Running away to join the circus used to be a child’s ultimate dream.
Josh has set his sights on circus school and is preparing to audition for the prestigious National Centre for Circus Arts in London. If he gets in, he’ll join tightrope walkers, acrobats and trapeze artists honing their skills and learning the business of circus performance in a two year, intensive foundation degree.
“I love being active and creative and this is the most active and visually impressive art I’ve seen,” he says. “It’s something I can use in my own interpretative way – I can develop performances using these techniques.”
“I love being active and creative and this is the most active and visually impressive art I’ve seen
If successful he’ll want to pursue silks – that’s two curtains hanging from a ceiling - or hoops, either airborne or grounded. Trapeze work he finds too static and fixed. “Hoops and silks are skinny and fluid, I like the momentum you get with them,” he says. He’s currently doing a weekly course at Top Banana Circus in Portsmouth to literally learn the ropes.
He already devotes much of his time to performing. Aside from his part time job, he’s a street dancer, a b-boy, or break-boy – commonly known as a break dancer, though purists don’t like the term breakdancing for its commercial associations. “Dancing is like meditation for me, a stress reliever,” he says. “It allows me to express and be myself, I’m completely in my own world.”
You might see b-boys performing in the streets, and Josh is used to drawing the crowds with ad hoc performances, though he says he dances for himself as much as for anyone else.
B-boying is athletic, freestyle and requires extreme upper body strength and coordination – spinning on your hands or head, or flipping from hands to feet. It’s a dance style which came out of the Bronx in New York in the mid 1970s but would be equally at home in the Big Top.
Core strength is important, but so is flair and expression – there are many moves but no rigid choreography. “I loved it from the first session I did when I was about 10,” he says. “And from then on, I wanted to be dancing all the time.” This will set him up for a gruelling audition for circus school, where prospective students take part in an obstacle course, theatre class as well as flexibility, strength and acrobatic assessments.
“What I learned in college just didn’t feel applied enough. I was growing more frustrated..."
As a schoolboy, he joined a company and went on to compete in dance events abroad in Germany and Italy. “Doing a two minute routine in front of judges is the most intense, exhausting thing I’ve ever done.” But competition isn’t really what b-boying or breaking is about, he says, though he still attends national events. “It’s a social collaborative thing. We usually stand in a circle – one person will dance against another, but there’s always a friendly, positive atmosphere.”
There are no rigid steps, and Josh practises a make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach. “You can’t do anything wrong and that’s a barrier a lot of people hit.” He dances nearly every day, either with friends or attends regular classes. In his dance, he might use props – a table or steps - which might go down well at circus school. “There are no wrong moves, just new moves. It’s important you find your own art and approach.”
After one year at sixth form in Hampshire, he decided A levels, weren’t for him, but hasn’t stopped learning. In his spare time, he paints, dances and researches all the areas he felt weren’t covered in the classroom, where he studied philosophy, sociology and communication and culture. “What I learned in college just didn’t feel applied enough. I was growing more frustrated – an interesting point would come up and I’d think why don’t we try and do something about it?”
He has big plans for the future – ultimately he’d like to mix performance with social activism - but in the short term, he’s concentrating on his forthcoming audition. This could lead to a performance career or get him onto the school’s BA Hons degree course in circus skills – the only one of its kind in the UK.
“There are no wrong moves, just new moves."
He’s already attended a circus taster course and will prepare for his audition and is planning to undertake another intensive circus skills week in the new year. “I suppose I’m trying to something out of my comfort zone. Eventually I’ll take stock of my skills, my ethics and see how I can bring something different to the world.”
Want to join the circus?
The National Centre for Circus Arts http://www.nationalcircus.org.uk offers the UK’s only degree programme in circus skills. Circus arts have enjoyed a renaissance worldwide, with international companies such as Cirque du Soleil or hybrid theatre groups such as La Fura Dels Baus commanding huge followings.
Founded as Circus Space in a former timber yard in North London more than 25 years ago, the school was the project of a team of circus performers wanting a place to rehearse. Now based in a converted Victorian power station in Hoxton, east London, it offers a vast space for students to practise, equipped with all the paraphernalia you’d expect, from trapezes to hoops to trampolines.
As well shorter courses for children and adults, the centre offers a foundation degree which can lead on to a BA Hons: applicants for the degree course should hold a foundation degree from the centre or other recognised circus schools, such as Circomedia in Bristol.