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!