Today, most of us have a bit more time at home on our hands then we are used to. Whether you want to bulk up the special skills section of your résumé or just want to try something new, Playbill is here to serve!
For artists, the 2014 revival of Pippin put high-level circus front and center, but extraordinary circus skills—from aerial work to juggling, handstands to hula hooping—have become increasingly common in productions on Broadway and beyond. With reality talent competitions like So You Think You Can Dance, America’s Got Talent, and World of Dance, audiences expect to be just as wowed at the theatre as on their couch. And that means performers have been asked to diversify their skills and up their game.
And while not all circus disciplines can be learned at home, many of the basics can. First step: conditioning. A number of circus studios currently offer virtual strength and conditioning classes and, yes, they can differ from an average gym workout. The goal is functional movement, never “decorator muscles” and “the exercises are about strength in movement, as well as specific movement pathways that might be used when doing acrobatics, inversions (handstands / headstands), or aerials,” says Serenity Smith Forchion, founder and producing director of New England Center for Circus Arts.
Still, there are basic balances to teach yourself at home. Forchion offers tips to safely train yourself to do a headstand at home:
1. Put a small blanket or pillow under your head and have a sofa or soft chair in front of you so if you fall you land in the sofa or chair.
2. Kneeling down on the floor, first place your hands on the floor shoulder-width apart.
3. Place your head at the top of a triangle you make with your two hands.
4. Lift your hips into the air by slowly walking your feet closer to your hands until you can try to hover with your feet just off the ground (1 inch) by pushing your hands into the floor.
5. Stay there for a bit, then try to tuck legs into the chest.
6. Finally, and only if you feel stable, lift the feet up towards the ceiling (slowly!).
7. Return to seated by reversing out of the motion exactly how you went in.
Forchion also has tips to begin to juggle:
1. Roll up three pair of socks to make round balls.
2. Start with one ball in one hand and toss up to head height and across to the receiving hand.
3. Keep your hands at mid torso height and toss back and forth.
4. Once that is consistent, add a second ball. When the first ball is at the top of the arc (head height) the second ball tosses across in an X (from the opposite hand) aiming to be the same height as the first ball.
5. Catch each one as they come down.
6. Say out loud: “Throw, throw, catch, catch.”
7. To add the third ball, start with one hand holding two balls and one hand holding one.
8. Throw one ball from that hand, through the second ball from the other hand then keep throwing before you catch.
9. Practice, practice, practice!
For more hands-on instruction and practice, here are suggestions for online video tutorials and remote classes:
1. Kinetic Circus
Paul Incredible, located in the U.K. has been teaching circus skills since 1997, when he began at The Kent Circus School, where he eventually became joint director. In 2010, he founded Kinetic Circus, and is currently the resident circus teacher at The Kings School Canterbury. Kinetic Circus,offers video tutorials for:
2. The Circus Project
The Circus Project, a non-profit circus school in Portland, Oregon, was founded in 2008 by process work therapist and former circus performer Jenn Cohen. Created to serve homeless and underprivileged youth, Circus Project continues that mission and opened its programming up to the general public in 2009. Options to train with them include:
Live 30-minute Instagram Classes Monday–Friday at 8:30PM ET @thecircusproject
Topics vary and include juggling, balancing, stretching
Online private lessons with Circus Project coaches. Topics include:
Flexibility, Active flex, Strength & Conditioning, Handstands, Contortion, Juggling, Partner Acrobatics, Tightwire/Slackline, Clowning/Physical Comedy, Act Creation, Dance, Anatomy/Physiology, Injury Prevention, Personalized Training Programs, Tumbling, and more. Circus Project coaches kids and adults, and there are options for sibling, housemates, and whole families! (Beginning at $30 per session) Email [email protected].
3. Circus Center
Circus Center first opened its doors in 1984 as San Francisco School for Circus Arts, to train youngsters in circus arts. Founded by Peggy Snider and Larry Pisoni, who founded The Pickle Family Circus, the iconic Bay Area troupe that kicked off the United States’ circus renaissance movement, the school was renamed in 2001. Today, Circus Center trains professionals and recreational circus-lovers and is one of the most advanced circus academies on the West Coast. Fourteen of their teachers currently offer online lessons, including:
Aerial and Acro conditioning and Intro to Contortion with Christine Lee
Handstands, act creation, clownining with Hannah Gaff
Juggling and object manipulation with Karen Quest
Prop manipulation with Nicholas Karsant
4. New England Center for Circus Arts
NECCA offers virtual classes for all levels and all ages. All classes are pay-what-you-can during the current shutdown. Forchion suggests beginning with an adult Foam Roll class, but students can choose from a myriad of offerings including conditioning for vertical aerialists, handbalancing, backbending, flexibility, and circus fitness for teens. Check out the full online offerings here.
5. ESH Circus Arts
Located in Boston, ESH was founded by NECCA alum Sable Stewart, Ellen Waylonis and Roger May, and continues today under the leadership of Waylonis and May. The space offers recreational and pre-professional training. Their virtual classes include instruction in handbalancing, contortion, conditioning, and ballet barre. See the full schedule here.