As a kid the thought of running away to join the circus seemed quite enticing – travelling the world, hanging out with animals and performing tricks on various things in the air. Never did I quite manage it though…
But some people actually did make it to the Circus, namely the ones who have trained and are currently training at the National Centre for Circus Arts in London, tucked behind Hoxton square, the centre trains those wanting to become circus performers and celebrities like Daniel Radcliffe (recently for his film Frankenstein). And Circus skills can be a great way to stay fit too – so I found out when I spent the afternoon learning how to tight rope walk and do the trapeze a couple of weekends ago.
So what is it?
It’s a whole afternoon where you and around 25 other people gather in one room to learn different circus skills. We started off with some really fun workouts, or just playing really! Kate, who led the workshop, told us to tuck scarves into the back of our trousers and before we knew it we were running around like lunatics trying to nick each other’s tails and doing our best to keep on to ours – I don’t think I’ve laughed so much in ages. After a few more team building exercises we split into four groups and were introduced to the first of four circus skills which we were to acquire over the next 3 hours – tight rope walking!
Thankfully we weren’t to be suspended miles up in the air, we were only around 20 inches off the ground, but once you got up there and tried to balance you soon realised it was harder than it looked. We started off using a stick, for balance, and each other for guidance as we crossed it, and realised quickly how much concentration it took. Next was the balancing part, starting on one side of the tight rope with one foot balanced on it we bought the other one up to the side to see how well we could stay up….if I’m honest I wasn’t great. The girls I were with were so much better than me.
Then it was the moment of truth – could we walk it from one side to the other without falling off – watch my vlog about my experience here to find out.
The next circus skill we learnt was the trapeze. As I’ve got older I’ve become more and more scared of heights and as the instructors talked us through how it would work my nerves started to set in.
But I knew I would regret it if I didn’t try so I jumped up the ladder and hooped my leg round the side, and then slowly made my way into the centre where I got hooked up before I took the leap of faith on to the trapeze.
But it’s easier said than done – my hands were so clammy with nerves that I thought I may fall off even before I made it on it. Thankfully though I managed to grip on and before I knew it I was flying!! Back and forth, with the instructor below shouting ‘legs back, tummy in, legs forward’, and I think I did them all in time – you have to create momentum at certain points so that you could push yourself enough into the next swing. If you were a pro then another person would be waiting upside down on the other side to hang off your feet – but I was happy with just feeling like I was Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City!!
By this point my group and I had really bonded – mainly over our panic of being thrown around on the trapeze, so when it came to some group trust exercises (mainly leaning on each other) we knew we had each other’s backs (quite literally). We went through some exercises where we had to lean on each other, including all five of us back to back, pushing on each others weight (a real killer for the glutes!). And then they threw in a little bit of gymnastics for good measure – balancing on two of my (new found) friends legs I stepped up and stood up straight while they held me.
The last circus skill we learnt was how to juggle. I always thought I never had enough patience to juggle – when I was younger I would try and copy my big sister, but the oranges would always go flying in different directions and I would give up after 5 minutes of continually falling over my feet in a bid to pick them up!
It helped that we had an amazing teacher on the day – she was so friendly and helpful. And with all complicated things it’s always good to start with the basics – using one ball and throwing it up and over to the other hand, and once we had this perfect we graduated to two juggling balls in one hand.
When it came to crossing the two juggling balls over the instructor told us its common for most people to just throw one ball up in the air and pass the other one to the other hand. Its that whole ‘fight or flight’ – the part of your brain that tells you it’s not normal to be throwing two balls in the air at the same time. When I first attempted it my juggling balls went flying…my younger self was returning…BUT after some practice we were all juggling pros, and even left having juggled three at one time – I always said girls were good at multi-tasking!
The afternoon was such good fun, I met some lovely girls – so a great experience on your own or in a group. And before you ask ‘Where was the exercise?’ – the whole afternoon was a workout – when we were concentrating on the tightrope our legs and abs were in full action, swinging on the trapeze gave us a good arms, leg and ab workout and those balancing exercises were a great workout for the whole body. Me and the girls actually all shared how much our legs and abs ached the next day !
Fancy doing it yourself? The National Centre offers long and short courses for any age starting at £72 for an experience day. For those not in London, the Centre hosts a database of circus companies around the UK which can be found here.