Made a New Year’s resolution to try something different this year? Or maybe you want to organise a party or a corporate team-building event with an unusual twist? Then head on over to north London to try out the Circus Skills Experience Day at Circus Space.
Circus Space is a registered charity that provides experience days, training courses and even degrees in circus skills in what is essentially a giant converted warehouse. The building is split into several studios all rigged up for fancy skills such as trapeze and ropes and full of gymnastics equipment. The experience day takes place in what appears to be the biggest, main studio. (And there are windows allowing friends and family to peek in from the reception area and laugh at you if they so desire).
The circus skills experience day actually takes place over an afternoon in which you are split into four groups who rotate around learning different skills: acrobatic balancing, juggling, tightwire walking and flying trapeze.
Acrobatic balancing involved working in pairs or groups to do group balancing exercises, the basic things you may have done back at primary school or see cheerleaders doing such as a human pyramid of three. I was in the group that started with this activity and while it wasn’t the most exciting activity of the day for someone who already has acrobatic experience, it is a good ice-breaker for groups. It was interesting testing out your personal strength when you formed the base of the different types of human pyramids and quite fun being on the top.
I was expecting juggling to be the most boring activity of the day, but it turned out to be enjoyable too and a bit of an intellectual work out as you tried to cross your hands and move about and yet throw the balls in the right place.
Tightwire walking was the next task for me and my second favourite activity of the day. There were several low (knee-height) tightwires rigged up for us to practise on. To get you warmed up you are allowed to hold onto poles held by fellow members of your group, and then you are let loose to try and get across on your own. The knack, we were taught by the trainer who seemed to just hop on and off the wire like a bird with no balance problems at all, is to hold your arms up high and if you are wobbling, take one foot off the wire, and don’t bend at the waist just bend your arms to find balance. You do feel like a bizarre scarecrow doing a manic semaphore code but it does actually help! I personally found it also helped to just get across as quickly as you can once you’ve found your balance, dithering inevitably ended up with falling onto the mat. It is essentially survival of the quickest.
My circus experience ended with the highlight of the day – flying trapeze. Do not fear if you are worried about falling to your death, you are attached to ropes held onto at the other end by a woman with the most muscular arms I have ever seen on a female. So if you drop she will catch you and lower you gently onto the big cushy mats and in fact when your go is over she will tell you to let go and lower you down. A slightly nerve wracking thing to do the first time and indeed one of the ladies in my group refused to let go of the trapeze for ages.
When you move onto the trapeze activity, you have to ascend a ladder onto a platform where first of all you will help the other trainer by catching the swinging trapeze and holding it out for the person ahead of you to have their go. I actually found that quite nerve-wracking because you aren’t attached to anything at that point, you have to hold onto the platform ropes and lean out to catch the trapeze. Talk about building team spirit, you have to be pretty noble to reach out for a trapeze several dozen feet off the ground relying on your arm strength to keep you on the platform, for someone you don’t know. Then when the person in front of you has had their go and finally dared to let go of the trapeze and drop, you can move to the centre of the platform, finally get attached to safety ropes, hold onto the trapeze and – just take a step off the platform. It a little bit like walking the plank. Minus the pirates and sharks.
It is the most exhilarating feeling when you do and swing back and forth. To really get a good swing you have to move your legs up as you swing upwards and kick back as you go down (and it is really important you bring your legs up when you are swinging upwards behind you because otherwise your legs hit the starting platform). If you seem particularly confident, as one guy in my group was, on your next go they will suggest you bring your knees over the bar as you swing and hang upside down!
So, as a package, the circus experience day is well worth the money. The activities were intellectually and physically stimulating and I was impressed with the facilities and the friendliness and professionalism of the staff (as well as their muscles!) If you are hooked by what you do on the day and want to learn more, you can sign up for their regular long courses too.
To run away and join the circus visit www.circusspace.co.uk – experience days are run pretty much every Saturday.
Where: Coronet Street, London, N1 6HD (Old Street is the nearest underground station)