Surviving My First Week of Circus School

Did you know that a glass of wine makes writing easier? I didn’t say it makes it better, just easier. So I do apologize in advance for the roughness of these first few blog posts. I’ve wanted to write a blog for years, and now that I’m actually doing it… well, there’s going to be a learning curve.

Anyway... back to circus…

On the first day of classes, I could masterfully do six controlled pull-ups in good form. By Friday, I couldn’t do any. Not a single pull-up. So, what does that say about my first week at circus school? Well, let’s just say that any ego I may have held about my abilities was a bit shattered. You’re not the “strongest person I know” once you go to circus school and are working with the best of the best. But I’m looking forward to being challenged by my peers, to being driven by their success and to maybe even be the driver for theirs.

Being surrounded by this much talent and circus experience is daunting to say the least. Many of the other students have years of circus experience, having done youth circus for much of their childhood. They’ve been performing locally and professionally, and here I come in, the second oldest person in the class of 11, having only 2 years of recreational training under my belt. Sometimes I feel like I’m playing a catch-up game, or that I’m not really qualified to be here.

There is so much to cover in this first-week-of-classes post, that I honestly don’t know where to begin. It’s been such a whirlwind of a week, between moving on Monday, meeting my class and coaches, going through a week of intensive training for 8 ½ hours a day, and then ending with the Fringe Festival (an arts festival in Philly) where I got to see my first student-discounted aerial show! Damn, just rereading that run-on sentence makes me want to take a nap…

We started off the week on Tuesday with some name games and other physical theatre games. It was incredible how quickly the 11 of us became a unit. With such a small class, and us being the first and currently only class, we’re the test group. All eyes are on us, not only locally, but also in the world-wide circus community as the first degree-based circus school in the US. I think the coaches feel that pressure more than we do, but we all feel it to some extent.

After an hour of games, the coaches threw us right into training, with physical assessments in acrobatics and aerial. I think many of us felt very unprepared at first, and personally I had taken almost a week off from exercise because of my busy schedule and moving, so I definitely wasn’t primed to do the 10 pull-ups I’d done at auditions. We were already divided into lesson groups by level, so these assessments weren’t for placement of any kind, but just as a way to track our progress from month to month over the year. And yet, as an aerialist, I felt there was a kind of pressure to perform well in certain things. In reality, it was just the pressure I put on myself, because the coaches put absolutely no pressure on us and were so encouraging to the entire class at whatever level we were at.

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned this week is I really need to set my ego and expectations aside. I often find myself comparing my abilities to the best of my peers, which in the end means I’m comparing myself and my abilities to people who have much more experience than I do, because that discipline is their focus. I need to take a step back and accept where I am at this moment in time. No, I am not going to be able to do a middle split now or in the next month or maybe in the next year. And I will most likely be the first person to drop out of backbends in my acro group for some time. But I need to accept where I am, and know that I am doing my best.

So moving forward in the direction of setting ego aside, I am going to be sharing my assessments with you. Some numbers I’m proud of, others I’m not. But I’m working towards improving all of them, and I’m working on accepting the ones I’m not proud of. I am no super woman (yet). We all try to share our best side, especially in today’s day and age with social media. But this blog isn’t about that. It’s about the nitty gritty dirt of everyday training, and dealing with insecurities just as much as it is about accomplishments.

So without further ado… my assessment (I'll share more photos as the time progresses, but the numbers will have do to for now):

Acro:

  • Wall sit (max 5 minutes): 5 min (my knees definitely weren’t at 90 degrees, so though I held the 5 minutes, I have a lot of work to do)
  • Push-ups in 1 minute: 25
  • Handstand (back against the wall): 2 minutes 37 seconds (by the end I was shaking so hard it barely counted as a handstand)
  • Sit-ups (in 1 minute): 61
  • L-sit: 37 seconds
  • Right split (distance from hip to floor): 10 inches
  • Left split (distance from hip to floor): 9.5 inches
  • Straddle (distance from hip to floor): 13 inches
  • Backbend (distance from hands to feet): 18 inches

Aerial:

  • Pull-ups: 6
  • Skin the cats: 6
  • Leg lifts: 7
  • Single knee hang (max 1 minute): Left side, 29 seconds, Right side 1 minute
  • Pullovers: 9
  • Front Planche: 11:30 for 10 seconds (measuring angle by time) for 10 seconds
  • Back Planche: 2 o’clock for 10 seconds
  • Hollow Body (max 1 min): 1 minute

So to sum it up, this week has involved a lot of eating and a whole lot of sleeping. And to top it off, I’m perpetually sore and mildly convinced that my muscles will continue to scream at me for the next three years. One of my coaches even said that when you're a professional circus performer, if you wake up not sore, you know something's wrong. Sounds like torture? No way. I love every second of it.

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Sincerely, Circus Girl