It’s 7:30am. Time to have breakfast and get ready for school. Warm up starts at 9 am and “Livin’ la Vida Loca” by Ricky Martin plays on the speakers. It’s always the same routine, sometimes with variations made by our acro teacher, Nelson. A full hour of jumping, running, stretching, and we are already sweaty by 10am. We are then warm enough to start acro class, which is very intense, focused in tumbling technique and trampoline. Then we split into our different techniques with our specialty coaches for an hour or two depending on the day.
Between these two classes, people run to the bar to have a coffee and to be able to keep working. At 12 PM, we have flexibility class and by 1pm we are already very tired and ready to open our tupperware. After lunch, we have less physically intense classes like ballet, contemporary dance, and theatre. Then at the end of the day, we have physical preparation to kill the last energy we have. After a full day of class sometimes we stay at school stretching or doing juggling just for fun. This is just one day of circus school: intense but amazing.
Salto International Circus School, located in Maia, Portugal is a preparatory circus school. It is a two year course focused on a more technical approach with an emphasis on floor acrobatics as the basis for developing the rest of the circus techniques. Salto was established in 2016 and it is the most recent formation project of Acro Club da Maia. The Salto school was founded to support the learning of circus arts: implementing arts education programs for all ages, levels, experience and vocational training. The diversity of students and teachers is one of the most enriching and valuable things in school. There is no age limit, and the students come from all over the world, with different backgrounds, projects and approaches for the future. To apply to Salto you need to do an audition. There are two phases, one in July and another one in September. But it is also possible to do auditions by video if your live far from Portugal.
The school is located in Acro Clube da Maia (home of some of the greatest acrobats in Portugal). The club,founded as a non-profit association, aims to establish relations between sport, cultural and artistic practices. The Acro Clube has one of the best facilities in the country for gymnastics and circus with three full competition floors, four trampolines, a foam pit, a tumble track, a fast track, two full sets of apparatus for gymnastics, four lounges, eight aerial points, a weight zone, a ballet room and a dance room.
The curriculum of Salto offers training for two years. The first semester offers a wide range of content: contemporary dance, classical dance, trampoline, group acrobatics, theater, juggling, physical preparation, balancing, handstands, specialty and floor acrobatics. The main objective of the first year is to develop the basis of the different general techniques of circus and to create the conditions for the students to choose and develop their specialties.
During the second year, the school puts emphasis on providing students with a high number of hours in specialization. This is done with a teacher to allow a quick and constant evolution. In the last period of school, the students build their final number and they get to work with different teachers to create and set the techniques. These final numbers premiere at the Municipal Theater of Maia. The school doesn’t have a defined line or aesthetic so the most beautiful part of the final show is to see the different worlds of each student, from more traditional numbers to contemporary circus. All students take their own essence to the maximum with the help and support of the teachers. The goal of Salto is to make you the best version of yourself.
The school also offers theoretical classes: anatomy and first aid, biomechanics, nutrition and physiology, and history of circus. These classes are divided throughout the two years of training. In the course of the year we have five weeks of creation, where the usual schedule changes completely and we work as a collective to create artistic material. At the end of each week of creation, we present a final show in the school.
Salto gives the students many opportunities to perform throughout the year. This year, we had three creation weeks where we focused on building a show at the direction of Daniel Seabra, our aerial teacher and artistic director. It was a very enriching experience as we were able to build our own material guided by our artistic director. After weeks of intense work, the final product was premiered at the Imaginarius Circus Festival, (one of the biggest circus festivals in Portugal), in Santa Maria da Feira. We will present it again during the summer in Noite Branca in Braga, at the Busking Festival in Lisbon and also as part of the circus school’s festival The CIRCa Festival(Festival du Cirque Actuel), France in October.
Acro Clube da Maia is an amazing place that brings different acrobatic sports together. From nine AM to five PM the installations are all for Salto. In the afternoon, the gymnasts start to arrive and there are classes for all ages and levels of artistic gymnastics and acro gymnastics. All afternoon we get to see the Portugal Elite Team of Acrogymnastics training in the last floor of the gym. As a circus student, it is an inspiration to see these young people training in such a high level technique with unimaginable discipline and dedication. It is an honor to share space with these amazing gymnasts and coaches. Some of the gymnastics coaches also teach us acrobatics and trampoline at Salto and, it’s very nice to learn from them as well. The Acro Club also holds more recreational classes like crossfit, Latin dance, ballet and fitness. During the weekends, you can also see people training parkour in the facilities. The Acro Club of Maia brings all these people from different sports and arts together, and it is very enriching to see and share with all these passionate people who meet every day in this gym.
The school is very supportive of foreign students as most classes are taught in English and most teachers speak Spanish as well. The Portuguese people speak multiple languages in general and they love to practice their language skills with you. Salto also helps with accommodation and they have several houses to host students at a modest price. The houses are located in Maia, a quiet residential suburb of Porto, which is a great location because it is very close to the school.
Maia it is a quiet, residential, agricultural and industrial city. I live in a neighborhood very close to the school where the inhabitants are mostly elderly. Here life is super calm and sometimes a little bit boring, but our neighbors are very welcoming and they love to help these foreign circus students that somehow ended up living next door. Life in Maia is not very exciting but we are busy in school most of the time and after a full day of school it’s amazing to just go home, rest and prepare for the next day. Life as a circus student is not easy.
All students take their own essence to the maximum with the help and support of the teachers.
During the weekends, or weekdays if we are not exhausted, we go to the city of Oporto, where the fun appears. Maia is in the Oporto district (it’s just 11 km away from Oporto downtown) and it is very easy to get there by metro or bus. This amazing city is located along theDouro River estuary in northern Portugal. Oporto is one of the oldestEuropean centres and it is very impressive to be in such an old city with so much history, especially when you come from younger countries like Chile as I do. Behind the endless cute restaurants and cafes hidden down side streets of abandoned houses and saxophone playing into the night, there is a kind of magic. Porto it is recognized as a global city by the Globalization and World Cities. You can see people from all over the world: different ethnicities, different races, different languages. The town is thriving with culture, arts and music and the cultural agenda of the city is very busy. There are shows every week because the city invests a lot in culture. During the summer there are also many festivals and the streets are alive with people, music and street performers.
This year at school has been super intense, but everyday I feel very grateful to have the opportunity to be here. Sometimes it’s hard to live so far from your home, but we are very protected by our colleagues, teachers and Tiago Maia (the Director of Salto) is always available to help with whatever we need. Salto has been a family to me and my home for this last year. I came without knowing anyone and I have already made amazing friends, unforgettable experiences and the most important of all: I have learned so much. And there is more still to discover!
All photos courtesy of Salto International Circus School