiring juggler. Beginners and seasoned jugglers alike can all benefit from reading this comprehensive guide to the all-too-much-forgotten art of ball juggling.  

Here are a few different reasons that I think you will become obsessed with this book from the second you turn the first page:

The Why Factor

Whenever I am learning a new skill, I will often be asked to perform some minor change in form.  I often counter this with a “why”.  I know that I will be 10 x more likely to do this change every time if I know what will happen if I don’t.  One of the great things about this book is that it explains “why” you should do something, which is an area I find many similar books often fall short.

The Appendices

Another great feature of this book is the appendices.  They include some great information and really help you dive deeper into certain subjects.  For instance, if you want to learn about all different kinds of juggling balls, just head on over to Appendix C.  This lets you choose when you want to learn more about a specific topic which leads to you thoroughly enjoying your juggling practice.

Circademics

Circademics (circus-academics), a term coined by Jackie Leigh Davis, is the study of circus in development and science.  Thom frequently features studies about juggling in this book, which is great!  He even gives you free access to the short book he wrote all about circademics, called What Scientists Have to Say About Juggling.  This way if you’re really into it you can continue to study the research he briefly touches on in this book.

A Few Extra Things That Make This Book So Special:

Jay Gilligan & Fritz Grobe

Two amazing jugglers and writers, Jay Gilligan & Fritz Grobe, each write a chapter in this book.  Fritz Grobe gives you a few of his inside tips on How to Juggle In Front of an Audience.  While Jay Gilligan teaches you 10 Ways to Make A Trick.  These writers add an extra element that you just can’t find anywhere else!

An In-depth Siteswap Explanation

Siteswap is often one of those things you’ll never really learn as a beginner or hobby juggler.  You might have been taught a few different siteswap patterns and maybe even what the patterns were called.  But chances are you didn’t and won’t learn how these patterns were developed, many using a numerical system that is the foundation of many intricate patterns.  Siteswap is almost definitely not what you heard from your friend who’s brother knew someone who watched a YouTube video from some guy who didn’t really know what he was talking about.  This book explains siteswap in great detail, teaching you the science of siteswap.  

Great Diagrams and Photos

One of my favorite parts of the book is the great charts and photos that really enhance your juggling experience.  There are long-exposure photos, taken with LED juggling balls, that actually illustrate how your juggling balls will travel.  If you’re a mathy person or like numbers, this book has you covered, with number charts that will tell you how and when to throw and catch a certain ball.  But if not, don’t worry!  Thom also included some very simple, easy to understand, diagrams just for you!

The Icing On Top……It’s Not Boring At All!

By now, maybe you’re thinking, “with all this information, isn’t this just a big, boring textbook?”  Well think again!  Thom writes this book like he’s in the room with you, teaching you the ins and outs of juggling.  He’ll give you inside tips on technique and presentation, so it honestly feels like you’re having one of his top-notch private lessons.  It’s really great to have a super-amazing juggling Cirque Du Soleil performer write a book in such a personable, down-to-earth way.

In short, I truly wish I had this book when I was first learning to juggle.  Excellent information is presented in an eye catching, easy going fashion to support you on your journey to ball-juggling mastery.

Reviewer: Rachel Ostrow

Juggling: What It Is and How to Do It is an absolutely spectacular book written by expert jugglers that compiles everything there is to know about juggling technique, history, progressions, performing, and more. It especially focuses on being creative and building a good juggling foundation that can be added on to. I mean three ball tricks, four ball tricks, 5 ball tricks, balancing – this book teaches you the easiest way to do them, what you could be doing wrong, and what you never knew you were doing wrong. It has perfectly selected diagrams for the visual learners, and even mathematics to understand conceptually. I also found it fascinating how many of the tips could also be applied to training and performing for people who are professional circus artists or those who have no prior experience whatsoever. Wall eloquently explains the steps for creating an act, including how to avoid stealing sequences, which can and should be used by every performer. It was so evident that everyone writing, especially Wall, is so passionate and carry such expertise in all aspects of juggling, such that it was a complete pleasure to read.

But the true test, did this book really help with juggling? It totally did! This book is honestly such an amazing source of learning and inspiration that could get anyone excited about juggling, and the tips are so extensive and useful, anyone with a bit of motivation (which this book certainly gives you) can up their juggling skills exponentially!

Pre-order your copy here! (anticipated release date 8/31/20)

Creative Block is the Worst

By Mags Farrell

I feel like Act Creation is one of the most important things about Circus. It’s a way to express yourself through your moves and motions, your music choice, your certain style. And there’s no such thing as a bad act. Everyone expresses themselves in a different way. Putting the moves together in an order that you like, picking music (or no music) to go along with the act, and your movement quality are all creative pieces used for act creation. Now I’d like you to imagine this: You’ve been asked to perform at a show happening in two weeks time, and the person asking would like you to create an act for the show. You’ve agreed, and immediately move into an act creating process to make an act. You start trying to get somewhere. And then… nothing. A block, cutting off all valid sources of creativity outlets. You’re unable to get anything done, and move nowhere with this process. You can stop imagining now. I imagine that felt pretty real for a lot of you right? I know it felt real for me. These moments have different names for different situations. 

Writers block, for example, applies to the creation of a written subject of some sort (I had a major case writing this article.) In situations like Circus, I’d call it a Creative Block. I guess the best way to imagine it is like a huge wall with you on one side, and all your creative ideas on the other side. It’s terrible. If I were to put down a list of all the times this has happened to me in a crucial moment, I don’t think I could. Too many occasions to count. But in a sense, it’s kind of a good thing how many times this has happened to me. Mainly because I’ve had time to experiment with what works and what doesn’t. I’m not here to tell you what doesn’t work though. That’s kind of pointless. If you’d allow me to cut this intro here, I’d love to share what did work for me.

Emotional Creation

I’d imagine emotion is a big part of your life. It’s human nature. And you can use that to your advantage. When you experience this creative block, try to take that emotion you have for it and use it to your advantage. For instance, I’m mainly a Static Trapeze Artist. Whenever I experience a Creative Block, 9 times out of 9 I feel anger towards this hideous monster known as Creative Block. So I take that anger and associate it with moves that fit well with that emotion. I guess I’ve taken towards a fast style of Trapeze Acts because of this. Then I’ll take a song that I can move at a fast pace with, such as Astrothunder by Travis Scott. The song goes fast enough where I can keep up with my moves I’ve chosen, and has a hard enough beat to express where the emotion is coming from. 

Say I felt a sort of sadness towards Creative Block. Same concept, different expressiveness. Something I would do is pick more slow moves as well as a lot of poses. A song I would pick to represent sadness would be something like How Close You Are by Mamoru Miyano. The song is slow enough for me to move at a reasonable pace with my moves, and has a lot of places for poses.

If I had felt happiness (for whatever insane reason) towards Creative Block, It would look something like a mix between the Angry and Sad expressions. A medium paced move set with poses wherever it fits. Now I don’t listen to a lot of “Happy Music” (I guess I’m just emo like that). If I had to choose something however, I’d probably choose a song like All My Friends by Owl City. It’s just fast enough to convey something that isn’t sadness, and just slow enough to convey something that isn’t anger. It’s got an optimistic tune behind it too.

And something I can’t stress enough is that this is just MY way of expressing emotions. Everyone does it differently. However you convey your emotions isn’t my place to decide, but yours.

Going with the flow

When I say this, I don’t imply free-styling. Nothing wrong with free-styling, I do it all the time. That’s just not what I’m talking about. I mean, like, letting something other than just YOUR ideas carry you. I feel like I should go ahead and say I’m not implying plagiarism. Often with this method, I’ll do one of two things: The first thing is a music method. Often with this, I’ll grab my speaker or headphones, blast my favorite playlist, and lay face down on my bed. My goal here is to find inspiration beyond the ideas I have on the other side of that imaginary wall. Finding something about the tune of the song, the tempo, the lyrics, something and/or anything. If I end up finding inspiration from a song, I’ll often use that song. Taking that inspiration from the song, I’ll also take moves fitted best with that inspiration (in a similar fashion to the Emotional Method.)

The second thing I’ll do is a visual inspiration. Something about the sunrise has never failed to give me inspiration for whatever it might be looking for. Something about experiencing the sky go from total darkness to being completely bright within a few hours is inspiring. Sunsets work equally as well. And it doesn’t have to be just those. Find someplace with a good view and try getting inspiration from that. Paint something, or draw a picture. Even cooking works. Something, anything, that you can see will work. From that abandoned house that your town has legends about, to a crack in the sidewalk. Or maybe you don’t have to see anything at all. Total darkness is a great variable for creative methods. I’ve used it multiple times. Darkness was once an inspiration for an act I did. I used as little light as the lighting crew would let me, and it turned out great. I actually had Creative Block that week.

Spitballing

I say spitballing with no reference to baseball whatsoever. Nor the thing that elementary schoolers do with paper and straws. I mean spitballing like throwing out random ideas. And it’s basically that. I do this whenever I get writer’s block, and essentially it’s exactly what it sounds like. I’ll start typing random words that come to my mind until one of them eventually strikes me with an idea. So with Circus, I’ll do pretty much the same thing, but with Circus Moves. I’ll do random moves out of a sequence (Circus moves lined up for a particular skill level) until I find a few I like, and I’ll go off of that. Picking a song off of random moves without a set emotion is difficult for me. How do I get past that? I shuffle my playlist and I do an act to the first song that comes up. I do actually do that, yes. I’m not kidding, no.

Those three methods are simply my ways of dealing with Creative Block. You don’t have to use them if you don’t want to, you’re not obligated. I just thought I’d share. I can’t stress this enough, but everyone expresses their emotion differently. Don’t feel obligated to use these methods exactly how I do, it might not work the same. Find emotions, songs, visual themes, and random words that fit you. The thing I want you to take away from this the most is that Creative Block is normal, and there are ways of getting over it. After all, a wall is a wall. There’s always a way to get over one, no matter how high. Oh, and Creative Block is the worst.

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!

IMG_0742

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.

maia blog post

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