Ways to develop good technique in the circus.

By Lyra Gross

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit,” – Deb Peters. When progressing in new circus acts, it can often feel burdensome to keep your toes pointed, or make sure your legs are straight. Over all, maintaining good technique is HARD and can be frustrating. To present your talents with competence you must develop good habits. This article will provide you with examples on how to develop clean skills and sequences as well as sustain your polished tricks for future needs.

Option 1, the physical approach: This strategy when learning new skills can be harsh but effective. The physical approach is when you temporarily force yourself to keep good form by creating physical drills and or obstacles. I, as an aerialist, personally found this option to be quite helpful when trying to keep my toes pointed. I was working on a new sequence, but no matter how hard I tried I would always sickle my toe when getting into a specific position. 

Therefore, I decided to google some tips! After a while of searching I discovered this girl who used toothpicks to keep her ankles in place. She would tape a toothpick to the side of her foot, causing her to feel a little prick every time she sickled. At first I thought it was quite a severe approach to the problem, but then, because I was desperate, I tried it. It worked spectacularly! I tried it once and after that I never had a problem with sickling my toe in that skill again. This tactic works well because it triggers a fear instinct in your brain, causing you to act quickly. This approach, although it isn’t for everyone, can give you fast and clean results.

Option 2, the visual approach: The next approach to be explained takes time and patience, but will give you helpful, long lasting results. The visual approach is when you either practice in front of a mirror, video yourself, or find another way to see yourself when you are training. This tends to be helpful when adjusting even the slightest details in acts or sequences. For example, I found this strategy useful when I was creating my hand balancing act. I had the strength and flexibility to create an act, but when it came to clean transitions I wasn’t sure where to start. It might come as a surprise to you, but it’s very hard to know how you look when you’re upside down and your legs are above your head. I was stumped, so once again I decided to google some tips! I was scrolling for ideas but nothing I found seemed to help me. I then realized from watching videos, that videotaping myself might be a solution. I tried it and after a week’s worth of practice I had a clean, fully developed hand balancing act! This circus tip takes time, but it will overall help you not only make your sequences look better, but also help you develop your own style when creating an act.

Option 3, the social approach: This process is a difficult habit to start, but is consistent, easy, and will help you gain better performing and physical skills. The social approach is all about finding the right people and environment to train in. This strategy truly varies depending on what type of person you are. I find that training with people more advanced helps me stay motivated.This is because I work well under pressure and function better when I’m trying to catch up to everyone else.  Meanwhile, a friend of mine feels more comfortable and willing to train when he’s with less advanced people. This is because he feels more confident in this type of environment, causing him to work harder to create a good example for others. Therefore I advise you to really branch out with this strategy and try training with a wide variety of people. See what works for you!

Remember, I’m basing these techniques off of my own experiences, but my story is not the only one. Feel free to use these concepts and make them your own! Experiment and enjoy the learning process! I hope you found this article intriguing and helpful.

AYCO Board Member Interview: Kristina Wicke

Interview by Revely Rothschild

Board member Kristina Wicke has long been a part of what she describes as “circus and circus-adjacent” communities. Involved with school plays and theater productions since elementary school, she later studied theater at the University of Dallas. At school, she felt a strong connection to the theater and performing arts community– “I found my people there, and I just kept finding them,” she recalls. Kristina also remembers that “performance was fun, being onstage was fun, but it wasn’t what made [her] tick, and that [she] was much happier supporting other people in pursuit of their performance.” 

Called to work behind the scenes, Kristina graduated with a degree in Drama and took a stage management internship at the Seattle Repertory Theater. There, she met the Flying Karamazov Brothers–a traveling troupe of “essentially jugglers, but vaudevillians at the same time.” They combined comedy, theatrics, and juggling to “upend traditional theater and add something interesting,” and Kristina, drawn to this innovative approach, took a position as the touring stage manager for the Karamazov Brothers! She recollects producing incredible shows– including a Carnegie Hall combination of juggling, vaudeville, and symphony orchestra– that she can only describe as “whoa, mind blown– incredible.” After touring for several years, Kristina continued to work in production in the Seattle theatre community and in New York. 

Though Kristina’s work covers a wide variety of performance art styles, she finds that she is drawn to her work because of several common themes that all performances share– collaboration, community, support, and accountability. She loves “finding the right combination of people and trying to fit them together in a way that makes the sum bigger than the parts of the whole” and recalls that “what I found when I stayed open to just finding my people, and when [those relationships] were reciprocal… that’s when there’s an opportunity for transformation in your life.” 

Across all of Kristina’s successes in the world of stage management, she has seen a prevailing theme that success is built on strong communities. Even now, as Kristina is getting her masters in Education, she finds an interconnectedness between stage management, teaching, and community. All of them, she explained, rely heavily on the idea that “community=support+accountability.” As she studies how to teach, she is simultaneously exploring “what it means to be accountable [to a boss], and at the same time looking at [the question of]  ‘what responsibilities do we have to take care of the people who are in our care?’” She believes that in both performance arts and education, it is incredibly important to value people for both how you can teach them, and for what you can learn from them in return. From the theater to the classroom, mutual respect, curiosity, and support drive Kristina to truly facilitate community–and the magic that comes with it.

Conversations with LGBTQ+ Circus Folks

Part 2, by Stacy Gubar

I had the pleasure of interviewing Oriana from the Wise Fool New Mexico circus program in New Mexico about the experience of an LGBTQIA+ circus enthusiast. The following is an excerpt from that informative conversation. 

What part of the LGBTQIA+ acronym do you identify with

Queer works best for me because it is the most accurate way to describe my gender expansive, nonbinary, and genderfluid identity. 

What are the pronouns you use?

I use any and all pronouns, but I prefer my name. 

How has that affected your circus endeavors? 

I am part of an organization founded by people who identified as queer, so being queer  has not affected me in circus much because I have been very well received. 

Have you found your specific circus studio to be an accepting environment?

Wise Fool New Mexico was founded by queer individuals, and has been very accepting of the LGBTQIA+ community since its founding days, so I have felt accepted as well. Wise Fools is often the model for other circus groups including AYCO and ACE when it comes to diversity, acceptance, and progress. 

Have you found the circus community as a whole to be an accepting environment? 

I have found that me identifying as queer does not come into play much in the broad circus community. Any discrimination I have faced has been more for race than gender identity. 

Do you know any other circus enthusiasts who align themselves with the LGBTQIA+ community?

The presence or lack of LGBTQIA+ circus members varies based on circumstance and location. Select circus groups do have members who identify with the LGBTQIA+ community, but when considering circus as a whole I feel it is not very common or widespread. 

Have you participated in/do you know of LGBTQIA+ support groups within the circus community?

My studio offers an intensive for women and transgender and nonbinary individuals called BUST! which offers workshops to address LGBTQIA+ social issues. AYCO and ACE also offer classes at conferences that inform those who take them about LGBTQIA+ issues within and beyond the circus. 

Do you feel the geographical location of your circus studio affects how people at the studio view the LGBTQIA+ community? 

Absolutely! Santa Fe, New Mexico is very progressive when it comes to gay rights, so people are more accepting of others being unapologetically themselves. Even the last mayor was gay and no one treated it as out of the ordinary. However, Tennessee, where I used to live, was much more conservative and less accepting, so the circus programs in that area and other parts of the South are less accepting than Wise Fools. 

What is some advice or encouragement you would like to share with other LGBTQIA+ circus enthusiasts? 

Find a community if you don’t have it because a support system is very important. When you fall into feeling alone, a community, or even one person, there to support you can mean the world. It is not always easy to be unapologetically yourself, but that is what moves the world and creates growth.

Anything else you would like to share?

It is very important for people to understand that these pieces of identity must be respected, but it is also important to be conscious of the fact that the person comes before the set label. Nobody is just one label, so be careful to maintain the human aspect of the individual rather than letting the label overtake the complex identity. 

The Media Behind the MainStage

By Tessa Wallington

The phrase social media may be a little different for everyone, but we all know that today, it’s the leading source of the spread of information. Whether it’s a cat meme on Instagram, or a breaking news story on twitter, we rapidly spread information through our social networking pages. Luckily enough for the circus community, social media has increased the knowledge of the art dramatically. Circus has been around a whole lot longer than social media, but not everyone was aware of the modern practice of aerial arts and acrobatics before the convenience and ease of socials. The dramatic rise in TikTok challenges, Instagram reels, and snapchat spotlight stories allows for people to spread their work at a dramatic rate. Modern circus and traditional circus are very different, and one of the large differences may be that modern circus relies heavily on social media. The last twenty years there has seen a large increase in awareness of the circus community, and the access to which beginners can get involved in recreational circus. Hashtags such as “circuseverydamnday” have become a universal bond that brings posts from across the world together into one explore page. The rapid increase of posting of new tricks or upcoming circus festivals has also created a stronger bond within the circus community. It is easier to connect with people who live far away, with the modern forms of social media. The social network phenomenon has changed a lot of things this past decade, and one of the most unexpected may be the new light being shined on the art of circus. As always, follow the American Youth Circus Organization on social networks.

Almost Showtime

We’re gearing up to premiere this awesome blog. Just like this young artist getting ready for the 2014 AYCO Chicago Contemporary Circus Showcase, pictured above.