Albert & Friend

Thinking beyond the box!

We are fortunate to live at a time when the ‘Circus Arts’ are possibly in the healthiest state they have ever been since the term ‘circus’ was first used to describe the amphitheater Phillip Astley built behind what is now St John's Church, Waterloo, some 250 years ago.

This great, creative, physical art offers the performer and the audience the most entertaining, diverse, imaginative, challenging and thought inducing of scenarios.

Yet, given this ever-developing interest in the ‘Art of Circus’ it is most noticeable that the musings or contributions regarding the future development of this ‘intelligent physical art’, seem only to address the questions at well-defined, specific and safe levels. We hear endless discussions surrounding skill development. How do you teach a hand stand? How do you teach someone to ride a unicycle? Climb a tissue? What one rarely hears discussed are thoughts about the basic physical and mental rhythms that dictate and define the above teaching and learning processes; of how to reach the ultimate goal of building an all-encompassing and developed physically literate circus community!

The topics - ‘Social Circus’, ‘Training of Trainers’, ‘Circus in the Community’, ‘Contemporary’ V ‘Traditional’, ‘Circus in the Curriculum’ are bandied about, yet there is rarely heard a mention of what is the most fundamental and challenging question regarding the development of circus skills – what is the common foundation or core that can be applied to all circus skills? Is there such a thing? What are the developmental building blocks? Where do they start? How do you teach these? Can they be taught? How do skills emerge and develop from these building blocks? How do we as thinkers and practitioners develop these basic skills, efficiently and with purpose? Do we, as teachers, understand the fundamentals, the tenets that define and guide this seemingly mysterious pathway to the attainment and presentation of high performance circus skills – from both the technical and artistic viewpoint? These questions should inform the basic fundamentals of the teaching and learning process and whilst I do not believe for one minute that they are never addressed, it just seems that if they are put on the agenda in a somewhat ad-hoc and dis-jointed manner with little or no reference or connection to the ultimate goal of developing physical literate beings that can apply these fundamental concepts to their ‘circus’ learning experiences without thinking about them or being tripped up by the process?

I appreciate that whilst this all may appear to be overly prescriptive in the approach a simple example may better illustrate the point. Take Juggling. Juggling or manipulation to be extremely pedantic, is only achieved when the basic hand eye co-ordination achieves a physical rhythm that dictates and controls the pattern. This gives life to the old adage that you do not watch a good juggler as much as listen to them. When one first learns the simple, basic cascade; the skill - if it can be called that - is most often achieved using an agonisingly un-rhythmic pattern that is so often, as they say, ‘chased’ around the room. The problem then arises that, when in order to progress to more complicated and difficult patterns, this initial effort has to be in effect ‘unlearned’ and a new pattern based upon physically dictated rhythms has to be substituted, then practiced in order to progress. Would it not make more sense to explore methods of ‘training the body/mind axis from the beginning so that the fundamentals – the building blocks - of manipulation and other disciplines are being developed as part of the overall process that is subsequently applied to the learning and perfecting of a skill?

These musings bring us to what is in effect the core of the conundrum – the physical curriculum! How cool would it be if the basic tenets of developing circus physical literacy were taught from the beginning as part of the learning curve of the prospective ‘artiste’ or participant who would then be exposed to and experience bodily kinaesthetic activities, rhythm, music and other endeavours, endeavours which both reflect, enhance and guide the skill learning process as a fundamental and essential part of the whole learning experience?

Circus physical intelligence is the ability to raise awareness of our own body, to listen to it, to control its motions. It implies better anticipating and synchronising with the others’ body movements in relation with our own ones and the ability to skilfully handle objects. It also includes a clear sense of the goal of the physical action. Memory repetition and frequent training are needed to take advantage of this physical intelligence” Mireia Montané: Euridit - ‘INNOVATION IN TEACHER EDUCATION WITHIN A GLOBAL CONTEXT’

Skills are continually being developed – although given the historical evidence found on platforms such as YouTube the catalogue of skills which exists today - it could be argued - do not match those as displayed from yester-year! But I digress. The intention is not an attempt to compare, contrast or even define different eras or styles but to rather to put forward the argument that all those stated ‘divisions’ are just different incarnations of the same concept albeit at different levels. i.e. Circus is Circus is Circus irrespective of where it takes place or at what level?

The intention is to inspire new dialogues, new insights, whilst offering objective comparisons that lead to new perspectives on how we – as a circus community – may develop and grow our practice both within the Professional world and Circus in the wider community.

The above aims to be a cogent and understandable introduction to what is – I believe – the most basic elements of the ‘circus learning curve’, a more efficient development of the broader physical competences and the creation of a broadly based ‘circus physical literacy’ mentality which can be applied across the whole circus community.

Let dialogue commence...........!

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