It may not have been the intensive we planned, but the pandemic has forced us to become a bit more creative with our training. Every institution is having their own struggle with the restrictions of training from home, but circus has a whole host of obstacles to overcome – the first being that circus is such a broad artform (we have acrobats, aerialists, jugglers and tightwire walkers all together on our programme); and the second being our dependence on highly specialized equipment. While it might be possible to exercise, dance and sing at home, not many people have the ability to rig 10 metres of aerial silks, or a padded and sprung-floor acrobatics studio. As a result of this, our students were feeling anxious about losing the progress they had worked so hard to get.

Instead of getting lost in what we couldn’t do, we decided to focus on what we could. One of the great things about circus is, as well as the amazing gymnastic skills often required, it also encompases elements of dance, theatre, fitness and creativity. So this is what we included in the intensive.

With all of us perhaps having spent too much time on the sofa or bed in lockdown, we decided to start each day with an hour long conditioning and workout session. This then led into a creative task that was set each day and shared with the group the following morning. Each afternoon there were two skill-based sessions, which included balancing, juggling, hula hoop, handstands and dance. We even tried to recreate our most popular session at the school, which is a friday open practice time session which allows students to practice and skill share with support and guidance from teachers over Zoom.

The intensive was run entirely online with teachers working from their own homes. Another obstacle I’m sure many schools are facing was that the majority of our teaching team have been furloughed since the start of lockdown. This meant the small core training team had to deliver a lot of the sessions in partnership with the Participation and Outreach team, who also helped with leading some of the sessions. We did bring in one external artist to deliver a session, as it was someone the young people had worked with before, and after half a term of online sessions we thought it would be good to bring in a new face.

One of the key things we were concerned about was accessibility. Although some students have access to gardens and plenty of space, others are working in small flats in London (a situation I find myself in so I can empathise). During workouts, modifications were given if needed to avoid jumping. Which is sometimes needed to keep good relations with neighbours. Exercises were also designed to be completed in a small amount of floor space.

The creative sessions were my highlight of the week. The young people really put in a lot of effort, and their creativity and openness to share was great. I’ve shared a few of the photos we had submitted for our ‘circus at home’ challenge. We also had video submissions and a live sharing at the end of the week.

We had some great feedback from the students

“It was really good. It was nice to do conditioning every day and to be pushed physically. I enjoyed the fact there were lots of classes, and lots of different disciplines in those classes. The challenges were fun and it was nice to see what other people had done.”

“I really enjoyed the online intensive as it challenged me creatively and physically.”
“They’ve been really beneficial – in both motivating me to work and just engaging my brain!”

So what next?

We have increased our weekly live online sessions to include an additional conditioning session, since, to our surprise, that was something the students requested more of. We are also planning a creative-focused online intensive for the Summer, and hopefully a cabaret for friends and family which we will hold over Zoom.