The following musings are in the form of dialogues which, for me, allows a much broader and deeper discussion, as the intention is not so much to instruct, but rather to elicit and encourage further debate around the structural and developmental fundamentals of the Circus Arts and the ways and means by which we, as practitioners and teachers, can assimilate, initiate and further develop such concepts.
Albert & Friend: The Dialogues
F: Given what is stated in the introduction to these musings, where does one start the
process of discovery and understanding that we claim is needed to develop a so-called ‘Physically Literate Circus Community’?
A: The term ‘Physical Literacy’ as defined by Whitehead states,
A disposition to capitalize on the human embodied capability, wherein the individual has: the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for maintaining purposeful physical pursuits/activities throughout the course of their life!
Whitehead, M.E. (Ed) 2010 Physical Literacy: Throughout the Lifecourse. London. Routledge
This definition is obviously a broad sweeping overall statement that seeks to define outcomes without reference to the fundamental building blocks and processes that are necessary to address and develop the realities of ‘physical literacy’ – the achievement of this seemingly mystical symbiosis between movement, manipulation, balance and rhythm.
The real need is to create individual learning paths for both the educator and performer so they can demonstrate – not only an understanding and command of the four elements - movement, manipulation, balance and rhythm, but paths which allows them to devise and demonstrate a more developed over-arching plan, further breaking down the above four elements into the incremental steps that are necessary to inform the learning process.
F: These philosophical musings are all well and good but how do they apply to real-time situations? What does this ‘over-arching’ plan actually involve? How does it relate to a real-time teaching, learning and performance process that you keep going on about?
A: Taking the elements mentioned above we can deconstruct them even further: Rhythm - Tempo - Strength - Control - Flexibility - Spatial awareness - Shape - Dynamics – Endurance. These terms, which do not just apply in isolation - are guiding elements that can be used to describe, construct, assess and mark the progress of any teaching, learning or performance endeavor and are the elements which offer critical insight as to where the individual is within that developmental process. They are the very basic foundations upon which our craft is based so the need is to find and develop ways and means in which we can highlight these areas, devise techniques and programmes which assist in the development time line of these building blocks and do it in such a way that it does not become tedious or boring.
It is important to remember and re-emphasise that none of the above elements exist in isolation, they are complimentary, with each one playing a specific role within the overall concept. These ideas become reality when observing and assessing either a teaching/learning situation or performance. We hope to observe grace, control, fluidity and strength coupled with an instinctive performance intelligence which enables us to accurately assess progression, but often we only observe partial understanding and command of these elements and it can become at times a little fraught especially if the concepts surrounding these elements have never been explained or discussed.
Within the learning situation, we observe and make judgements, not to be critical but to assist the learner in becoming more aware of these elements and their importance within the developmental process. This assists in devising or amending the training programme in order to plug the gaps so to speak. It’s slightly different with some of the more accomplished performers as often such comments are seen as judgemental or critical, which tends to immediately shut down any form of dialogue, negating, for me, the idea of developing Physical Literacy as both a concept and as a universal mantra.
F: When you say it quickly, this all sounds very interesting, but how, in reality, does one go about developing this ‘Physical Literacy’ into a functioning and workable reality?
A: In order to discuss that question we need to concentrate on the initial learning
experience that is offered to young people. Paraphrasing the physical curriculum developed by the CirSchool project (available at www.circusartseducation.co.uk /curriculum) we see that the aim is to develop the physical competences which foster confidence, motivation, knowledge and understanding which in turn provides children and young people with a physical movement foundation suitable for lifelong participation in physical activity: i.e. we need to build a physicality that supports the development of children and young people as competent, confident and healthy individuals.
This curriculum seeks to provide a dynamic, alternative kinesthetic approach to physical learning, utilising the concepts surrounding physical literacy combined with the acquisition of intelligent physical arts skills (manipulation, equilibre, acrobatic, aerial, movement) through the constructive use of play and structured games, derived from and tailored to an individual’s and a groups physical capabilities.
F: In addition to this curriculum you seem to have introduced new elements into the
discussion, i.e. Play and Games? What are the relevance of these?
A: For me, Play and Games are the keys to the whole question. It is the aim of future
postings to discuss the various options that can be initiated within a constructive learning programme. Introduce and embed these concepts of achieving physical literacy through the use of Play and Games without being overly prescriptive.
The dialogue continues………….