The AYCO 2017 Festival was an amazing adventure that I think about often. From my first look at the cool old factory that was our campus, to the awesome lunches and performances, the entire festival is full of wonderful memories. And, on top of all of that, the AYCO Festival was a great learning experience that gave me encouragement and confidence in my circus dreams.
On the plane ride home from the festival I realized I had learned a lot of new tricks and drills in just a few short days. I took a notebook with me to the festival, and wrote down every scrap of information I could during each class and lecture. I had started off the week with Handstands 101, so the first page was full of new drills and notes like, “Ribs in!” But, being an aerialist at heart, I had spent a lot of my time in the air learning dynamic trapeze tricks and new combinations on lyra, so I had many pages on that, too. As I flipped through my notebook on the plane, I felt excited about all the new things I had learned, how I could integrate them into my practice, and how I could introduce these new ideas to my troupe back in Portland Oregon.
The AYCO Festival gave me something even more valuable than new tricks, it encouraged me to think about how I might shape my future around circus. I attended a lecture about the various options in circus education and about how I could make my future in circus possible. I learned about the different kinds of circus schools, about how to supplement performing income with teaching income, about how to audition effectively, and I learned that I got to decide how I wanted to do it! That lecture gave me the inspiration and information I needed to start talking with my parents about the how and why of a circus education. Being at the festival I realized there was a community of young people, just like me, who want to be circus artists and don’t think it’s impossible! I firmly believe that without the AYCO Festival I would never have found other youth who have circus dreams like mine, and I would still think that being part of a circus as an adult was impossible.
For me though, the best thing about the AYCO Festival is the new friends I made. They made everything fun! When we were in classes together we trained and created with each other; when we ate meals we talked about the way circus worked in our hometowns; when we watched each others’ performances we clapped as loud as we could for each other; and when we went back to the hotel to “sleep” we spent hours in the pool and chatting in the hallway between our rooms. On the last day of the festival we said goodbye again and again until our coaches had to drag us to our cars. We exchanged information so we could keep in touch, even though we live half a country away from each other. So, thank you to every single person I met for making the AYCO Festival awesome — and that includes every AYCO staff member and volunteer who made it possible! Your hard work and dedication to putting on a great festival made it possible for me to learn new tricks, discover circus around the US, and make new circus friends, all in just a few days! I miss you all, and I miss the AYCO festival. Until 2019 everybody!
What does the word diversity mean? And what does it have to do with circus? It turns out that both of these questions have multiple answers depending on who you ask! Here I have collected three examples of such diversity in the circus arts, one that explores diversity of the human body and how each individual is unique, one that focuses on the diversity of culture and background, and a last one which uses the profits of circus performances to address issues of diversity and acceptance.
Diverse City (http://www.diversecity.org.uk/)
This organization, from the UK, unites deaf, disabled, and non-disabled circus artists to perform together. In their show “Extraordinary Bodies”, the artists amaze their audience as they overcome barriers caused by their disabilities by working together. Furthermore, this organization provides training in the circus arts, especially to those that are challenged by a disability. Diverse City also holds workshops to teach leaders and managers of companies to be more aware of how they operate and how they could develop or foster a diverse environment.
Bibi and Bichu (https://www.bibiandbichu.com/)
Bibi and Bichu, two Ethiopian brothers, address diversity in the circus arts by looking at their background and the stories that shaped them. Since they were young, both had dreams to become circus performers one day, despite the lack of a circus tradition in Ethiopia. Through their performance of Circus Abyssinia, they tell their story – how they dreamed, and how they succeeded. Aware of the lack of a circus culture in Ethiopia, the two brothers now sponsor a circus school in the country, Circus Wingate, and regularly hold workshops to spread the arts of circus to the next generation.
Circus Oz (http://www.circusoz.com/)
This organization approaches diversity at yet another angle, using multiple circus-related events and opportunities as fundraisers to address social issues. Based in Melbourne, Australia, Circus Oz offers circus classes and performances to involve their community. Although some show content addresses social issues, most of their social activism is done through the money they raise, which is used to fund women’s refuges, welfare agencies, homeless shelters, victims of domestic violence, families living on housing commission estates, the Red Cross, the Royal Children’s Hospital, and Anglicare Kids in Crisis. Funds raised are also used for organizing and holding workshops at detention centres and helping refugees and asylum seekers.
For sure, there are many, many more circus organizations which reflect diversity. Diversity cannot be pinned to one definition. Neither can circus, an art that involves creativity and a divergence from the norm. Perhaps this is why they fit together so well! How does circus reflect diversity in your life?
When I was little I tried every sport. Ballet, soccer, swimming, sailing, track. All of them. Nothing really challenged me.
Then I stumbled across the circus. I fell in love with the music, the lights…and of course the applause. I became obsessed with the spinning rope act. I was so obsessed with the act that I trained and trained everyday doing pull ups, leg lifts and rope climbs. I trained until my hands were red and calloused, my legs bruised and the back of my knees raw. I trained for a year, until finally, I got to star in the act. The feeling was magical, I’ve been in the spinning rope act every year since.
Two years ago I became a Ringmistress. Between the demanding physical challenges and regularly speaking publicly in front of thousands upon thousands of people, circus has made me into the person who is unafraid of anyone or anything. At the age of 16, I am ready to take on the world. I am confident. I am strong. I am me. And I have dreams. Dreams of spinning on the rope under the big top, dreams filled with the applause and adoration and amazement of audiences.
But America’s largest circus has just closed its doors. What does that mean for the future of the circus? What does that mean for MY future in circus?
Circus is forever. Audiences change. The world changes. Circus adapts. In a world where our experiences are electronic, our friends are on social media and games are on screens instead of backyards, we need a more intimate kind of circus. One that offers realness. Where you can see artists muscles strain and their foreheads drip with sweat. One that offers real people doing incredible things. Just a few feet away.
That is me. That is us. We are the future of circus. We are Sailor Circus.
– Grace, age 16, from Sailor Circus (Sarasota, FL)
Ashley, 13, from California, loves circus because “It is a way for me to meet new friends. I have met so many friends that I know will always be part of my life in the past two years I have been in circus. Circus is also a way for me to concentrate on something other than schoolwork. It teaches me how to be part of a big group and how to work together, and I really love that.”
Cailey, 15, from Arizona, loves circus because “It is fun! Seriously, I love finding bruises, being sore and overall feeling myself improve. I also love the feeling of getting a hard trick after working on it diligently. Watching people’s reaction and seeing the look on their face when I tell them I fly and am an aerialist, that I am going to join the circus…I enjoy that. I love dancing in the air. I AM circus. I would love to share that and anything I learn about circus with others.”
Allie, 15, from New York, loves circus “For its physical, social, creative and service opportunities. I need physical activity, and there is no better study break than a few silks inverts. I love the friends I have made in circus and the occasional friends I see at AYCO or Bindlestiff events. It’s fun to connect with other circus-kids! Also, I have found circus adults to be really caring and always willing to give me advice on routines I am designing or my life in general. Designing my own silks, lyra, and duo-acro routines has been a learning experience that allows me to express creativity in how I combine moves to the music. And finally, circus has been a great way to give back. I love to give circus to younger kids and see their faces light up when they succeed at their first challenging move!
Mazie Jane, 13, from Colorado, loves circus because “When I joined the Salida Circus, I had no background experience in circus arts. Now, I have performed aerial silks and trapeze in numerous shows and at events all around Colorado. I love the circus because it is now a part of me that I feel was missing for years. I am simply lost without it!”
Zoe, 14, from Oregon, loves circus because “It gives me wings! Performing and training circus is a place I feel very at home. I love the feeling I get from learning new tricks, and being able to peice them together in a form of beautiful art. I feel like circus has very much filled a creative and artistic hole in my life that wasn’t filled before. I also love circus because it makes me feel confident and gives me chances to make new friends and circus family. Circus is the best self help that I could ask for, and every time I go back to it I get the same feeling as the first time.”
Emily, 16, from NJ, loves circus because “There is endless potential in circus and its foundation is in teamwork. If I have an idea for a new hand balancing trick, I can work on it until I get it, and then share it — where others will adapt it. In circus, you are always surrounded by people with unique perspectives, which is conducive to creativity and fun!”
Anna, 16, from New York, loves circus because “It is fun!! I have been unicycling since I was eight and I have been juggling too and I have enjoyed every moment of it. Circus does not require a specific skill level because there are so many things that you can do therefore circus is for everyone!!
The 2016 Hup Squad is so excited to bring you awesome new blog posts! Here they are, doing their favorite circus skills:
Isabella performing at Terhune Orchards, along with the rest of the Circus Place troupe. She is riding a giraffe unicycle while hula-hooping, two of her favorite circus skills!
more than 7 years now- about half of her life!!
Introducing the 2015 Hup Squad! These 7 teens come from all over the USA. They LOVE doing circus, and are looking forward to sharing their enthusiasm with you! To introduce themselves, they’re sharing photos of their favorite circus skill of the moment. (If you’d like to share yours too, email a photo of yourself doing your skill and a caption for the photo to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Alice: This is a picture from the Sailor Circus Academy Spring Production which ended a few weeks ago. This was my first year working with high-wire and it is without a doubt my new passion. In the picture, I was leading the classic 3 person pyramid with two of my wonderful teammates, Catherine Mitchell and Jacob Taylor. The photo is courtesy of James Cole.
Larkin: This is a picture of me doing a ‘straddle in the ropes’ on trapeze. I discovered and named this skill on my own.
Lola: My favorite circus skill is called a classic contortion handstand, but the simplest straight leg variation is my favorite and most consistent contortion skill. Go contortion!!!
Marzi: This photo is of me on the flying trapeze in late March, when I took my swing out of lines–ie, no safety harness–on my 16th birthday. Flying out of lines has been my dream for almost 5 years (technically more–I’ve been obsessed with flying trapeze since I was 7 or 8 but started training when I was 11) and I can’t believe it actually happened. It’s the most amazing feeling ever to be flying without a harness and I can’t wait to improve my skills so I can take more things out of lines!
Matthew: This photo was taken when I performed in the Coney Island Talent Show in Coney Island, NYC. I performed my ‘signature, award-winning’ juggling routine to hundreds of tourists and locals.
Jesse: Two hoops on each hand! Photo taken at Lone Star Circus production “Oh La La” by Julio Furlan.
Juniper: stiltwalking at STRUT!, an event in Madison WI.