Circus training instead of school sports? Now there’s an idea

What if policymakers in the social sector knew just how valuable circuses are to the community? The provocation was aimed at circus producers, performers, academics, and trainers who met last weekend in the Melba Spiegeltent in the Circus Oz Precinct, Collingwood.

The Melbourne Festival, the Australian Circus and Physical Theatre Association, and Circus Oz jointly sponsored the Circus Futures Forum.

Pride in the Ninja Circus

The Ninja Circus is a local troupe that operates in the Indigenous community Mutitjulu near Uluru under the auspices of the respected NPY Women’s Council. The Ninja Circus, led by Ludo Dumas since mid-2012, who spoke at the Circus Futures Forum on the weekend, has been credited by the Elders of the community for reducing the amount of substance abuse and petrol snorting that had troubled the young people.

The performance of the troupe in front of an audience of 85,000 people at the AFL Dreamtime Round held at the MCG in May 2013 was a great source of pride for remote Indigenous communities and their young people.

Dumas, a circus instructor at the Nyangatjatjara College in the area, says that circus training is a combination of practice, repetition, and concentration. In an interview, he told me that the staff at the local college had noticed a noticeable improvement in children’s attention spans in class.

Before the beginning of the circus training program, the attention span of students was only 10 minutes. Students can now maintain their attention for two hours during English lessons and one-and-a-half hours during maths classes.

The playful but focused training in juggling, acrobatics, and tumbling has also led to improved self-esteem and respect among the staff.

The young performers have also improved their social skills by performing for local communities, at arts festivals in the Central Desert, and events further along the field. Dumas believes that this skill set will help them in their future careers.

Social Circus is acrobatic tumblers and barefoot jugglers performing in the red sands at the base of Uluru. It’s a far cry from the incredible collection of Australian and International circus companies that will be appearing at this year’s Melbourne Festival.

Social Circus around the World

The social Circus is a combination of an interventionist approach towards social ills and the sharing and learning of circus skills. The term refers to more than just a hobby of circus arts. It is a way of using circus skills as a tool for social change.

Social Circus is a process that has been used in many places around the world since the early 1990s. The Women’s Circus in Melbourne was among the first. The aim is to promote self-esteem and social skills as well as artistic expression and occupational integration.

Since 1995, the Cirque du Monde organization (nested in the Global Citizenship arm of Cirque du Soleil) has developed and nurtured Social Circus programs for disadvantaged communities throughout South America, Africa, and North America.

The re-purposing of the circus arts for community-based activities is the result of a shift away from commercial entertainment. In partnership with Flipside, the Queensland Government’s Unthink The Impossible initiative has tested circus skills therapy on disabled children.

Since 1995, Melbourne’s performing older women’s Circus has offered skill development and performance to over-40-year-old women.

More than 60 organizations in Australia offer “social” or “youth” circus programs that teach a variety of apparatus skills. The Flying Fruit Flies is the longest-running youth show in Australia. It has been running since Albury-Wodonga.

Community circuses are a great way to bring together people.

There are many benefits of community circuses in Australia, both socially and personally.

Parents have told me they are using recreational circuses to help their children manage a wide range of medical conditions. These include scoliosis, ADHD, Autism spectrum disorders, OCD, and executive function problems. They also have nervous conditions, learning disabilities, shyness, and introversion.

They explain that children who feel like social outcasts due to social, intellectual, or medical problems can find a sense of belonging in the Circus. The parents observe that the new sense of belonging their children feel leads to an improved self-esteem, which in turn results in other positive social and well-being changes.

It’s time to bring research and cultural policy up to speed with the community experience. After more than 30 years of pioneering work in the community circus field, Australian parents and young participants, as well as creative workers, are all adamant about its ability to affect positive social and personal change.

What about funding circus training as a part of the physical and personal development at schools and as a substitute for sport? Now, that is an invitation to our cultural policymakers.

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