Best known for their street performances and the vibrant Carnival of Colours festival, the team behind In Your Space are also leading a circus revolution.
While many of the performers are well known around town for riding unicycles and walking on stilts, the arts organisation are also starting to educate the younger generation in the positives of circus skills and performing.
Facilitator of their teaching programme, Luke Blakeley is now termed an ‘educator’ and is the key co-ordinator for the ‘Seedlings’ side of the school.
His enthusiasm is infectious and it is soon very clear that children learning circus ‘tricks’ are actually learning much more.
He explains, “Seedlings circus is so named because it’s all about giving children the ‘roots’ of circus skills.
“For us it’s all about exposing our early years to beautiful art while fully engaging them in the process.
“The classes aimed at the under eights in particular, are focussed on their creative education.
“It’s a holistic approach to interactive circus education which helps their development in a wide range of areas.
“It helps with their physical literacy and their expression of self, while encouraging emotional and character building.
“It also incorporates balance, hand-eye co-ordination, spacial awareness, all while they master skills that uses both the left and right side of the brain.”
It seems to good to be true, and throughout it all Luke also talks of the need for children to have fun.
“The classes are ultimately about fun. We’ve just finished our first ten week programme with the three to five-year-olds and it went really well.
“It’s an imaginative and interactive hour that they all engaged with.
“It’s also a non-gender specific class which helps to close that gap between boy and girl development.”
Interestingly Luke also talks about new research which reports that this type of physical literacy is as important as reading and writing.
“Circus education ticks lots of boxes, it includes gymnastics, problem-solving, dance, drama and creative crafts, as well as helping with physical traits such as the core strength, alignment and posture.”
Aside from their weekly classes Luke talks about a wide range of work that In Your Space facilitates in the wider community.
“We regularly go into schools, at all levels, to teach circus skills as people are starting to see the benefits of incorporating circus into the curriculum.
“It’s such an adaptable art, and we recently finished a ten week teaching block at Ardnashee School, which worked with children of all abilities.”
Like many local arts organisations In Your Space relies heaving on funding.
They are currently receiving Legacy funding from the Arts Council NI and Derry City Council, as well as from Garfield Weston and the Trust House Charitable Fund for Outreach work. Children in Need help to fund general circus activity, and the Acorn Fund has funded a specific project with Ardnashee school.
Yet, Luke says much more could be done if the funds were available.
“We have a need for a purpose built space where we can practice, teach and perform the circus arts, inclusive of high performance aerial, to the local and surrounding communities, giving children and young people the space to grow, develop and thrive in a positive social environment.
“There is so much we want to achieve and there is potential to grow our classes and expand, so that more people can be exposed to the circus world.”
Circus isn’t just local either, with conferences happening in the UK, across Europe and in America.
Luke explains, “There’s a large network across the UK under the CircusWorks umbrella and I’m just back from a conference where 70 circus managers, facilitators and educators got the chance to learn from each other. I’ve also travelled across Europe and we benefit greatly from networking with circus schools in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Denmark.”
Luke himself is an accomplished circus performer and incredibly, he travels on a unicyle most days.
He explains, “It’s great for your core strength so I don’t need to go to the gym as I cycle between three and four miles every day.”
With this enthusiasm he’s also setting up a unicycle club which will be at the In Your Space studios on Thursdays at 7pm.
Luke continues, “The end goal is to get a group of ready and able unicyclists to unicycle the two bridges in July - If anyone feels up to the challenge contact us to book your place ... after all, ‘Unicycles have 50% less pollution than bicycles’.
Going forward the team at In Your Space are currently producing the ninth Carnival of Colours which will take place at St. Columb’s park on the 29th and 30th August, a festival which saw 22,000 people attend last year.
One thing is clear, the circus revolution is rising to the surface and In Your Space is leading the way.
In Your Space classes and information
Seedings Circus - 3-5 years - Saturday from 12-1pm and 6-8years - Saturday from 2-3pm
Youth circus - 9-13years - Monday and Tuesday evenings
Teenage circus - 14-17years - Thursday evenings
Adults circus - 18+ - Wednesday evenings
The group also have circus acrobatic training, hula hoop, summer camps and a unicycle club.
For more information on any of these topics contact In Your Space
Facebook: In your space
Telephone: 02871 377113
In person: In Your Space, 44a – 48a Waterloo House, Waterloo Street, BT48 6HF