We’ve been in San Marcos for about three weeks teaching circus to a group of kids from an organisation called Los Quinchos who work with street kids from Managua. Their skills are developing incredibly fast. We taught at the Boys’ farm today and I watched Jake show a kid a trick on a slackline called a seat drop. The kid then practiced it and an hour later he successfully performed it on his third attempt in front of all his friends. His enthusiasm for practicing the trick relentlessly and then the massive grin on his face when he performed it makes me think he feels the same way about circus as I do.
Kids don’t tend to need much persuasion to want to play with circus toys. There is something intrinsically fun about circus that is pretty much irresistible. That’s what makes social circus so enjoyable to teach and so rewarding to be involved in. Social circus pioneer Reg Bolton puts it like this:
“It is gratifying that an activity which is so strongly recognised as fun, should also present developmental, intellectual and physical challenges, encourage social behaviour more creative and co-operative than competitive, and which has as its end product, an act of donation – of generosity.” Reg Bolton – ‘Why Circus Works’ PHD Thesis
It really does feel like these kids we’re working with are benefitting from doing circus. They have been putting together routines for their show which demonstrate creativity and talent. Jill Maglio and Carol McKinstry concluded in their paper “Occupational therapy and circus: Potential partners in enhancing the health and well-being of today’s youth” in the Australian Occupational Therapy Journal (2008) 55, 287–290 that circus has the following benefits:
1. Provides a fun, motivating and intrinsically reinforcing experience.
2. Increases positive risk taking both physically and emotionally, in a safe and supported environment.
3. Promotes physical health and body awareness through activity.
4. Enables participants to acquire a broadened skill base relating to circus as well as more generic ‘life skills’.
5. Increases self-confidence and self-efficacy.
6. Improves social connectedness, teamwork, and leadership skills within the group.
7. Provides opportunities for calming rhythmic activities, increased sensory feedback, a focus on balance, and coordination.
8. Creates a space in which participants feel a sense of belonging.
Performers Without Borders has a number of goals in mind when we’re doing these sorts of projects. Firstly we’re attempting to give vulnerable children the opportunity to explore their potential in a safe environment. We’re hoping they’re going to get many of the benefits that are outlined above thus improving how the children see themselves and their place in the community.
Also the project has to be sustainable. We’re not just going to teach them circus and then leave. We provide them with circus kit and try to create an environment where they will continue to develop their circus skills and hopefully teach them to others. Each year a team will come back, check on their progress and top-up their skills.
I’ll finish with a lovely quote which sums up the benefits of teaching kids circus from a book called “Circus for Everyone” (Mountainside Press, USA, 2001):
“By turning you upside down, we teach you to stand on your own two feet. By dropping objects we teach you to catch them. By having you walk all over someone, we teach you to take care of them. By having you clown around, we teach you to take yourself seriously.”
I would recommend doing this sort of project to anyone. It is immeasurably rewarding to be involved in and I know I will be talking about all the happy memories I have from working with these incredible children for years to come.
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