Circus educators and professionals from around the United States gathered this past weekend, October 4th-7th, at the American Circus Educators EdCon in Decatur, Georgia. The EdCon takes place bi-annually, always in a different location within the U.S (or Montreal!). It brings together talented circus coaches, professionals of the physical form, and social change makers to attend keynotes, workshops on various pedagogical methods, and exercises in making circus arts more accessible.
The EdCon’s organizing body, American Circus Educators (ACE), started in 2014 as a child of the American Youth Circus Organization (AYCO) to address the need to focus specifically on how circus educators, provide a meaningful and safe circus education to the youth in their communities, whereas AYCO specifically targets bringing together the youth participating in circus arts. A small, part-time staff, going through significant changes this year with the exit of Executive Director Amy Cohen, is shared between both organizations and wholly dedicated to making circus arts more accessible to youth in the United States. Together these two constitute the largest organizing bodies of circus professionals and youth in the United States.
This year’s EdCon took place in downtown Decatur, a small city outside of Atlanta, where the Atlanta basedCircus Arts Institute helped host the conference at theDecatur Recreation Center. Before the conference could officially begin with workshops on Friday morning, there was lots of work to do late Thursday night for ACE’s small group of staff and work study volunteers. The basketball gym, dance studio, meeting room, and many other spaces of the recreation center gradually turned into the perfect places for hundreds of circus professionals to share their ideas, move freely, and network with one another.
Friday morning, the attendees entered the space for the first time and it was easy to see how this conference brings together old friends and creates new friendships by how quickly everyone begins conversation, networking together, and catching up from the last two years. The social aspect outside of the conferences formal agenda, from my perspective, is one of the its biggest triumphs.
Coaches and practitioners of circus arts live and work in the same sector, but the sector is so small and underfunded in the U.S., that often, hundreds of miles separate experienced coaches and that physical barrier contributes to the difficulty in making circus arts and its benefits more accessible.
So, being able to share ideas in person, not just online, is an invaluable resource to the community that EdCon provides. For the better part of 72 hours, there are scheduled workshops which are packed and wonderful. Underlying all of that, are moments of time where informal conversation leads to intimate sharing of circus knowledge and the social benefits it has with one’s peers. At EdCon, you are fully immersed in the melting pot of pedagogies, technique, and culture.
Carrie Heller and Lauren Taglialatela, both of Circus Arts Institute, opened Friday’s festivities with their keynote titled: “Circus Arts Therapy as a scaffolding for overcoming physical, social, and emotional challenges”. Heller and Taglialatela recently published their findings of how circus arts benefitschildren and teens with low self-esteem, behavioral, sensory integration, and other challenges in their paper“Circus Arts Therapy® fitness and play therapy program shows positive clinical results.” Heller showed how she has developed adaptive skill progressions in her work as a coach to encourage small victories with her youth students. She has emphasized the breakdown of skills into smaller parts and in her years of coaching even deconstructed apparatus into simpler forms to provide a medium in which challenged children can succeed in unprecedented ways. Taglialatela then showed the contingent that there is hard scientific evidence that backs up circus arts therapy as a real tool through a number of different metrics. Together, Heller and Taglialatela put forward that at the intersection of circus and science, where there are measurable qualities, circus arts is proven to encourage positive growth in young people. Work like this is wildly beneficial to programs within the social circus realm.
Friday was a full day of workshops that concluded with a showcase put on by the social circus kids from Circus Arts Institute. The showcase was the perfect end to a day highlighted by Carrie and Lauren’s keynote and demonstrated before all of our eyes how just the simplest of accomplishments on the rope, trapeze, and in acrobatics put huge smiles on the kids faces. Of course, with the entire EdCon crowd going wild over every skill!
Workshops throughout the weekend focused on many differents facets of what circus arts encompasses, what running a circus arts program may entail, and the unexpected outcomes and issues that may arise. Mobility classes like“Shoulders upside down and right side up” and “Neck fitness: addressing the overlooked” are taught by professionals in physical therapy and circus arts combining their field to provide meaningful training to circus artists; “ACE Safety Program” and“Safety Beyond Mats: Practices to prevent sexual, physical and emotional abuse” workshops focused on how to make your studio or gym more safe both in policy and practice; “Introduction to German Wheel” and “Mini-Trampoline” gave participants a chance to learn the fundamentals of teaching and doing something new!
While Saturday was full of workshops, the day came to an end with emotion of all kinds. Amy Cohen, who has been leading the charge as executive director of AYCO and ACE for the better part of the last decade, has decided to step down; Tara Jacob, who has served several different roles with both organizations and the Board of Directors, will step into the interim role of executive director for the foreseeable future. Though the official announcement was made weeks ago, many tears were shed with the stepping down of Cohen, and many cheers for the stepping up of Jacob!
Another big role EdCon serves is recognizing individuals throughout the entire US community who have proven outstanding and who the community has voted for as such. Jesse Alford, president of the Board of Directors, stepped up to announce the winners of the bi-annual awards: “Innovation in Circus Education” and “Excellence in Circus Education”. Jen Crane and Carrie Heller receiving the two awards, respectively. Jen Crane (of Cirque Physio) for her studies in physiology and its application to circus arts; Carrie Heller for her research, dedication, and innovative Circus Arts Therapy spanning a career over 30 years.
The evening closed with an invite for all attendees to socialize, eat, and drink at Reg Bolton Pub Crawl, a bi-annual event in remembrance of Reg Bolton one of the trail-blazers of the worldwide social circus movement. The crawl took place in downtown Decatur and gave participants a chance to socialize outside of their typical circus environment, again, an invaluable time for educators across the country to spend together. To gather and share thoughts, ideas, and perhaps a rum and coke (hold the rum, for some).
Sunday, the festival drew to a close with the last few rotations of workshops, last meals were shared, goodbyes were said, and the staff went back to work to return the makeshift circus space back into the Decatur Recreation Center. It’s always “see you down the road” as many will return to theAYCO Youth Festival in San Diego in August 2019 and the next EdCon in 2020.
Related Content: American Circus Educators Launches Circus Arts Safety Recognition Program, Youth at the Center: Defining the Future of American Circus,& A US National Study Shows Positive Impact of Circus Programming on Youth At Risk.
All photos courtesy of American Youth Circus Organization