Wednesday, 30 September 2015

YouTube Circus Video of the Month - September

Aaaand by the skin of my teeth once again, I hereby present to you another monthly YouTube circusy beaut!

I've been incredibly distracted this month by, among other things, a new job (hurrah!). This has meant some terrible blog neglect but I have in fact started back at the NCCA and am trapeze-ing and conditioning with utmost dedication. I can't say that my love for trapeze has returned to full bloom quite yet, but I am back in the zone, so here is some trapeze goodness for your delectation:

I love the old-time look of this video and the fact it's a bit more fun and fast-moving than many. Despite a slight drop in my enthusiasm (don't get me wrong, I still love it, just not quite as mouth-foaming obsessive as previously), this makes me wanna get on a trapeze and improve my skills STAT! She also incorporates some moves that I am working on right now which increases my respect ten-fold, since I now know that they are basically impossible but she just casually throws them in. 

One day, dammit, ONE DAY!!

Monday, 31 August 2015

Circus Video of the Month - August

Continuing on with the theme of the last post, I here present to you an excellent, entertaining and motivational video of some Ferociously Strong Women!

(Ok, I know strictly speaking this isn't actually 'circus', but there's a fair bit of transferrable skills going on here, no?)

I can't really emphasize enough how much I want to be this strong.

I need to find me a pull-up bar to dangle pathetically off...preferably one that doesn't have lots of scary guys crouched around it, flexing... hmmm. In the meantime I be workin' on ma press-ups uh-huh. (My press-ups are currently shit, I have discovered, after watching some tutorials on how to do them properly)

Please note: my only contact with 'circus skills' over the last 6 weeks has been an occasional conditioning/rope class at Crossfit London. I fear this may be what is leading me into the slightly meatheadish muscle-loving territory evidenced by this being my video of the month. I bloody love that class though - the teacher is great, and because it's Crossfit there's a lot of verbal encouragement that you don't really get at circus places where everyone is way too cool for that kind of thing. I'm not sure how I will cope when I go back to NCCA and no-one is shouting 'NICE, Felicity, YES! One more, come on! THAT's IT! High five!!'

Ah Crossfit, who knew you could make a dyed-in-the-wool, book-reading, crocheting, tree-hugging, hippified nerd like me want to be a muscle head eh?!

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

La Buffness

Like many humans of the Western female persuasion, I have spent a fair bit of my life attempting to be very slim. It's always seemed a fairly obvious goal to have and in theory not unattainable, since (although I eat like a horse and have a weakness for stodge) I mostly enjoy healthy food, walk everywhere, and am genetically inclined away from obesity. I'm no chubber, but the 'ideal' size and weight has always just been slightly down the road a stretch - there's always seemed a lot of room to be skinnier and smaller, even when I've been at my skinniest and smallest. And somehow I've never questioned whether I should want that or not, or what the implications could be.

But...why should women all want to be physically less? So they can look extra weak and in need of protection at all times? So they can take up less of the precious space that men should rightfully occupy, with their own societally imposed ideal of being Bigger and Stronger? Hmmm. My strident feminist side isn't too keen on either of those ideas.

Im not saying that I'm pro-fat. I am still the product of my own society after all; I spent way too many years (age 11 to age 30 to be precise) devouring fashion magazines to be that mentally liberated. And to be frank, I don't think getting fatter would help me be healthier, feel more energetic or improve my aerial skills, all of which are dear to my heart. But I've decided that I am pro-lady muscles. Not quite world champion body-builder lady muscles, since I find that kind of thing a bit creepy on both sexes, but just some high-standard female buffness.

Maybe this is an inevitable result of doing a bit of aerial conditioning and being obsessed with an activity that requires a fair bit of strength, but I have suddenly become very excited about the idea of being SUPER RIPPED.

This is where I'm at right now:

As you can see, I have... can we just say, a little way to go? before I can lay claim to anything approaching buff. But it's definitely the new goal that I am using to barge the 'get smaller' mindset out of the way. 'Get bigger' feels like a much more satisfying aim to me. Why shouldn't I look like I can handle myself in an arm wrestling contest/move my own furniture/rip your head off with my bare hands? Why shouldn't I take up a bit more space as I move through this world of ours? And - bonus!- this goal will allow me to actually enjoy food rather than increasing the background rumble of guilt that has dogged many a meal (cake binge) of mine over the years.

You never know, maybe one day I will reach the dizzying heights of this CRAZY girl, holy crap she's amazing:

Friday, 31 July 2015

Circus Video of the Month - July

Phew, just in time!

This month's video is in celebration of my decision to sign up for Level 2 Static Trapeze at NCCA starting in September - YES I got on the course this time! Pretty sure I was the first one through on the phone lines the second they opened, thats how determined I was not to have a repeat of last time's fiasco.

In the last few months I have dabbled with a lot of different classes and its been tempting to carry on with the pick n mix style fun i'm having, but I realised that if I didnt carry through my original plan to learn static at NCCA I would always wonder if it would have been better. Or if I would have been better because of it.

So here we have an appropriately static trap-focussed video. I mainly like it cause its unbelievably cute. This guy is like some kind of flexible baby deer rolling around the trapeze in cosy pajamas. (I mean he's also really good, but thats a given).

Here's to static trapeze!

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Circus Video of the Month - June

I have recently become intrigued by the discipline of Aerial Straps, which seems to kind of combine the best of all the aerials. It also looks the most like flying and a whole lot of airy fun, I want to try it so bad! They don't really do adult amateur classes in straps though, presumably because you have to be SUPER HARDCORE to even attempt it for the first time, *sigh*. Maybe one day...

So I've been watching a few videos of these insanely strong straps people and thought this one was definitely worth sharing. There are some performance videos on this guy's YouTube channel as well, but I've decided I much prefer the videos of people practising.  I read this E.B. White quote in a book a while back and it's stuck in my head - so true!
'The circus is at its best before it has been put together... Under the bright lights of the finished show, a performer need only reflect the electric candle power that is directed upon him; but in the dark and dirty old training rings and in the make-shift cages, whatever light is generated, whatever excitement, whatever beauty, must come from original sources - from internal fires of professional hunger and delight, from the exuberance and gravity of youth. It is the difference between planetary light and the combustion of stars.'
Anyway, here we are, some nice dreamy viewing for a Sunday afternoon:

Monday, 15 June 2015

All the Hoop-La!

Right then, time for an update on my personal aerial progress. I may have been rubbish at keeping this as an online diary, but I have been going to class, I promise!

Over the last 6 weeks things have settled into a nice routine of 1 x hoop class, 1 x dance class and 1-2 x yoga classes per week.  I feel like by rights this should be making some kind of amazing difference to my physique, but in actual fact my body has seamlessly assimilated the new regime into it's usual inflexible, puny and flabby state of being. There has been basically no change, grrr. I need to do more, moooooore...

Having said that though, some exciting (for me) landmarks have been reached / passed:

1.  I can now successfully do around 5 press ups in a row, OH YEAH. That may sound utterly shit, but I have never been able to do those bastards and now that I can I feel mighty. Bring on the giant upper arms!

2. I can (mostly accurately) follow a very slow, very easy, sequence of dance choreography. I still look ridiculous doing it but at least I'm not bumping into the people around me or weeping with humiliation.

3. In contrast to past times, I can still manage to get up onto the damn hoop by the end of the class when my muscles are tired. This comes in pretty handy.

4. This one week, I successfully managed to do a pike roll!! Click here to see a pike roll.

So apart from these exciting, if tiny, improvements, what are the main differences between what now and the old times at NCCA? 

Well the most glaring difference is the equipment, I suppose, being that I'm learning hoop rather than trapeze et al. That's AERIAL hoop, by the way, NOT HULA hoop as everyone seems to assume. (Pff! is all I have to say to that). If you're still confused, this should help clarify things:

(please note, this is just to show the beauty that's possible on the aerial breed of hoop. This guy is amazing and has probably been practicing daily since birth. What I am able to do looks nothing like this)

Another difference is that the atmosphere at the current place is much less 'herd the large groups of students around the P.E. hall shouting instructions' and much more 'hey 3-4 people whose names I know, let's hang out and do some aerial shit'. Which is a long way to say, it's smaller and friendlier. This is nice and helps counteract the fact that it's a drop-in class with mostly non-regular attendees (as mentioned previously).

And a final difference is that it's mixed level. As also mentioned in past posts, this combined with the drop-in factor means that there is a much less obvious line of progression and I'm not going to lie, it is a little bit frustrating.  I want to see clear results dammit! I want to keep doing the same moves week after week until I get them or kill myself trying! I'm having fun in these classes, I'm getting stronger and I am obviously still learning moves, but we often cover completely different things each week. Quite frankly I generally make a pig's ear of all of them and then forget them completely. Booo.

The other aspect of the mixed-level-ness is that I'm learning with people who are a lot, lot better than me. To give you an idea, the last three classes I've been to have also been attended by this girl (who whilst ridiculously nice and modest, is just so clearly in a entirely different world of skill):

This has it's advantages in that I can see others doing things well and try to copy them, and also be inspired/entertained. But it also has some disadvantages, in that it's kind of demoralising to see everyone else effortlessly gliding through things, while you're falling on your head about 60% of the time, and being caught by the teacher the other 40%. It's mostly meant that, despite the best efforts of the teachers (who have been at least as good, if not better, than the ones at NCCA - I'm not criticising them at all) to include something for everyone, the moves have often been pitched at a much higher level than I'm at, so there has been a lot of failure.  AND WE ALL KNOW HOW I FEEL ABOUT FAILURE.

Given this, I'm thinking of making some kind of radical overhaul to my learning strategy: streamlining, economising, obtaining some way of measuring my progress etc. Watch this space...

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Circus Video of the Month - May

This month's video is something different again - nothing to do with aerial, not really amateur and, being a Broadway thing, more of a commercial style than I would normally enjoy, BUT.  It's been compulsive repeat viewing for me and is kind of amazing, so I figured why not share it?

I think hand-to-hand acrobatics is my all-time favourite thing to watch. Following my enamorment with Stateless, I went to see A Simple Space a few weeks ago and absolutely loved that too (so clever). Sadly I think it's probably also the thing I am most unsuited to doing myself, since the few gymnastics classes I've taken just felt terribly hard and uncomfortable. Have I mentioned my extreme galumphing-ness and lack of flexibility? Humbug. I'm still holding out hope that handstand stuff could be a possibility for me though - next on my list to try!

Anyway, so the video. These guys are Charlotte O'Sullivan and Nicolas Jelmoni, from the cast of Pippin the Musical, a Broadway show that combines musical with circus. Their act is some kind of magical fluid blend of dance and acrobatics that does funny things to my insides (errm, it might be that feeling known as 'jealousy' acidically melting my guts). I feel like I may be overusing this word in my description of circus acts, but well, it's beautiful! Check it out:

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Bitten and Bruised


I've been chatting to a few other aerial class attendees over the past few weeks and am reassured to find that I'm not the only person the circus lion has taken in his hot, obsessive jaws.  I've discovered at least two others who are as addicted as me, or more - one of whom is signed up for four classes a week and the other who is doing an intensive course. My new enabler, Gravity Circus, do an incredibly tempting-sounding 'prep' course, which entails six weeks of 13 hours training per week (all in the evenings and weekends so that normal working mortals can join), covering rope, conditioning, silks, stretches, hoop, pilates, handstand and tumbling. It costs £800, which is quite an investment, so I'm pretty sure anyone who does this course has it REAL bad for circus skills.

The girl I spoke to said she'd already been doing aerial for about a year and a half, and has no designs on becoming a professional or anything, she just loves it so much she wanted to do the prep deal.  YES, I feel you lady! Apart from the whole £800 bit. Maybe if I miraculously win the lottery... She also told me that when she first started learning she did a few different taster classes and realised that strength was the key to getting anywhere, no matter which piece of equipment you go with, so she literally just did aerial conditioning (strength development exercises) and nothing else for the first 6 months. Now that is hardcore dedication! I am inspired. Although I don't think I can handle just conditioning alone - there has to be some fun in there somewhere for me - those kinds of classes are a bit cheaper, so mixing some in could be good.

...and Bruised 

This here is a v bad quality photo of my very own personal post-rope-class leg.  The bruises looked way more dramatic in real life I swear.

I've also found myself pondering the pain aspect of learning aerial and/or acrobatics a lot recently, mostly because, well OWW, hurting myself on a regular basis!  It is really quite hard on your body, at least when you're crap at it (my theory is that the better you get, the less you hurt yourself in a muscle pain, bruisey-burny way, but the more likely you are to have a big injury like breaking a bone). When I creak around the office unable to lift my arms, or show people the giant bruises on the my legs, they are mostly appalled and baffled as to why I would want to do this to myself*.  In the classes themselves, also, there is a fair bit of 'oww'ing and complaining about how much certain things hurt. Yet this is an integral, predictable part of learning pretty much every discipline I've tried, and anyone who's done more than one class knows it.

So why do we keep coming back for more? Well, apart from all the obvious and wonderful benefits of aerial which I have blathered on about it in past posts, I think there's also a big element of testing your limits, seeing how far you can push your body, how much you can take before you give up.  This is actually inherent in the learning process. For example, getting to the point where you can happily hang from equipment by the back of one knee, or your heels, your toes, etc. involves spending as long as you can in each position before the pain gets too much, i.e. hanging for 10 seconds each class, then 15, then 20. It hurts, yeah, but it's also kind of... interesting? Like a scientific experiment with pain.

I also think there's a weird kind of enjoyment in seeing the evidence of your labour and hardship displayed on your body, like battle scars I guess. I'm not quite sure of the psychology behind this, but I've never met anyone who can resist showing people when they've sustained some kind of injury, whether its a crazy rainbow bruise or a giant wound. And so it is with circus bruises - there's even a Twitter handle: @circushurts and hashtag (#circushurts), to satisfy this very need!

Lastly, and this is possibly more controversial, I do slightly wonder whether there's a hint of masochism going on?  It's kind of taking pleasure in pain after all.  If you don't enjoy pain even a tiny bit, then going to classes which involve systematically hurting yourself probably isn't going to be for you.  So by that logic, does that mean all aerial fanatics are masochists? Hmmm, might need to think about that one for a bit longer...

* This is a partial truth - their actual reaction is usually more along the lines of 'MM-HMM, yes MORE bruises Felicity, yaawwwwn'

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Back On The Old Equine Beast

Borrowed from
If you've been following closely you'll remember that at the end of last month I was all fired up about aerial rope and in a quandry over whether to carry on with that, or stick to my 'first love' of static trapeze. Well! As it turns out, THAT was a big fat waste of brain space, since on the day the classes went on sale I spent 45 minutes trying to get through to the National Centre for Circus Arts on the phone, only to be told all the places on Aerial 2 were sold out.

No static trapeze OR rope for me then.

F*$%ing Sh*&ting B*&%$cks!!

To say I was disappointed is a radical understatement, possibly showing that I have far too much tied up with this whole circus skills business, but also testament to the fact that the classes at NCCA are just really good.  Because they are grouped by skill level and have a progressive nature, it means you get (in theory anyway) teaching tailored to your ability and a feeling of personal development. Plus, because you have to sign up for a whole term at once, people on the courses are more committed and come back every week, which makes it feel consistent.  This is quite comforting and slightly 'sense-of-community building' in a city where everyone is in a big transient, unreliable state of flow.

London is just ridiculous. There is literally frenzied competition for everything, even things that involve you spending lots of money on the relatively inessential. It is also really difficult to achieve a feeling of stability - at least as an incomer - because of the constant changeability and lack of commitment.  Everyone and everything is available, but everyone and everything is replaceable. You can escape anything you don't like, the second it becomes tiresome, and never think about it again - but equally, the smallest eddy of the city's current can just wash away part of your life that you were really enjoying.

Aww look at it though, it's kinda lovely no? This was the view from Cambridge Heath train station a few nights ago...
There are times when I absolutely hate London and can't think what the hell I'm doing here (especially when looking for a reasonably priced, non-horrific, new place to live, which I have been doing unsuccessfully for the last month) yet somehow I can't quite process the thought of leaving now either. Crap.

I'll be clinging on for a bit then.

And (having grumbled bitterly into my beard, licked my wounds, and sulked in my room for a few weeks) switching my god damn circus class loyalty to Gravity Circus in Leyton, where I have started doing Aerial Hoop. Raarrrrgh! YOU CAN'T KILL MY OBSESSION THAT EASILY.  Not quite the same as doing Aerial 2 at NCCA, since the classes are drop-in and even the teacher just temporary cover, but hopefully achieving a similar effect - at the moment mostly hand blisters and copious bruising.

Yup, if you've been refused the chance to pay large amounts of money to experience pain and intense physical challenge in one place in London, there'll always be another where you can! And that's why I love it.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Circus Video of the Month - April

Please excuse the long month's hiatus on here. Rain stopped play for a bit - by which I mean I was distracted by a little personal life melodrama, and deflated by a touch of circus-related disappointment (of which more later) - BUT I'm about ready to get back on the blogging horse...

... starting with this beauty of a YouTube item!

For some reason, of all the circus styles that have jumbled their way through my mind's eye since this obsession began, none have included a troubadour-ish, Shakespearean, rose-twined production such as this one seems to have been. But thinking about it, it's actually kind of obvious.  Surely that's where various elements of circus would have originated, in the traveling acrobats and jugglers of ye olden dayes etc.? I should probably brush up on my history.

'Delicately-lit' and 'peachy' are not qualities I would have previously associated with a rope act or hand-to-hand acrobatics, but here they undeniably are. And romping around to the ghostly, lilting accompaniment of a live Marika Hackman no less. I bet this was AMAZING to watch, wish I had been there at the actual performance.

Repeatedly allowing myself to be mesmerised into a midsummer night's village green dream by the video, though - nice work Mad Adam, the maker - is better than nothing. And it's about 50% of what's got me through the last few weeks of upheaval and upset, so thanks Marika and Tangerino (who appear to be NCCA degree students in their 3rd year, the lucky lucky talented bastards)!

Also, if this isn't an advert for being an alabaster-skinned English rose type then I don't know what is. IN YOUR FACE fake tan purveyors.

Go, go, feast your eyes and ears:

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Circus Video of the Month - March

'When we watch another human being making a movement, whether it is sticking out a tongue, carrying packages, swerving, dancing, eating or clapping their hands, our neurons fire in the same way, as if we ourselves were making the movement.'
'The brain has a built-in empathic and mimicking capacity. It translates what is seen through the eyes into the equivalent of doing and is structured to absorb and prepare itself for what we may not yet have mastered.' 
Susie Orbach

 I came across this quote the other day and am taking it to mean that watching hours and hours of YouTube videos of OTHER PEOPLE doing circus skills, is entirely constructive and useful.

Thanks Susie!

P.S. this video is insane, and is making me want to take rope next term.  I am so confused right now.

Rope or trapeze?


If anyone has any opinion at all on this, please let me know.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Inspiration, Perspiration and Concentration

It's fair to say that the last couple of weeks have been a bit of a challenge in terms of my personal circus skills development. While I've been getting on nicely with the supporting classes I'm doing (flexibility and yoga, plus dabbling with odd bits of ballet and gymnastics for geriatric hephalump dummies), the actual skills classes have not gone so well...

My final flying trapeze class was awful, involving a complete lack of motivation on my part, and doing terribe clingy, jerky take-offs that were worse than my first attempts and which practically wrenched the poor pectoral muscles out of my body.  To round things off nicely, at the end of the class the teacher informed me that I was not good enough to be signed-off for level 2 (at the end of each block of classes, they assesses whether you will be able to progress to the next level with that piece of equipment, should you so choose). I already knew that I don't want to take flying trapeze next term, but it still did NOT feel good to know that I had failed it, wah! I would be lying if I said this didn't put a dent in my rabid aerial enthusiasm.

I am not someone who deals well with failure.  My usual method of coping with even the risk of failing at something is to avoid it at all costs and stick to what I'm good at, or can learn quickly. So in actual fact, this experience was an excellent lesson for me in humility and acceptance. So I'm a bit rubbish at flying trapeze? Whatever. At least I had a go right? And if I really loved it I would just pay another £250 and repeat the course until I was good enough for level 2.  After a few hours of grumpy moping, I realised this and moved on (ish).

That class was also an excellent lesson in how much learning something, at least with physical-skill stuff, is about mental attitude.  I arrived not feeling very energetic or motivated, and instead of bucking myself up and going for it anyway, I gave in to the inclination to be a lame-ass. I had the thought lurking at the back of my mind 'well, I don't want to do this next term anyway, so who cares if I improve this week' and it really showed in my attitude, my body and each little aspect of what I was doing. Clinging to the platform with my toes, not concentrating or getting into the rhythm of the swings properly and dismounting like a jellyfish.  I knew it, and the teacher could see it too - hence the big fat fail.

This week we moved on to Rope, much to my relief. However that session didn't go 100% smoothly either! It wasn't an unmitigated disaster (I managed to execute some clumsy basic climbs and foot wraps), but the rope is quite a harsh piece of equipment, involving a lot of burn/bruising risk and - well, basically you really need to be s.t.r.o.n.g. to do it well. This made everything feel hard and intimidating.

Luckily we have a really nice teacher for this piece of equipment, one who started the class by telling us not to compare ourselves negatively to other people in the group, as everyone is different and learns at their own speed. We should each just try to improve from our own starting points over the 4 weeks. I tried to bear this in mind as I repeatedly failed to achieve what I believe is a hiplock from scissors (I didn't really take this in during the class as my brain was just going 'Arrrrghghghghgh?!?!?!?') while the annoyingly high muscle-to-fat ratio guys in the class got it straight away. Bah humbug.

The move is demonstrated expertly here by this guy who TAUGHT HIMSELF to do it, holy crap.


I came away from the session feeling slightly defeated and starting to wonder whether I should even bother finishing the course, or if Rope is just too much of a pointless mountain to climb (seeing as I always intended to do static trapeze next term anyway). But that's just too depressing - such a mindset cannot be allowed to continue!

Remember the old '1% inspiration, 99% perspiration' adage? Well I know the idea of that is to encourage people to put a bit more elbow grease into things, but actually I think I've been getting too bogged down in the perspiration bit and was in need of a bit more of the inspiration (is it really only supposed to be 1%?).  I have spent the last few days happily burrowing my way down a new YouTube rabbit hole full of people doing amazing things on ropes.  There's TONS of good videos, one of them will definitely be video of the month for March.

The result of this has been a big surge of motivation to keep trying on Rope, and actually to also keep an open mind about what I will continue with after Easter.  Even if I'm not a natural at it, I'm sure if go in with a good attitude next week and try to focus a bit more instead of letting my mind spin off into a wild panic of incomprehension, I can improve at least a little bit. Burning new neural pathways and all that (thanks militant teacher from January!). If I can get that blummin scissor hiplock thing down by the end of term I will judge myself to have succeeded, RRARRGH. And even if I don't,  at the very least I'm building upper body strength, which basically helps with everything.

There will be no giving up, not on my watch dammit!

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Circus Video of the Month - February

Something a little bit different this month! I have been watching all the circus documentaries I can find for free online (which, although there are tons that you have to pay for, isn't actually that many, booooo. I'm waiting on tenterhooks for 'Grazing the Sky' to go on sale...) and this is hands down the best.

It's an Al Jazeera feature from 2012, about a circus enterprise in Morocco called Cirque Shems'y. Cirque Shems'y started out as a social circus project for disadvantaged kids, but then became the first national circus in Morocco.

It's definitely worth taking 25 minutes out of your day to watch this, for the following reasons:

  • It's aesthetically very enjoyable! The contrast between the shots of sweltering, arid Morroccan scenery, deprived areas of town, etc. and the energy and design of the acts / show makes for a really striking effect.
  • Every single person in it has passion and love shining out of them.
  • There's no pretension, just genuine excitement to be part of something and to be creating something new, as well as having the chance to do what they love and transcending the problems that they had in their lives before.
  • It shows the director massively losing his shit somewhere in the middle, which makes it clear how much he cares about the show (it's very endearing) and creates some nice narrative tension, meaning that you can share in a bit of the pleasure when the show goes well.
  • The live band which accompanies the performance at the end.  Not only do they play beautiful music, they also just look BRILLIANT. I want to join them!
  • The soundbites from the performers (see below)


One of the best things about it is the way you see the radiant positivity of the performers transferred to the members of the audience who are interviewed after they watch the show.  This feels really important to me - maybe it's the point of spending all those hours honing and creating something amazing? Communicating a part of your passion and inspiration to other people, who maybe aren't able to spend the time connecting with those things through physical training, but can benefit from sharing them nonetheless?   

The aspect of this video that really stayed with me, though, are some of the things the performers say near the end:

'when you are onstage, you feel a sense of real joy. You have to really concentrate and you get a really nice feeling...'

'When we're in this ordinary everyday world, we feel ordinary. But when I'm in the circus and I'm up in the air doing a sequence I know really well, I have a feeling of lightness... like a dove flying free.  I feel really free.'

'When I get on stage, it's just like I'm dreaming. I forget everything in my head, everything vanishes. I'm not there, my body is just doing things unconsciously.'

I think this really helps explain why learning circus skills can have such a strong effect on people.  The words 'freedom' and 'joy' come up again and again in talk about the experience of doing things like aerial and acrobatics.  And the idea of concentration and forgetting yourself fits exactly with the whole theory of 'flow' - the younger boy in the film even uses that very word: 'I just flow with the show, flow and flow...til I feel it's over.'  You've probably encountered it before, but basically 'flow' is the mental state that is supposed to occur when someone is immersed in an activity which is neither too difficult or too easy, but is perfectly pitched to their abilities with clear, achievable goals. When you are in flow, you are so absorbed in what you're doing that you lose all sense of time, or yourself, and your emotions are spontaneously positive and energised.  Flow is pretty much the key to happiness - if you believe what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says anyway (I think I do). 

This all may be particularly interesting to me because I'm so into the idea of the 'benefits' of doing circus (and because I have a bit of an unrequited desire to visit Morocco), but I really think this is an excellent piece of human interest documentary.  Hopefully you do too!

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Trapeze: Cornucopia of Goodness

Human in graceful flight (pic found on Pinterest, not sure who to credit!)
It's been half-term at the NCCA this week, which means no classes, and although I've tried to substitute mine with another beginners ballet class and an aerial conditioning/rope class somewhere else (rope = fun, who knew!) I have definitely missed my weekly trapeze fix.  Which has made me wonder why it is that I love it so much, even though I'm a complete novice. What is it exactly that makes messing about on a bar and some ropes so appealing?

I guess the most obvious things are the usual endorphins you get from exercising, and the feeling of connecting back into your body, of using it properly, after a long day hunched over a computer. But it can't be just those things, because you can get them from any old sport right? Including running (not for me, thanks), ball sports (are you insane?) and swimming (oh dear god, no!).

I was thinking maybe it's the added 'artistic' factor. You know, that there's a bit more style and beauty about trapezing than, say, athletics or netball. But that's equally true of dance, and although I feel there's potential for me to grow to enjoy dance classes, I haven't immediately fallen in love with them the way I did with trapeze.

No, aerial classes give me so much more.

First there's the pleasantly light-hearted experience of learning a new skill in a positive, non-competitive atmosphere where repeated failure and looking silly is totally acceptable because everyone is in the same boat. Turning upside down with your bum in the air and twisting/swinging your body into new shapes is something its impossible not to look silly doing - most people up laughing at themselves and everyone else.  Then bit by bit, move by move, this becomes a triumphant feeling of achievement and pride as you start to master some of the tasks and techniques, along with feeling genuinely happy for others who are also succeeding, because you understand.

As well as gradually getting physically stronger, more capable, and achieving things you didn't think you would be able to, with aerial skills you get the added frisson of being a bit daring. Of doing things that take a little courage and grit, and the ability to deal with pain. Personally I love this, even if it's not a completely accurate view of myself just yet! I have spent much of my life being geeky, non-sporty and utterly impractical, but building up my aerial skills makes me feel like I'm giving those bitchy, sadistic hockey girls from school the middle finger.  F**k you I'M PROPER HARD and stuff me now, haha. I mean this symbolically obviously.

(Why is it your school experiences stay with you for basically ever?  I'm 33 for goodness sake, but I still remember certain PE lessons at school in great detail *shudder*)

Freedom (pic from
But apart from all this constructive physical stuff, trapeze especially is just good for your soul, I think. The sensation of flying, or being uplifted - even just by being up high on the equipment - is something that fufills some funny human need.  I'm sure there's all sorts of literature about the human desire to fly, but I don't need to read it to know that it's a thing - at least for me.  Who doesn't see birds soaring up into the sky and wish they could do the same?  It looks like freedom.  It looks like joy. Trapeze gives you a taste of this freedom from the weight of gravity (don't worry, I'm not about to break into song), and it also gives you a taste of a greater freedom of movement in your body, because training increases your strength and flexibility.

It's lovely.  Even watching someone else do it is fabulous.

It's not just me that's noticed the mood-enhancing qualities of trapeze either.  I had a little Google time and found a few other people espousing the benefits. Most noteably there's a lady called Jo Rixom who has run a project with My Aerial Home in south London, looking at the effect of trapeze lessons on women with depression. I was not at all surprised to learn that the results were definitively positive. This story was picked up by the Guardian and the BBC last year and subsequently all over the place, yet somehow I missed it!

Quite a few things in the articles chimed with me, but I particularly liked the quote from a participant that 'trapeze is symbolic of things out of reach and you find your way to get up... to turn your body upside-down was extraordinary, as an adult shifting your whole perspective physically moved things'. Read all about it here, or watch the BBC video. Jo Rixom had an academic article published about the project too - nice work lady!

I also found a great blog post, which is along similar lines to this one, but way funnier:

Despite these bits and bobs, and the handful of articles about social circus, I get the feeling that there's potential for more research in this area. Maybe it's just because I'm working in an academic environment at the moment, but.... my PhD ambitions are stirring again. Whether it's remotely possible for me to do a project on the therapeutic effects of trapeze without a degree in Psychology is doubtful, but I'm SO glad that I've discovered - even as a stiff, flabby adult - the happiness that is hanging upside down from bit of circus equipment!!

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Aerial Lesson #3 - Flying Trapeze

So, with the swiftly rotating nature of the NCCA Aerial 1 course, last Wednesday ushered in my first ever lesson on Flying Trapeze! Hell yeah!!

I had basically no preconceptions of what flying trapeze would be like. Strangely, I've never been that bothered about the whole 'flying' part of the trapeze concept, which seems to be what most people get excited about - but I was open to giving it a try. I guess I had a vague impression of one of the other groups swinging around somewhere over the other side of the room while we were doing our stuff on static.  I could see there were harnesses involved anyway, so the flying bit was not gonna be a big deal, lalala.

For this first week, there was a lot of safety instructing. It was all very sensible. Yeah yeah, the belt is tight enough, we know how to stand on the platform correctly, yaaaaawn and then -
   - BAM, three of us were up on a terrifyingly high and narrow ledge, clinging onto the ropes by just our little slick-with-fear-sweat hands, swallowing back the nausea and helping each other shakily attach harnesses, check carabiners and hook the trapeze up. I was honestly not expecting it to be anything since I don't have vertigo and it did NOT look that bad from ground level, but ohhhh mama. That shit was genuinely scary.

Of course, along with the gut wrench of dropping off the platform, comes the massive exhilarating adrenaline rush as you swing through the air with the greatest of ease (haha), beating your legs like some kind of demented dolphin...before finally dropping to the ground (crash mat) on command and trying to regain your dignity whilst surreptitiously brushing off the Residue of Terror (rosin dust).

Pic borrowed from
I suppose it was pretty good. Fair to middling.

OK it was SO MUCH FUN!!!

The thing that surprised me the most, though, was actually the effect of working together to support and ensure the safety of everyone in a group, in a situation that feels a bit under pressure-ish (under pressure to not chicken out, or accidentally kill yourself by letting go and landing on your skull somehow  - even though this wasn't remotely possible, it kind of felt as if it could happen - and also because the instructor was trying to keep things snappy so we could all get a proper turn).  I now know all the names of the other people in my group, and despite the fact they are basically strangers, feel some level of affection/respect towards all of them, both for having guts and successfully fly-trapezing, and for helping me not die. Always an endearing trait in a fellow human, helping you not die.

It was.... nice?  And I say that as someone who is emphatically not a team-player, joiner, group mentality, team spirit type at all. This kind of thing traditionally repels and disgusts me.  But I guess now I kind of understand why activities like this are good for 'team bonding' (ugh I hope never to use that odious corporate phrase again). I hereby grudgingly acknowledge it as a thing.

In other news, this week I have been capitalising on the big kick of motivation I got from watching Stateless and have been busting my ass. As well as the usual aerial and flexibility classes at NCCA, I have done a yoga class, beginners ballet class, and beginners jazz dance class. That's an unprecedented FIVE exercise sessions! In one week! I'm interested to see how long it takes before my inherent lazy slob-ness kicks back in.

Pic borrowed from
Things I have learned from taking 'beginners' dance classes:
  1. When they say 'Beginners' they actually mean 'people who already have some co-ordination and control over their limbs'.  
  2. I am not naturally gifted in the arena of choreographed dance.
  3. Unlike circus skills venues, dance studios are lined with mirrors. These mirrors are not your friend, they are there to show you exactly how ridiculous/flabby/ancient you look. It is all part of a dastardly plan by the dance people to make you spend every penny you earn on more dance classes, in an attempt to become less ridiculous/flabby/ancient. 
  4. For a gallumphing decrepit crone such as I, dance classes are essentially an exercise in public humiliation (I possibly shouldn't have gone to the famous Pineapple Dance Studios in Covent Garden for my first attempt, but waited and signed up for the 'dance for ABSOLUTE beginners who can't even follow the simplest moves, haha you bunch of RETARDS, we spit on you!' course at an obscure adult education college next term).
  5. Despite points 1-4, dance classes are extremely enjoyable and energizing. Really! I will probably go back to the ballet one as I could see it improved my posture and limb-control within minutes.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Circus Video of the Month - January

I know I'm a day late with this post, but shhhhh, maybe no-one else has noticed!

It's that time again! Time for me to share another fabulous diamond in the rough of circus videos on YouTube.  This feature is kind of like Humans of New York - except, I don't interview the subjects,  share their moving life stories, have an incredibly popular Facebook page, or the slightest clue what I'm doing.

It's absolutely nothing like Humans of New York.

ANYWAY, here is this month's offering.  To be fair it's not really much of a secret, this one.  The video actually comes up on the first page when you search 'static trapeze', but it is one of the most-watched trapeze videos for a very good reason - it's lovely.

The trapezista here is Shannon Gray Collier, whose personal website unfortunately seems to have expired, but from what I can determine is American, does a fair bit of performing and was big on competitive athletics growing up. There's a more polished version of this act on her YouTube page, but I prefer this one. I don't know why, there's just something about it that is totally captivating.  Maybe it's to do with the small venue? And the fact that she speaks to the audience whilst dangling from the bar, looking like a gangly teenager, before unceremoniously launching into a whole load of stunning mundane-reality-transcendence?

The fact she is incredibly skilled and graceful goes without saying, but Shannon has this lyrical, emotional quality to her movement that I haven't seen anywhere else on trapeze. This, together with her total concentration, delicate control and ability to be completely absorbed in what she is communicating somehow makes it really moving.

When you combine all of this with the connection and responsiveness to the music it just equals infinitely watchable - and when I say infinitely, I actually don't think it's possible to get tired of watching this video! (Of course it helps that the song is SO GOOD. Whatever happened to The Cinematic Orchestra? Are they still around? I need to look into this).

Monday, 26 January 2015

Writing About Circus

In place of a post about my third week of aerial lessons*, I decided it might be time to unleash my attempt at a review of a circus/dance/physical theatre performance, right here, straight into your eyeballs, pow! BUT...  then I changed my mind.

On Saturday night I went to see the premiere of 'Stateless' by a small Hampshire-based company called Joli Vyann, at the excellent Jackson's Lane  - a venue which specialises in contemporary circus and one which I hope to visit many more times in the future, despite the really steep steps up to it from the tube station (it's likely I only resented these because we were late and running up them like mad things, don't let it put you off!).

Stateless looked something like this:

Jackson's Lane describe it on their website as exploring the subject of refugees, immigration and journeys, with powerful stories of upheaval and crossing borders, intense physicality, and moments of sadness, courage and friendship.
There were. And what's more it was stunning. I was literally on the edge of my seat the whole way through and close to tears at one point, so emotionally charged was the performance. I emerged more convinced than ever that I have basically wasted my life up to this point, and should be spending every minute possible doing circus skills, yoga, dance - anything to be able to experience just a tiny fraction of the soaring freedom and creative/physical fulfillment that those performers must feel on a daily basis. Which is to say, I was moved and inspired in equal measure.

But review it? I don't think I can. I'm not sure the videos even do it justice, let alone some words of mine on a computer screen.  All I have in my head is the old quote 'Writing about music is like dancing about architecture' (in this case music = circus...just humour me).  No matter how many superlatives and similes and artful descriptions I could try to come up with, I don't believe I can recreate the experience of watching a show like that for a reader. It would be like trying to translate a heart-rending piece of orchestral music into braille, or paint a picture of a smell that reminds you of walking home from school on a rainy day in 1993.

No, I will leave such alchemy to the accomplished circus review bloggers already out there conjuring wonders with their words (great examples can be found here and here) and instead just bluntly encourage anyone who stumbles across this to:

Go and see some for yourself!

Watching circus is like seeing a live music performance.  Yes, you can watch a video at home for free, or listen to a recording on your ipod sitting on the bus, the notes as perfectly preserved as a butterfly under glass, but nothing compares to the real thing.

Nothing compares to seeing real human beings, in the flesh, accomplishing crazy-beautiful things with incredible talent and pushing intense emotions out into the same air that you are breathing.  You can't help but absorb a little bit of it, can't prevent the very cells of your body recalibrating in response to the vibrations from the stage. With all our amazing technology, and ability to summon almost any viewing experience at the touch of a button, it's easy to forget about the sheer electric feeling of seeing someone accomplish wonders in front of you.

But I think it's worth paying a bit more money, making a bit of a journey, to be able to remind yourself that there IS real magic in the world, and sometimes you can almost reach out and touch it.

* I didn't make it to class, sob! But I predict the post would only have been along the lines of : 'we did Spider and Amazon' anyway, so the world is probably not that much emptier without it... 

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Aerial Lesson #2

My second aerial lesson at NCCA was A-MA-ZIIING and I really wish I'd written about it straight afterwards when I was still buzzing on the endorphins, instead of now, when I'm ill in bed feeling slightly sorry for myself.  But hey, at least I finally have the chance to catch up!

So, first extremely enjoyable thing about last week's lesson was being handed this baby:

Please excuse the horrific pic quality, I'm still getting used to this newfangled 'smart-phone' thing
You may just about to be able to make it out if you squint really hard? Yes, that's right, it's a security pass!!! With my name on it!!!

I can't tell you how excited I was about getting it - but obviously only internally. Because to do a little dance in front of 50 other people, who were also being given passes and looked kind of bored about it, would not have been at all dignified. I did one when I got home though, to make up for it.

The second extremely enjoyable thing was that we had a different teacher this time and ohhh boy, she whipped our soft little asses into shape.  The whole session was like a military operation with lots of repetition and correction etc. It sounds awful, but it turns out I really enjoy this kind of coaching! I could feel myself improving exponentially, especially after she told me this:
'You can totally do all of these exercises, your muscles are strong enough, you're just sending a completely new message from your brain to your limbs and they need to get used to it.  You are burning new neural pathways.  BURN THEM, BURN THOSE NEW PATHWAYS INTO YOUR BRAIN'
(Or something along those lines anyway.  I accept no responsibility for gross exaggeration).

At the time she was gently shouting this at me, I was dangling from the bar of the trapeze trying to make one of my hands let go.  The instinct for self-preservation runs suprisingly deep, but I did manage to do it in the end, yay.

There was nothing wrong at all with Teacher No. 1, but I loved new lady.  I like to be pushed!

After thoroughly practising getting on and off plus last weeks positions, new things learned were:


Pic borrowed from:

This looks easy but felt like the icy breath of the grim reaper on my neck - wobbly and precarious, but eventually possible.

Splits under the bar

Pic borrowed from
So much fun, even if you can't even dream of doing the splits like me.  One day I'll be able to do it, even if it takes another 30 years dammit!

Incidentally, if these pictures look like people doing basically nothing to you, check out the videos at, they are much more illustrative.

The class finished with a horrifically difficult set of conditioning circuits which included
  • press-ups
  • pull-ups
  • sit-ups from hock hang (hanging off by your legs)
  • hanging off the bar with one hand
  • straddle mounts (getting on with your legs apart - less rude than it sounds).
Third extremely enjoyable thing - I managed to make it into my free supporting class, rather than arriving late and not allowed to join because I missed the warm-up (I can neither confirm or deny that happened in the first week).  Well done me! I went to the Flexibility class on Thursday and ohhhhhhh it felt SO good to stretch out all my newly-traumatised muscles.  I was skeptical beforehand about the real benefit you can get from one little flexibility class, which I thought would be essentially an hour of pointless warm down.  But those stretches were the best things ever.  It was like having a giant internal muscle massage, mmmmmm.

I am now fully addicted again, I've even started going to multiple yoga classes  in an effort to cross-train myself to aerial amazingness! However I feel like ten kinds of crap today and will probably have to miss tonight's class - gutted.

If there's no 'Lesson #3' post I'll make it up to you, promise!

*shuffles off in dressing-gown*

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Aerial Lesson #1

If you've been paying attention (it's okay if you haven't, I forgive you), you will know that I started my Aerial Level 1 course at the National Centre for Circus Arts this week, YAYYYY! So I thought I'd  write a bit about it, mostly to prove that I'm actually going. 

The National Centre for Circus Arts (NCCA) is a circus school in Hoxton which runs kids and adult amateur classes, as well as accredited BTEC, BA and Post-grad courses. It says on its website that it is considered one of the top three schools in Europe, and it certainly seems pretty heavily oversubscribed as far as the adult classes go. I was on the waiting list from August to November and had to book my slot on the Aerial 1 course the very same day they went on sale to be sure of getting on.

It's a pretty cool place. I knew this before I turned up on Wednesday, because I went for a admin-y job interview there in the summer and got a magical personal tour of the building (I didn't get the job, sad face. I'm pretty sure it wasn't for lack of circus enthusiasm so it can only have been my complete inability to remember a time when I'd worked well as part of a team/invented a new filing system, or some such rubbish. Pffff).

It's housed in an old Victorian electric light station, so it has this whole red-brick, industrial vibe going on, overlaid with lovely glass and wooden modernity everywhere inside.  There are some big, open sports-type halls with all the aerial equipment, office and meeting spaces, studios etc, a library (So much good stuff!! I had to strongly control myself in there, especially around the DVD shelves when my tour guide was like 'yeah there's loads there that you can't find on YouTube'. Nnnngggggg lemme at it. I've since seen rumour of them opening this library to the public. YES PLEASE!!) and best of all, a weird long, narrow, bouncy, spongy, padded-wall room where they do acrobatics training.

Ohhh I wanted that job so bad after they showed me the acrobatics room! It did smell of socks though. 

Anyway, the way the aerial course works is; students rotate through Static Trapeze, Flying Trapeze and Rope, 3-4 weeks on each, and you can choose which to start with.  I went for Static Trapeze first, as part of a cunning strategy to save Rope until I have built up some upper-body strength (that shit is HARD man), so I was well within my comfort zone for this class.  I would even venture to say it was a little too easy, since I'm not a complete beginner. I was glad about that when I could still move my arms the next day though!

Apart from the obvious mount and dismount, which I fear I will never be able to do properly, we covered the three most basic positions. These are as follows:-


Doing this feels a lot scarier than it looks.


A move so simple I can't even find a picture of it on the internet. In essence it consists of standing on the bar of the trapeze, holding on to the ropes high and leaning forward/backward with one leg held out elegantly. Good for getting used to balancing on only your tippy toes (or parrot claws as I like to think of them) and being up hiiiigh.

Bird's Nest

This is one of my favourites, feels like a Proper Real move but it's not scary at all and you get to have a nice back stretch. 

In conclusion then - a successful first week in which I didn't fall off or hit anyone in the face, as has happened in previous lessons, and only embarrassed myself in the sense that I went with Trapeze Outfit No.1: hot pants over leggings paired with knee-length stripey socks. I swear to you that this has been fairly average clothing of students in past classes I've attended, but on this occasion I was THE ONLY ONE in such garb and I therefore felt like a bit of twat. May reconsider this for next week... 

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Getting A Leg Up With Circus

Did you know that Cirque du Soleil runs a social circus program, Cirque du Monde, for at-risk youth in over 80 communities worldwide?

I didn't, until I read this recent article on CircusTalk, but I have since been delving into the subject of 'social circus' on them there internets and feeling seriously inspired. Circus arts outreach might seem a bit wishy-washy. It's not like it's financial aid, healthcare, trauma counseling or any of those other vital things, right? No, but it's effects do sound incredible.

Cirque du Monde combines the teaching of circus skills with social intervention; providing a safe and fun space for young people, and encouraging the development of things like self-confidence, perseverance and discipline, getting/staying healthy (for instance in South Africa, it's used to motivate kids with HIV to follow their treatments) and feelings of trust and community. Just watch this:

Don't get me wrong, aside from my obvious predisposition to love anything that spreads circus, I'm as suspicious and numb to do-gooding as the next over-media-ed 21st century drone. But I have to say it's pretty convincing. The clincher for me was this quote from a Cirque du Soleil 'Community Worker's Guide' book:
'Circus arts have traditionally been linked with certain forms of marginality (nomadic existence, balancing acts, exuberance, artistic creativity, disguises, etc.) that are naturally attractive to young people. Those who live in situations excluded from society find in it a positive and constructive mirror of their own marginality, as well as a means of doing it justice...Social circus does not seek to standardize or water down the marginal side of the participants or try to force them to conform at any price, but rather aims at providing young people with the tools to learn to communicate with the community from the fringes.'
Yes.  Yes! That can only be a force for good in the world, surely? I'm sold.

It's not just the Cirque du Monde projects either, there are other smaller schemes and groups quietly dotting the globe. Closer to home (for me), there are organisations like the quite frankly wonderful-sounding Mimbre, who are based in East London.

I haven't had the opportunity to see any of their shows yet, but Mimbre's website says that they create acrobatic theatre, performing in unconventional settings and 'reclaiming some beauty in the urban environment...through strong imagery, visual poetry and emotional content'.  They also run a participation programme that allows kids from low-income households in Hackney to learn acrobatics and take part in creative projects.

Although I wasn't previously aware of 'social circus' or circus therapy as a thing, as someone who has had (tedious, irritating) body image issues since teenage, I did know about the therapeutic effects of circus skills classes - just from the few I've taken.  You don't have to be from a socially excluded / disadvantaged sector of society, young, or have gone through a horrific experience, to feel the benefits - although of course these groups can benefit the most, and deserve to do so. You can just be any old human and have it change your whole view of things.

Trapeze classes weren't just fun and fitness for me, they allowed me to start seeing myself in a different way.  To see that my body could be good because it was strong, brave and clever (something that I'd previously felt was restricted to my brain, while my physical form was just a lumpish, oaf-y thing dragging around behind it). Learning trapeze made me feel like, maybe at some point, my body could be beautiful even though it isn't perfect. Not through having exactly the right proportions, being super-toned, magically obtaining perfect skin, or any of those stupid things I've been failing to acheive with it since I was 14, but beautiful because of the things I could teach it to do, the shapes I could train it to make.  When I was taking those classes I felt connected with not just my head and my heart, but the rest of me too.

(Given all that, you probably won't be surprised that I'm looking forward to starting trapeze again!)

It's hard to experience that kind of thing without wanting to share it with others.  I'm a lifetime away from being able to teach anything aerial, but I CAN tell people about how great the benefits of learning circus skills are and fully intend to do so at every given opportunity.  Brace yourselves!