Water tableau in the National Circus School of Montreal's annual show

Why I Joined The Circus, or Lessons From Year One

i enjoyed the self-discipline of gymnastics and martial arts and thought that the performing arts would provide a platform of expression and communication – but why circus specifically?

i had always admired the mastery and grace associated with my romantic notion of a “circus performer,” but had always considered it to be an unobtainable goal – something one had to be born into, or something bestowed upon world-class athletes trained since childhood in an eastern european country.

in my third year at mit, and second year as a gymnast, i was sidelined by injury and its subsequent surgery and rehabilitation, trying to fight off feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.

a year later, now in my senior year, i recovered to the point that i could start training and competing again, but i wasn’t feeling the psychological connection or drive that I once had.

at about this time, i learned that boston was only 5 hours away from one of the premier professional circus arts training centers in the world.  auditions are grueling, competitive, and extremely selective, and less than 4 weeks away.  it was just the motivation i needed.

those four weeks were dedicated to training.  flexibility, strength, airsense, relearning skills, 8 hours a day, each day ending in a bizarre mix of frustration and hope.

at the audition, i was floored by the high skill level of the performers and the sheer difficulty of the tasks and assessments that we needed to perform: strength, flexibility, trampoline, tumbling, handstands, acting, dance, and a presentation in front of all the instructors of our own personal number of 3 minutes.

when it was all said and done, i was satisfied that i had performed my best.  a storm was rolling in between montreal and boston, and on the snowy 5-hour ride home i was certain that i had not made the cut.

but why, then, would i run to the mailbox every day for the next month and a half?  why did it feel so right when the fat envelope from the school arrived, overflowing with congratulations and immigration forms?

lessons from the first year of circus school:

  • learn to live with constant self-doubt and insecurity.
  • you’ll never realize that you are getting any better.
  • every day you are taught to accomplish things that yesterday seemed impossible.
  • you’ll overcome feeling of inadequacy (“i’m too heavy,” or “i’m too weak”) and overcome (not suppress) your fears by developping trust in others.
  • despite all the trash talking in the gym, circus is intrinsically non-competitive
  • circus crosses all borders

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