By T Lawrence-Simon

Circus is an amazing blend of physical effort and conceptual art. Whether it’s for fitness, fun, professional, semi-professional goals, circus always requires a fully concentrated effort. With such a full on art/sport, it’s a totally understandable and inevitable feeling to hit a plateau. It might occur in the physical form, and you just feel like your splits aren’t getting any flatter, your pullups aren’t getting any easier, your toe hang isn’t hanging any longer. It could be mental, you just feel like you do the same routine everyday (if you’re performing with a long running show, you might ACTUALLY BE doing the same routine everyday). It could be artistic, you don’t feel the inspiration to move forward, maybe inspiration to create that new act, or just the inspiration to try a new skill.

I wanted to write out some plateau busters, that I’ve done or encountered over the years. Try one out, try them all, see what happens. It’s always good to have a little arsenal of tools in your kit.

  1. JUST DO IT. This isn’t always the most helpful suggestion, but it can work. The idea of repetition through the monotony can seem discouraging, but if you give up and run away, you might not be close enough to find that spark. Back in circus school, I was super sore, injured, and just feeling not so great, AND my best friend was in the same boat as I was. We were having a very frustrating hand balancing lesson with one of our coaches Bill Forchion, and I asked him “Do you ever have those days where you wake up, and you are just like “WTF am I doing?! Why did I choose this?”. He told us of course, but “after all the work you’ve put in, it would be even crazier to drop it.” Pushing through the injuries, the soreness, the exhaustion, there will be a moment when you remember why you love this. The moment can be very small, but it means the whole world to you. That’s why you sometimes gotta just DO IT.
  2. AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. This one is one of my favorites, when I feel like I’ve hit a plateau. If I’ve been training, or creating, and something just isn’t budging, I like to try and do something different, indulge in one of my other passions for a bit, maybe it’s as easy as texting all your friends to go dancing with you. Maybe it takes a little more effort, and you take a trip somewhere you haven’t been before. Go to a museum, try listening to an album by an artist you’ve never heard of. Experience your other brain patterns for a little while, and when you come back to your plateaued work space, you’ll be looking at it as a new person, a new perspective. I love crafting, sewing in particular. If I feel completely flummoxed in the circus world, I know that I can put fabric together and make pretty things. So, I have a running list of sewing patterns, quilt designs, tutorials, that I bookmark, and when I have my “rainy day” (or, now living in Seattle, ACTUAL rainy day), I pull one out and get to work. Then, I come back and kick that plateau’s ass with my newest quilting project.
  3. BE AN IDIOT AT SOMETHING AGAIN. When I’m feeling super stressed or stalled out by circus, it’s usually because I’m judging my progress, and telling myself I should be learning this skill faster, I should achieve this pose with better flexibility, because __________________. Maybe because I’ve been doing circus for so long, I teach professionally, I am often defined by circus to others. My bad feelings strive from me being seen by myself and by others as highly trained in this world, causing me to judge myself harshly. It is when this happens, that I seek out learning something completely new. I sign up for a pottery class, or take an online course in quilting (true story, Jan 2013, that’s what I did, and now I love quilting). Find a deal to take a ballroom dance class. Find something that NO ONE expects you to be amazing at. That way, it really doesn’t matter. Just have fun, learn for the sake of learning. Who knows, it might even influence your next circus act: maybe your painting class inspires you to recreate a famous painting into a fabric act (Starry Night Silks), or your Karate Class informs your style of moment on trapeze (Ninja Pullover)…
  4. READ A BOOK! READ A BOOK! READ A M*#%#$F#^*@N BOOK! This is kind of one of those life ones, but yeah…read a book. Without a doubt, it will be good for you. Even if it’s a horrible book, it will inform you of what you DON’T like (sadly, “The Catch Trap”, a gay love story about trapeze artists…sucked. Don’t read it.) I love reading books, non fiction, fiction. I am the first one to admit I don’t spend enough time reading. But when I do, I go all out, and very often I get inspired. Whether it’s a fictional story that inspires you to create a new wonderful character, or a autobiography that gives you knowledge of a certain time period, or a book on a topic you know little about (see suggestion number 3). Books are just good. (If you didn’t get the reference in the title of this one, I suggest you click here ).

Whether you’re doing circus for the cool Facebook statuses, to look damn sexy, to see how far you can go, to get hired by a circus, or all of the above; pushing through those plateaus is part of the journey. Having the perseverance to keep going is part of what makes circus awesome…because if you push through, the reward is fascinating!