Circus and Social Change

Copyright Leo Bentley - Leek PhotographyThe workshops I run are an alternative form of education for many young people not attending state school or are at risk of exclusion. The sessions are social events not just about learning tricks but creating a safe creative space where a community can thrive, share knowledge, respect each-other and gain the confidence to communicate within a group.

The aim is to build a resilient community that supports each other to learn new skills, builds positive long lasting friendships around a theme of exercise, circus and the creative arts.

Some of the young people I currently work with are a part of the Kids Company; ''We provide practical, emotional and educational support to vulnerable inner-city children and young people''. Many of the activities involve the creative arts and exercise, providing a multidisciplinary approach to educational support. Check out the Kids Company website to find out more information about the therapeutic work, working ethos and the young people involved in different projects.

I have been running circus spinning workshops for one of the Kids Company youth centres in Hartcliffe, some of the males really love the hula hoop, one boy in particular always gravitates toward the hoop, he showed a natural flare and completed three choreographed tricks in a nice sequence with just two sessions! Another young girl showed her skills at hacky sac and keeps the record at 20 kick ups – still unbeaten to this day. Even the staff get involved often trying out new equipment for the first time. Skipping is also a popular past time – all of the young people using the skipping rope bust out skips faster than the speed of light, setting the pace for a competitive warm up.

I also devised and led creative movement classes for a 16 week course for the Kids Company department in a secondary school in Bristol. These sessions are for young people who are recognised as in need. The scheme provides extra educational and emotional support using the creative arts/circus as a medium of expression/communication. I used juggling and spinning plates as a warm up. All of the young people expressed their enthusiasm for both the juggling and the spinning plates instantaneously. Some of the students had never touched a juggling ball before or had a chance to try spinning plates. The boys got very creative with the spinning plates and started putting together a piece balancing plates on top of metre long bamboo sticks. The girls put together an imaginative sequence using poi spinning and staff skills. Most of the young people said it felt to try good to try new things and it helped to have a little space within the school to process new ideas.

Teaching trapeze at Majical Youth's festival. Copyright: Leo Bentley - Leek PhotographyResearch has shown that consistent positive engagement in exercise can help increase self esteem and reduce stress. In the beginning, learning new skills that are physically demanding can be a challenge – especially when the learner has stepped out of their social and physical comfort zone for the first time. Over time the aim is to consistently and creatively support people through the learning process at the person's own pace; this approach achieves amazing results. The circus props give people a chance to express themselves physically and creatively, using their brains in a new way to interact with the world that surrounds them. Sometimes people just need to run around, throw and catch a ball or make their own rules to a game. One of my favourite moments was a game of throw and catch over the caged wall of the basket ball court. We had two teams – one on the hill and one in the courts. The boys made their own rules to the game and kept the score, everyone was so involved and focussed towards getting the perfect throw over the high fence. Many of the players made some winning catches often having to run, dive, leap and roll to catch the ball. Another memory that sticks out is a young person sticking on his favourite drum and bass tune and a second boy really going for it on the hula hoop, linking together new tricks and smashing out some amazing moves; he had the biggest smile on his face – these are good moments. Learning circus skills and being active gives an engaging healthy alternative to risk taking behaviour. It's exciting to see when young people become fully immersed and focussed towards learning a new skill.

Majical Youth are a group currently transforming into a charitable community group. One of their many treasures is a home education festival in Wales; I run circus spinning workshops and facilitate aerial workshops in the circus area. The festival offers a plethora of outdoor education workshops; as well as circus and theatre this group also specialises in art and crafts, bushcraft, herbalism plus fairground rides to start of the morning with a boom. Check out the Facebook group for updates.

During this week long Majical Youth event the young people camp out in a feld together and attend aerial and spinning workshops. At the end of the week the group create an aerial and fre show to an audience. The final show last year was a spectacular event to finish of the summer; comprising of twenty fve fire performers and ten young aerialists showing their skills on the static trapeze and corde lisse. Some of the younger ones not taking part in the later show got to show of their skills and experience being an audience for the first time in a renegade during the day.

Presently there is limited funding for creative outreach work, the young people smile and laugh a lot during the sessions not to mention showing an increasing enthusiasm for being active. Many of the people I work with have overwhelming challenges in their day to day lives; a little bit of fun can go a long way in affecting social change; donations and unity with other groups are important for the work to continue. With more equipment donated from different groups, like Firetoys, I can start teaching young people who do not have easy access to circus equipment.

This type of experience has a strong emphasis on group communication, cohesion and play. Working with fre and aerial builds trusting relationships and allows individuals to form a strong identity. Using physical movement to express what words can not describe can help communicate new ideas and encourage positive change in behaviour patterns. I feel exercise, circus and the creative arts has a valued place in community outreach work. The young people are each unique and have major talent to offer; it's always an interesting ride for everyone involved!

About the Author

Naomi performing fire fans. Copyright Scott M Salt PhotographyNaomi Pickles started running creative workshops two years ago in the city of Bristol. Naomi is apart of a strong network of people striving for social change; working to build stronger networks within the community to support vulnerable inner city young people through challenging times. Naomi comes from a community of DIY culture, art and circus.