“BUT I WAS TOLD NEVER TO POINT MY TOES!” Why the WHY Matters in Circus

“NEVER point your toes in a double ankle hang.” (false – depends on the wrap)
“ALWAYS immediately trash all rigging that has been dropped.” (false)
“NEVER question your instructor.” (absolutely absurd)
“ALWAYS bring your teacher wine and chocolate!” (ding ding ding! We have a winner!)

I teach an ankle hang that allows for pointed toes. If I had a dollar for every time I told a new student to point their toes going in, and heard, “But my teacher said NEVER to point in this hang!”, I’d be a rich woman indeed. I ask, “Why not?” (…..crickets……..) The student never has a real answer, they’re just fairly certain that they’ll die if they point their toes. Now, I’m all for erring on the side of caution, but the “why” matters in circus. It matters a lot.

I’ve been teaching for 17 years (do us both a favor and don’t do that math), and here’s one of the biggest differences between unseasoned instructors, and those of us who have been around (and around and around) the block: we know our theory. We know WHY you wrap to the front. We know WHY you shouldn’t point your toes here, but totally can here. We know WHY you’re flailing around like a demented bumble bee on your split wraps. And YOU can know why too!

Understanding the theory surrounding your apparatus or discipline allows you to “get it” from the inside out. Try to:

1. LISTEN. Start listening for the whys. I (mostly) guarantee your coach drops little nuggets of theory here and there – train yourself to listen for them.
2. WRITE IT DOWN – take notes. Take notes take notes take notes. You will progress faster, and you’ll find yourself becoming a little circus detective.
3. ASK – ask questions! If you can’t see an obvious reason for something, ask a question. Not sure what’s holding you in the air? Question. Maybe see another way of doing it? Question.
4. QUESTION AUTHORITY (Trust me – I’m a teacher.) – As your understanding grows, you may suspect that your coach is teaching something a particular way because that’s the way they were taught. A good coach will JUMP on a better (or even different) method – be it getting into a move, communicating an idea, or reevaluating their theory. Respectfully engage in a bit of detective work, but don’t be a twerp about it. Phrases that can help include: “I’m having trouble understanding why we do xyz this way. Can you help me with this one?” Or “Are there other ways of getting into that? Could you also….” If you’re not a disruptive poo head about it, most coaches are happy to explore.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you make your teacher want to take out a hit on you by challenging them on everything that comes out of their mouths – it’s a fine line between eager & curious and confrontational & obnoxious. But take charge of your learning! Some folks have an absurd notion that learning is a one-way street from teacher to student (all you teachers just started a hurricane somewhere in the South Pacific with all that eye rolling you just did). True learning is anything but passive!!!! Pursue the “whys” and watch your training get deep like an ocean. Now, where’s my wine and chocolate? Anyone? Love and pullups, Laura

Guest Instructors Are NOT Fortune Telling Vending Machines! T Lawrence-Simon Guest Posts

Hey there dangler friends and fans,
I have locked Laura in a closet until she repairs the entire Killian Cog costume collection (haahaa, ok I ripped the seams out, she’s resewing while drinking a bottle of wine and crying “Why would you do this to me?!” but, details details…)
My name is T, I have written here before when Laura was…not available.
I have a new topic I want to share with you all.
Bold thesis statement that I will flesh out further on:


Ok, let me go back to the beginning. The topic of today’s post has two main scenarios: I teach at ESH Circus Arts in Boston, we’re known as quite an awesome circus school, so we get a lot of people travelling through who hear about us and want to come take a lesson while they are in town. The other scenario is that often, I get flown to a school somewhere else who wants me to offer workshops, and while I’m there offer some times to their students for private lessons. What both of these scenarios have in common is that the instructor doesn’t know much about the student they are doing the lesson with. They may or may not have ever met them before, and if they have, it could have been a while since they last saw this student and don’t know what progress they’ve made or not made in their aerial training.

So having experienced this situation on my home turf, and countless times while guest teaching at another school, I wanted to make a useful primer for the students that like taking privates from new (to them) instructors. I really love teaching students all over, and getting to help them progress in their aerial life, but I have experienced some roadblocks that hinder the lesson from being the greatest it can be. Below I’ve broken down the roadblocks into categories, and offer suggestions for how to better set up the lesson if you feel like you fall in that category.


When you set up the private in advance, whether with your/their school or them directly, send along a video of you in the air (can be an instagram link or just a quick minute long sequence you uploaded in a private link on youtube). This helps the instructor get a grasp for what level you’re at, and maybe what kind of stuff you might need to work on. Going into a private lesson completely blind is like being a lawyer going into a courtroom with NO clue what type of law they will be needing to know to defend their client. It’s not that we don’t have it all in our brains, but if you request “3000 ways of getting into crossback straddle”, I might want to prepare by writing them all down so my brain doesn’t skip any during our lesson. Some people might think this is an imposition or they don’t wanna bother the teacher in advance. If watching a one minute aerial video of a student you are going to teach is a bother, IMO that is not a teacher that is worth taking a lesson from. Now having said that, if this was during a teaching tour where I was teaching at 17 schools in a row, and had hours of private lessons in each place, I might not have the time to sit down and watch all these videos, BUT at least you sent it, and that’s great.


So, private lessons cost money, you are paying for an hour or more of my knowledge and safe instruction and my expertise to do it well. So, why are you willing to throw that money down to learn if, when the time comes, you have no tangible goals or desires. This conversation happens way too frequently:

T: Hi there, are you my 3 o’clock lesson?
STUDENT: Yeah, hi I’m Laura Witwer. (this is a completely random name I made up in place of naming an actual student, all resemblance to any person living or dead is completely coincidental)
T: Awesome, we’re on trapeze today right?
T: Great, so what are we working on today?
STUDENT: I don’t know, what kind of stuff do you want to do?

HOLD UP! Yes, I love teaching, and yes I love meeting new students and stuff, but this private lesson is not about me. The reason I am probably being flown to your school is because I have a pretty big skillset, and I teach it quite well. So I am game for pretty much anything that falls under the category of what I can teach. Please, bring me anything. If it doesn’t fit under my skillset, then we can have a conversation about that, and figure out how I can be of service to you. If it doesn’t actually fit in your skillset (i.e. person who can’t really invert cleanly above the ground who says they want to learn some big drop they saw in a show) at least I can know where you want to go, and I will get you closer with helpful drills and conditioning methods, or a progression that will eventually get you to where you are going.

The last two scenarios go hand in hand, and lead me to the title of this blog post:


So, I walk in, I see my student warming up on the mats- (quick thing, this is for any private lessons EVER: when you book the lesson with the space, ask if you are allowed to warm up beforehand. Then, actually GET THERE early and warm up beforehand. This sounds like a gross statement, but I have made so much money watching people warm up because they arrived the minute before their lesson started, and I of course will not be letting them just hop up on the aerial equipment with no proper warm-up)
-back to what I was saying:
I walk in, they are warming up, they do a climb or two, they seem fairly able, like they’ve been doing this a while and they have good technique and stuff.
I say “So what would you like to work on in this lesson?”
STUDENT: “I don’t know, show me something new.”

This is my 2nd least favorite type of private lesson. There, I said it. I get where the idea is coming from, they are doing pretty well at their school, they have a pretty broad vocabulary, and they’re feeling a little stuck/bored with their school’s curriculum, so here’s this travelling teacher, who apparently has a pretty big following, he probably knows a lot of stuff beyond the vocabulary you do. This totally makes sense, but here’s the catch. To teach you something new, I would have to know every single thing you know to make sure that what I am offering is in fact new to you. Read the above sentence 3 times. Yeah, a pretty tall order, amirite?

This topic and the next topic share solutions, so please read below to find solutions to this mind-reader scenario.


I find the “Show me something new” student, is often the same student who wants to try a trick once, just to learn the basic mechanic of it, and then move on to the next skill so they can learn THE MOST skills in one lesson. This isn’t really that useful; sure, you may or may not have learned 16 new positions/drops/maneuvers, but you didn’t get any finer points and training tips from me. You just put in the private lesson money to the aerial skill vending machine and poked all the buttons until your money’s worth of candy came out. Learning new skills is not at all wrong to want, but let’s think about how many, and how we approach them.

Besides the lack of finer detail learned, and this is maybe a more personal aspect (to which you are permitted to respond with: “you are being hired for a service, it doesn’t really matter what you are feeling”) is that it also makes me feel a bit…used. To me, teaching is a collaboration, they way I teach and what I teach is informed by the students I work with. If I am not reading my audience, and letting that input guide me to better teach them, I am not doing my job well. So when someone just wants to treat me like a vending machine, I just feel a lack of human connection. I get that you are paying good money for me to be teaching you, and so you want to get the most bang for your buck. I get that you might feel stagnant in your home school’s curriculum at this moment, and I’m new and exciting for you. So, how can we work together to help you feel successful?


“So right now in class, we’ve been working on our double star drops, and I would love to get your feedback on that to start. We’ve been entering the stars from the knee hook, and the leg straight up the silk, if you have any other cool entries, that would be awesome.
I don’t really have a specific set of skills I’d like to learn, but I do suck at back balances, could you help me with that? (This will most likely lead me for the rest of the hour, once I see what your imbalances are, and can help you progress past them)
I’m a total drop-junkie. At my school, we’ve worked on bombs, single star, double star, 360, and windmills. Could you show me any fun variations to those, and/or maybe we could work on combining drops.
How many ways are there to get into an S-wrap? (haahaa, then immediately go and book 3 more hours of private lessons, it’s gonna be a long night)
Can I show you a sequence that I’m working on, and that will help you get a feel for what kind of skills I like? Then you can think of some cool things to add to the sequence to spice it up?

So there you have it friends, I hope this has helped you in some way. Maybe the next time a guest teacher is in town, you can try some of these, and see if it makes you feel more productive. Hopefully Laura is done sewing, and maybe she’ll forgive me some day.
Until then dear danglers,
Fly Away!

OMG – Your Back Knee is Killing My Eyeballs! Prettify Your Split!


Now, I know YOU never split with your back leg slightly bent. I’m not talking to you, nope, just talking to myself….. BUT, if I were talking to you, I would tell you this…..

That ugly back leg is all I see when I look at your split.

It doesn’t matter how low you go, it doesn’t matter how good your hair looks that day. All that matters is that the line of the back leg is broken, and so are my eyeballs.

Fix It Quick!

Everyone thinks lower is better when it comes to a split, but not when it comes at the expense of lines!

  • Lift your split up. You heard me. I would rather have you higher with good lines than with your ankles at your ear level and an ugly back leg.
  • Press your back leg straight. Straighter. It’s still not straight. Think about:
    • Lifting your back kneecap – feel it sliding up as you tighten your quads.
    • Lengthening the back of the knee.
    • Pretending you don’t have knees. Yes, I’m serious. This totally works for some students!
    • Feel as if someone is pulling your legs long (like taffy) in two different directions. You can also pretend your legs are light sabers or laser beams. Add sound effects if you wish.
    • Bring your split all the way up, tighten your knees, go back down, and have someone yell at you the second they see a bend. Extra points if they do it in German – hey, it works for me on wheel!

Go forth and SPLIT, people! Love and pull-ups, Laura

As always, if you like this post, share it on your blog, the F-books, Twitter, and wherever else you crazy kids are sharing things these days.


Stop Looking Down – People Are Gonna Think You Dropped Money

Look out! Point at someone!

Stop it. Stop it right now. You’re doing it again. Quit it! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!

You’re looking down. At your feet, at the floor, at your bits, at I-don’t-even-know-what. Girl, people are gonna think you dropped some money! Pay attention to where you’re looking, because the audience will look where you do.

This is an issue of technique, so it may take some practice if you’re used to doing the following:

  • Nodding your head when you climb. Look where you’re going! You don’t want to crunch your neck looking straight up at the ceiling, but your chest should be slightly lifted (boobies to the sky!), and your gaze directed up. If you’re nodding like a bobble head doll as you climb, remember – your feet don’t need you to watch them in order to climb.
  • Dropping your head in splits. This is PRIME looking down time! What are you looking at? Lift your gaze to the horizon! This lengthens the neck, and we don’t just get a view of the top of your head.
  • Looking at your bits. Why are you looking at your bits? Stop looking at your bits.

Don’t Look Down, a Truly Brilliant Poem by Laura Witwer

I am not quite sure where to look,

I did not learn this from a book.

I do not need to see my feet

To know that they’re attached to me.

I will not look down when I climb,

I will not look down all the time!

I will not look down in a splits,

I will not look down at my bits.

I will not look down at the floor,

I will not look down anymore!


Seriously, I missed my calling. Love and pull-ups, Laura

As always, if you like this post, share it on your blog, the F-books, Twitter, and wherever else you crazy kids are sharing things these days.


The Circus Revolution: Make Resolutions That Will Actually Stick!

happy-new-yearThose of you who have known and trained with me for years know that, after a series of small but annoying injuries, I pretty much stopped training. Everything. No silks, no wheel, no workouts, nothing. Cue inertia. The longer I went without training, the harder everything became. The harder everything became, the less I wanted to train…. Cue depression. Cue weight gain. Cue muscle loss. Cue Ben & Jerry’s (shut up, feelings!). Oh, there was lots of Ben & Jerry’s.

My wake-up call came when, at a recent gig, I audibly grunted when inverting at the end of my act. Thank God the music was loud, ya’ll, because it was NOT ladylike or glamorous. For the first time, my “easy version” of my act was hard. Not just hard – hard. Now, I have two choices: roll over and say die, or fight the good fight (guess which one I’m choosing?). The road is long and Game of Thrones-y, and I see tears and wailing in my near future, but I’m not ready to retire, so there we are!

Getting Back in the Game, or Starting a New Thing

It’s easy to set a goal or make a resolution, right? We go in with the bright shiny intensity of a thousand suns, and YES! I’m going to do it this time! This is so great! Until it starts to suck. And then you miss a day. Then two. Then it’s February and you’re no longer pursuing that resolution because BEN & JERRY’S. Shut UP, feelings!

The good news is that we can sidestep the February Fall-Out, but it means being more realistic than we might want to be (le sigh). It’s a lot like a diet – pick one that you can’t maintain day after day for a year and you’ll be snarfing a pint of Cherry Garcia in two weeks. It’s the same with resolutions. So, consider:

  • Set real goals, not fantasy ones. I have a vision of myself in my head as some yogic goddess, all glistening muscles and flat tummy and beatific zen glow. Then, I look in the mirror while I’m heaving and sweating through my BUTI yoga torture session and want to cry when I see how far I am from that picture in my head. So, I’ve started focusing on the REAL goal – to feel strong, sexy, and flexible again. Yeeeeeeeees. See the difference? One lights my fire, the other douses it with tears. Bring on the fuego, por favor.
  • Focus on process too, not just the end result. It’s great to have a mental picture of what you want to use as a yardstick (unless you’re beating yourself with it), but that end point isn’t as fixed as you might imagine. Think of training as a spectrum or continuum – you’ll ALWAYS be somewhere between the two poles. While it’s great to know where you’re going, you also have to be where you are. Deep like an ocean, people.
  • Comparison is a 4 Letter Word. OK, it’s a 10 letter word, but you know what I mean. I compete with the performance athlete I was 10 years ago; you might compete with a past self, or your best friend, or that girl with the pointy toes that would make Baryshnikov’s heart go pitty-pat. Bring it back to you, bring it back to now. You have the opportunity to manifest something that is utterly unique to you – and only you – right now. If comparing and competing gets you revved up in a positive way, use it! Otherwise, ain’t nobody got time for that.
  • Manage Your Expectations. You are not going to have a straight legged inversion by Friday. Unless you are, in which case I’m not talking to you. Make sure you’re not setting yourself up for major frustration by setting goals that no normal human could reach. This is super tied up with….
  • Don’t set a training timeline. If you were in charge of how fast you learn, how quickly you put on muscles, how fast you can make those muscles stretch, well, wouldn’t YOU be perfect! But, you’re not. It’s going to take the time it’s going to take, and you’ll be a hot mess if you set a timeline for something you only have so much control over. Instead of focusing on result here, bring it back to process: “I’m going to silks class twice a week, and stretching for 15 minutes 5 nights a week.” This is something you can actually control!
  • Trust the Process. The speed of progress may not be something you can directly control, but you CAN trust the process. If you show up, if you put in the work, progress will happen. This is how training works. If you are having trouble seeing or believing that you’re moving forward, keep a training journal – it’s very enlightening.
  • Healthy Discipline vs Letting Yourself Off the Hook or Beating Yourself to a Pulp. Being awesome, dynamic, interesting people, it’s not surprising that we also will spend a great deal of time either letting ourselves completely off the hook or senselessly beating our heads against the wall because we’re “not working hard enough”. It can be hard to find that middle ground, and it takes constant curating to make sure you stay there. Your coach can be a huge help here! Aim for a healthy discipline – you don’t get points for crying after every class.

Revolutionary Resolution Worksheet

I am working on (ex: straight legged inversions):

I will do (ex: three inversions at the end of class when I’m really tired):

My first small milestone is (ex: keeping my legs straight on the way down):

Record your results each time you train. Celebrate every small milestone, and throw a freaking party when you reach your big goal. DO NOT sweep your success under the rug.


Love and pullups (and belated HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!), Laura

Hey! If you’re in NYC, consider jump starting your New Years Resolution with a “Resolution Pack”! Check it out!


Watch a SassyPants Beginner Demo Class with Steve from Refinery29!

Hello Dear Danglers! This past week, I had the enormous pleasure of putting Steve Doss from Refinery29 through his paces in this short class demo. If you’re curious about what it all looks like, take a peek! Love and pull-ups, Laura



As always, if you like this post, share it on your blog, the F-books, Twitter, and wherever else you crazy kids are sharing things these days.



Hello Dear Danglers! As many of you know, the Streb Lab for Action Mechanics (SLAM) is one of my aerial homes. They’re raising money for a new airbag, and here’s Bobby Hedglin to tell you all about it!


Dear Friends,

The STREB Lab for Action Mechanics opened its garage door more than 10 years ago and, shortly thereafter, the España-STREB Trapeze Academy (ESTA) was established. Over that time, we’re proud to have built a program that provides a space for exploration, development, and risk and you’ve been an important part of it all.

As a member of the Aerial community, I am writing to you to ask your support.

We’ve had our current airbag-style landing system for about 6 years now. That 800 pounds of red, yellow, blue, and black tarp has served us well, but it’s time to upgrade our equipment. After a lot of research and planning, we’ve decided on a unique system developed by Freddy Osler, a manufacturer in New Zealand. With input from Noe España of the famed Flying Españas, we have co-designed a landing system with Osler that will revolutionize the possibilities on our rig. This innovative design cradles the body, no matter how you hit the mat—head dives, belly smacks, cannon balls. Plus, the new mat comes with new motors that are much quieter than our current blowers, so you’ll be able to hear the music better, and, of course, your instructors.

In order to raise the $16,000 needed to bring this new state-of-the-art system to SLAM, we are launching a GOFUNDME campaign. We want to start off strong and are turning to you for leadership support. A contribution of ANY amount will make you a Flying Angel and will go a long way in helping us reach our goal.

Please take a look at our video!
Thank you and see you in the air! And hey, “Why walk when you can fly”?

All best,

Bobby Hedglin Taylor
Director –The España-STREB Trapeze Academy


An Easy Fix for an Ugly Transition – “The Slice”

As a teacher, I see a lot of (ahem) “creative” transitions. Like angry-badger-in-a-whirlpool level creative. The vast majority are a natural part of the learning process which we ALL go through (and let’s face it – they’re HILARIOUS on Instagram). But, what if I told you that you could take one move from unseemly to unbelievable right this minute? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…… The Slice.

What is “The Slice”?

The Slice is an easy and glamorous way of bringing your torso between the fabrics. Instead of recreating the extra-terrestrial birth scene from the movie “Aliens”, two small adjustments can make that no-no say yes-yes. It creates better lines, and is much safer than that weird grabby thing you do. Try it!

  1. Both arms up, then “slice” one arm through the fabrics and press it back.
  2. Shift the other arm through, press back.
  3. It’s important to apply pressure to the poles of the fabric with the back of the upper arm – do NOT let your arms sweep forward, or your shoulders round.



When Should I Use It?

Use The Slice any time you need to get your bubbies forward and your hips back (going into crucifix, for example). And the best part? You need zero skill to do it – it’s something you can rock on day one. Go forth and Slice, friends! Love and pull-ups, Laura

As always, if you like this post, share it on your blog, the F-books, Twitter, and wherever else you crazy kids are sharing things these days.


Flex for Jesus! Don’t Get Slingshot-ed Off Your Apparatus

If you’re a dancer, or if your feet go into spasms when you have to point one and flex the other, you’ve likely struggled with the dilemma – to point, or not to point? Friends, that IS the question.

During some moves, my students regularly hear me holler, “FLEX FOR JESUS” while they’re whizzing around in the ceiling. It’s a reminder to commit to a strong, well-placed, deliberately flexed foot, which goes a long way towards keeping your butt safely in the air.


Hold the Phone – Shouldn’t I ALWAYS Point Everything in Circus?

Well, no. There are a few reasons you might not want to point your foot!

  • When your flexed foot is keeping you alive (example: single ankle hang).
  • When you’re being “contemporary”, and using ALL the flexed feet.
  • When you’re having a leg spasm in the air because you haven’t been to class in a month. Ahem.


20150224_201325_Hagrid_GrungeWhen to Rock a Flexed Foot

To every thing there is a season, and that goes double for feet (HA! Folks, I’ll be here all week). There are times when a flex is not only appropriate, but essential.

  • When…it…just is! Some moves just work best with a strong flex. Now, while rules are meant to be broken, and many “flex only” moves can be modified to look pointy, leave it to the super advanced students.
  • When you need a larger margin of error. When you’re first learning a traditionally flex-y-foot-y move (kidney squisher, for example), commit to the flex! You want to increase your margin of error, not decrease it by using a sickle-point, which can pop off unexpectedly. If a move is working really well (pssst – ask your coach – your definitions of “working really well” may differ), it might be time to play with….


The Sneaky Sickle-Point!

Some moves (think “crochet up the pole”) should start with a flex; once you and this move are besties, you can safely sneak your foot in a sickle-point. It really is a matter of personal preference – a strong flex is a clean, often aesthetically pleasing choice, so commit to one or the other and do it loud and proud.


What does a Good Flex Look Like?

In a strong flexed position, the heel should be pushing towards the ceiling, with the shin flush with the fabric or rope. The knee should be pressing straight (again, push like you’re trying to leave a heel print on the ceiling), and the foot should NOT be sickled – it should be nice & straight. Make sure you’re not doing YOGA TOES, where you press through the ball of your foot (also called demi-point).


What does a Good Sickle-Point Look Like?

You want a nice strong foot (VIAGRAVATE IT), with a sickle that corresponds to the level of “OH CRAP” you will experience if your foot comes off. For example, if it just means your foot pops off & the fabric slides up your hoo hoo, well, it’s not the best, but it’s not catastrophic – a light sickle is fine. On the other hand, if the oh-crap level is high, as in you get slingshot-ed 20 feet off the fabric, you might want to play that one a little safer.

All in all, don’t be afraid of the flex, make it your friend! Trying to sneak into a sickle-point before you’re ready, or forgetting to flex enough, can have unexpected consequences (chiefly, you splatted on the floor). Go slow and steady, and check with your coach before leveling up to the sickle-point; or, just enjoy the flex! Love and pull-ups, Laura


Special thanks to my lovely foot model Megan Harris!

As always, if you like this post, share it on your blog, the F-books, Twitter, and wherever else you crazy kids are sharing things these days.


Should You Go to Circus School?

Blue Trapezium EditSeptember is here, friends, and with it, the start of a new school year! Even though I haven’t seen the inside of a formal classroom since Methuselah was a boy, there’s something about September that makes me want to buy a pencil box and enroll in something. It might just be me, but judging by the uptick in my classes each September, I suspect I’m not alone.

Many of you have written with questions about whether you really need a structured program if you want to pursue circus professionally, or if you can design your own curriculum and still get ahead. Not surprisingly, much like circus, there’s a lot of room for flexibility (HA! Did you see what I did there?) and creativity.

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, `if you only walk long enough.”

– Lewis Carroll, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”

It Depends on What You Want to Do

When you picture yourself performing in that far-off future, what do you see? Are you twirling on fabric in all your spangled glory for a corporate event? Are you in street clothes and performing with 7 Fingers or Eloize? Are you busking on a sidewalk in France? Swallowing swords on Coney Island? Teaching and running a successful aerial fitness studio? Touring Asia with Cirque du Soleil? Each of these avenues can unfold in ONE career, if that’s something you want. Only interested in corporates? Sweet – you have a niche! Are you more sideshow than side split? Break out the bed of nails. There IS no correct path to becoming a circus artist (it ain’t med school) – you’ve got options.

What Are My Circus Education Options?

  • Circus “College”
  • Pro-track Program
  • Choose Your Own Adventure


Cirque Face B&WCircus College

When most of us think of “circus college”, we think of structured 3-4 year programs, similar to regular college, but with a lot more sweat, sequins, and physical therapy. In this type of program, your first year is usually spent learning everything from hand balancing to trapeze to unicycle, the goal being to a) help you determine a specialty and b) create a strong multi-skill base, resulting in artists with tremendous range (ex: a trapeze artist who juggles, tumbles, does lyra, silks, and a bit of contortion).

Example of Circus College – Ecole Nationale de Cirque

This is a great option if you are at the early end of your career, and hope to join up with established circus companies (or create your own). For a great example ensemble work beyond the biggies (Soleil, Eloize, 7 Fingers, etc.), check out Flip Fabrique – that’s a cast of 6, not 40.


Pro-track Program

Pro-track programs are usually 1-3 years, and are a popular choice, offering intense, focused training in a variety of disciplines. They are generally more flexible than “circus college” tracks, and a fantastic option for many students.

Examples of Pro-Track Programs – NECCA Professional Circus Performance Training Programs, Aloft Full Time Training Program

A Pro-Track program is a great option if you’re at the beginning of your career (or looking to reinvent your work), and hoping to join ensemble shows, corporate performance, or pursue circus education as a career.

Choose Your Own Adventure

The world is your oyster, friend! I knew – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that I wanted to be a fabric artist (this was back in the olden days before everyone was a fabric artist). I didn’t want to learn flying trapeze, unicycle, juggling, tumbling, none of it – I  wanted to do fabrics fabrics fabrics. ** So, I worked privately with top coaches in Montreal, and did exactly that!

When you choose your own adventure, you put together your own curriculum, perfectly suited to your interests and goals. The downside? You don’t know what you don’t know (ex: should I have theatrical training?), perhaps don’t have access to the top instructors in each area, and this type of training can cost more than a program, depending on where you are. It’s also easy to get side-tracked, and discouraged about your training, especially if you’re surrounded by recreational folk. The upside is that you get to do exactly what you want to do, it may take less time, and you can fit training around a full-time job, or a traditional college.

This is a great option for people starting a little later, working around a job, school, or family, performers looking to add only one or two skills to their repertoire, or pursuing skills that fall outside the common circus curriculum (fire, for example).

Examples of Choose Your Own Adventure – training with ME (or your local aerial/circus studio), traveling for intensives and workshops, supplementing with dance and theater classes, business classes, specialty skills workshops and courses like Sideshow School.

** Side note – the days of only having one act are long gone (in fact, they only lasted a brief moment). If you really want to work, make sure you have an aerial act AND a floor act. Two aerial acts (with flexibility on additional apparatus) can work in a pinch, but I wound up with the career I had only because I teamed up with my better half (Angela Attia) and we could provide two double acts and additional solos between us.


In closing, there’s no one path to becoming a circus artist. In fact, the skills are only 50% of the equation (yep – you heard me right). The rest is sheer hustle, business savvy, people skills, and creativity. BUT, hopefully this helps you get a sense of your options – a program or school is a great option for some, but certainly not the only way. Brainstorm your options, evaluate your resources, and see what is the best fit for YOU! Love and pull-ups, Laura

Recommended reading: “The Art of Non-Conformity” by Chris Guillebeau


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