If you’re a Scandinavian teenager aspiring to become a contemporary circus artist, chances are Cirkus Cirkör’s gymnasium program is the place for you, no matter your experience level. Cirkör’s program is designed as a launchpad to get you into circus universities, or just let you have fun trying something new. It allows you to push hard, but still tap out anytime you want.
Unfortunately, since Cirkör’s gymnasium program is state- funded, only people from Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland are able to apply. Other than that, usually no prior circus experience is required to make it into the school, so students consist of a very mixed demographic. Your classmates will probably be some who just heard of the program and thought it sounded fun, and some who came from youth circuses all over Scandinavia and Finland who have years of experience, and maybe even a couple AFUK (Academy for Modern Circus-in Denmark)-graduates.
Many applicants come from activities close to circus, such as gymnastics, parkour and cheerleading. But the starting point does not have to reflect where one ends up. Someone who just wanted to try out circus might end up falling in love and getting into a circus university program and becoming a professional artist. Someone who came in with years of experience in circus might find out along the way that it’s not their thing, and pursue other studies. Either way, Cirkör’s program will allow you to have flexibility in deciding the path that is right for you.
The regular days in the program consist of half general studies, these are rigorous enough to apply to most standard university programs excluding science related programs–these you will have to do a couple additional classes to apply for. The other half is circus classes. Since the program is meant for beginners, the circus classes start off very basic. There are classes in acrobatics, strength and conditioning, dance, and improvisation throughout all three years. A normal day would usually be circus classes from around half past eight to eleven, then a one and a half hour lunch break, and ending with normal school lessons until about four. The order of the circus classes and school lessons varies from day to day. In the first half, there are basic courses in a variety of disciplines to give the students a solid basic knowledge in circus technique and to let them have a more educated opinion when they are then supposed to choose a main discipline for the following half of the program. The students will then have more advanced and personalized courses catering to their specific needs in the discipline they’ve chosen. The coaches are usually artists handpicked according to the class’ choices in disciplines. At the end of the third year, the trainers and staff help the students apply for universities and make an act for the auditions.
The program highly values your physical and mental health. They know this amount of physical training and expression will be a huge change in lifestyle for most, and that it can be tough for teenagers. Therefore they want to help you tackle this variety of new challenges that arise through circus as well as possible. Each class is assigned a mentor who goes through hygiene, personal boundaries, sleep, and more. There is also a nutritional expert who comes once a year to hold a lecture, and give personalized advice. All the technical circus classes are very thorough on how to avoid injuries. Overall there is an atmosphere of safety, openness and respect in the Cirkör space.
The person you’ve followed on instagram for years is all of a sudden having a chat with you in the kitchen.
So far it might seem like it’s not worth it to go here if you’re already experienced in circus, but what still makes it worthwhile for many already experienced circus practitioners is the access to the Cirkör training space after school. The Cirkör hall is one of the best equipped circus halls in Scandinavia. In addition to this, the Cirkör students share the training space with professional circus artists, which means there is almost always someone who can help you with technique.
Training in the Cirkör hall can be quite a surreal experience in the beginning for many who come from youth circuses. The person you’ve followed on instagram for years is all of a sudden having a chat with you in the kitchen. Graduates of the schools you dreamt of are training right next to you, and can tell you about their experiences there and how to apply. To many, the Cirkör hall is a magical first glance into the “real” contemporary circus world. Seeing your idols first hand, and feeling that your dream schools are closer than you ever thought is a great motivator, and allows students to push even harder.
In the Cirkör space, you are also surrounded by the talented staff that keeps Cirkus Cirkör running. They have years of experience in the important behind-the-scenes work that is required for a contemporary circus company to stay afloat. Costume designers, marketers, finance managers, riggers, and more– all of whom can tell you a lot about this important work that artists sometimes neglect. It always feels like the Cirkör staff is there to help you, and they respect you, which is something very refreshing as a youngster in circus. It does not feel like any of the staff members look down upon you. Even Tilde Björfors, the director of Cirkus Cirkör, strolls around the training space greeting and chatting with students. This atmosphere of mutual respect helps students feel extremely welcome at Cirkus Cirkör.
The school is situated just half an hour from central Stockholm, one of the major cultural hubs of Scandinavia. Since Cirkör is tied to the performance scene here, this means that students are able to experience lots of different performances for free through the program. This is key for letting the young aspiring artists acquire a taste, and grabbing new interesting inspiration. Stockholm is arguably the Scandinavian city you are able to see the most contemporary circus shows in, which also makes it a great location for programs like this. The students are of course also always allowed to see the new Cirkus Cirkör productions when they come out.
So if you’re a motivated teenager looking for a place kick off your contemporary circus career, or just want three fun years of training and expression, the Cirkör gymnasium program is the place to go. You will meet tons of amazing artists, and trainers and staff who care about you. This place can make your foggy circus dreams actually seem possible.
Feature photo of students outside of the Cirkus Cirkör Headquarters. Photograph courtesy of Christina Simpson.