Culture, Life Stories, Life

What I learned from joining the circus

It all started when my friend asked me for a favor.

I was in my second year of uni, when my friend, who also happened to be the head of the circus society, said he was hosting a fitness class during Freshers’ Week.

Freshers’ Week is usually the first week of the new academic year when the first year students are welcomed by the existing students through various social activities – primarily, going out and getting hammered.

But, for the circus society, he was hosting a class.

Existing students are 100% welcome to attend any event involved in Freshers’ Week. So, anxious about having nobody show up, he asked our group of friends to attend.

“You’ll get to try out a bunch of different circus skills. It’ll be fun!”

Why not? We all went along and I had the best time.

I asked him if the rest of the sessions were like that one and whether or not I could join the society.

Sheepishly, he said that the society didn’t have a lot of funding. So, no, the classes weren’t usually like this.

But then he told me about Circus Central.

It was the local youth circus community with access to loads of different facilities, including aerial classes, which is what I was keenest to learn. Aerial is, essentially, physical maneuvers carried out in the air using some form of supporting equipment. I went to a class because, you know, why not? It looked super cool and, if I didn’t like it, I didn’t have to go back.

I started out with static trapeze and I kept going back.

Aerial Hoop.

Aerial Silks.

And it wasn’t just the skills that kept drawing me to the class. I loved the teaching style. There was a huge focus on how to take care of your body while you’re working out, as well as developing skills. Warming up was super important. If you weren’t sweating, you weren’t warming up properly.

Similarly, cooldowns were just as important. We’d stretch our muscles and push our flexibility actively and passively until we were relaxed and sore. That’s another thing. It hurts. The circus hurts. But it was a good kind of pain. I found myself happily comparing bruises and aches with other attendees.

I really loved that, by attending these classes, I was making some amazing friends.

I’d never been involved in something where they really cared about your individual needs. They truly made an effort to make sure every attendee was given focus and attention specific to the needs of their body.

Their founder and CEO at the time, Helen Averley, seemed to take a liking to me. And, within the first few weeks of my classes, I was suddenly thrown into an intensive three-month course where we trained eight hours a week to prepare for a show at the end of the quarter. I was obviously out of my league, skill-wise. But no one made me feel that way. With help and support, I up-skilled very quickly in technique and ability.

And I felt the difference in my body. I toned up and trimmed down. I was stronger and fitter than I had ever been before, but I wasn’t aggressive or competitive. There was no competition to be the best. It was just about helping one another be the best that you can be. As I became more involved with the circus community, going to other circus schools and festivals and shows, I realized that this wasn’t specific to Circus Central.

The entire circus community is built of positive and supportive people.

They look out for one another. When I was struggling for money, they offered work and deals. I ran workshops and classes, in exchange for classes. I worked as an admin assistant after being let go suddenly from my first job. Everyone really cares and, as time went on, I just found myself being drawn further and further into this amazing world that no one knows about.

Things that, to any normal person, looked so amazing, were just part of an average day to me. I’ve learned so much and had so many amazingly unique experiences that few people would even imagine. I was so in love with this world that I tried to make a career out of it.

But reality hits and finances are hit hardest.

People don’t care about how long it takes you to learn a trick, or how expensive your equipment is. They don’t care about how much time or effort or skill they’re really paying for when they hire you.

They just want a cheap gig.

I’ll forever be thankful for my life with the circus. I just wish I could afford to pursue it.

  • Mahum Butt

    She's one of those people who loves a bit of everything weird. She has grown up in the UK, as any typical Pakistani girl does, before she got her Master's in Computer Science. She went on to work in game development for 3 years, before she got bored and ran away with the circus. When she realised she had no money, she became a research scientist, before finally getting married and moving across the globe to live in Pakistan with her dog, her husband, and his dog!