Aerial spins and circus skills create a springboard for learning

Issue: Volume 97, Number 10

Posted: 11 June 2018
Reference #: 1H9j96

Training in circus skills such as acrobatics, juggling and aerial hoops is stretching not only the bodies but also the minds of students who attend classes after school and on weekends in Auckland.

Stretching out: Student Sacha Wilson, 11, uses silk fabric hanging from the ceiling as part of her training.

Circus training builds strength in the body and develops coordination, creativity, balance, flexibility, confidence - and is helping students in the classroom.

The mother of 11-year-old student Sacha Wilson says that before her daughter began tumbling, twisting and turning last year, she didn’t want to go to classes at school. “She was very disengaged, and that was holding back her learning,” Jo Parker says.

“She lacked confidence and struggled in areas such as reading and writing, but since she began circus classes, her reading and comprehension is much better, and she is a lot more engaged with all her school subjects.

“There’s been a shift in attitude of 360 degrees,” Jo says.

“She used to struggle to get her ideas out of her head, in writing for example, because expressing herself in that way was difficult. She now does it creatively with her body, and through videos of her skills and performances.

“We tried a variety of things before circus, including gymnastics, but none of it engaged her. But she’s come out of her shell. Now, she sticks with things and is committed to a learning task.”

Sacha trains six hours a week using aerial hoops and silks, trapeze, rope, adagio, acrobatics and handstands.

There’s a big emphasis on repetition to perfect a skill, such as handstands or aerial work. Jo says that’s been very helpful for Sacha. “She used to give up easily, but has learnt that she can achieve things if she sticks at it and is committed.

“She’s part of circus company Dust Palace’s scholarship programme that will be putting on an original show soon, which they create from scratch, all doing solo acts themselves, which is a great achievement.” 

The show won’t just be remarkable displays of physical dexterity, it will tell personal stories in solo performances. The theme is ‘What You Do Not Want To Reveal  To People’. Jo says, “Sacha now has the ability to act out a lot of her thoughts in creative ways other than through words.”

Her class teacher at Hobsonville School, Morgan Kearney, has witnessed the huge change. “She is a lot more confident, engaged and happy in classes now, and achieving at a higher level across the board,” Morgan says. “She’s found a niche that is perfect for her, and it’s been a springboard for other achievements on her learning pathway.”

Fifteen-year-old student Mary Piggin is also gaining from circus training. She began two years ago. ”It’s very inclusive and accepting of difference. I’ve gained confidence in myself and that’s improving my academic performance at school. I used to find it difficult to fit in. The circus community is supportive and encouraging and we work together in teams on projects.

“Things such as balancing and juggling develop physical strength and flexibility but also perseverance and self-discipline, and that applies to everything at school. I find it easier to do all my studies now.

“We also do a lot of work on building strength through handstands, for example, and often with one or more other people. We rely completely on our partners in our collaborative routines; this teaches us how to work together.”

Mary is part of HighJinx, the circus performance youth company.

Student Naila Garman, who is 11, says, “Circus is very creative and everyone is encouraged to express themselves and put their heart and soul into what they do, so good results come from that kind of commitment.” She loves it so much she wants to be a professional circus performer as a career.

Dust Palace Director Eve Gordon says she is constantly surprised at the changes in students. “Creating a space in which creativity is honoured and valued, and inspiration is an everyday state for people to operate from, is such a wonderful feeling.”  

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:00 am, 11 June 2018

Get new listings like these in your email
Set up email alerts