Modern circus is blurring the lines between performance and participation – and you’d be surprised at who’s rolling up to join in the fun.
THE ART of circus is becoming something which is accessible to everyone – in a very hands-on sense. Though not all of us are aiming to become the girl on the flying trapeze or a lycra-clad human cannonball, the circus is allowing people of all walks of life, from all around the world, to find skills and develop talents they may never have known they had. It has been discovered by many to be not only a vehicle for self-expression, but an addictive means of social networking, learning and improving impressive skills, and keeping fit.
In short, modern circus is no longer just about performing. The dozens of small circus training groups springing up all over Finland bear testimony to this fact. Lotta Vaulo from the Finnish Circus Information Centre notes that there are only two professional circus training schools in Finland. There has been a long, concerted effort to establish a Master’s programme in Circus Arts in Finland, and Vaulo is hopeful that one will finally be set up by 2012 through the Helsinki Theatre Academy.
Circus Helsinki runs around 25 hours of training sessions per week at Aleksis Kiven Katu 17. Equipment includes aerial acrobatics fixtures, Chinese poles, an air track, tightrope, stilts, unicycles and much more.
Sirkus Huima is a free circus training group operating every Tuesday night at the Circus Helsinki premises (see above). Open to anyone and everyone, it is funded by the European Union’s Youth in Action Programme which donates money to projects that encourage youth participation and social inclusion. Find them on Facebook or contact
Festival of Modern Circus is an annual event in Helsinki. This year’s festival will be held in May. The programme includes performances from all around the world and lively street shows in various venues throughout Helsinki. Not to be missed!
“The circus is booming at the moment, there are so many youth and children’s training centres and workshops all over Finland,” she says. Publicity at the moment is also running high, with French-Finnish circus pedagogue Lionel Lejeune recently being awarded the Sirkuksen Lumo award for work done to promote circus arts in Finland.
Sirkus Huima is a Helsinki-based circus group which was started in 2007 by Heidi Rinta-Lusa. After working on a youth project which involved teaching circus skills to young people in Vienna, Austria, she was left wondering if it would be possible to set up something similar in Finland.
Having secured a venue in a primary school hall in Töölö and preliminary funding from the EU’s Youth in Action programme, she was able to offer weekly sessions open to all and free of charge. Riding around Helsinki on her unicycle, she handed out flyers advertising this circus “drop-in” and was pleased and surprised to find over 20 people showing up on the first day.
These days Sirkus Huima operates in the well-equipped Circus Helsinki premises, and weekly Tuesday night practice sessions attract anywhere from 20 to 45 people each week. Circus training doesn’t just attract the usual cohort of after-school youngsters. The Tuesday nights see all sorts of people indulging in their parallel lives as jugglers, acrobats and tightrope walkers.
“I was introduced to the circus by a friend and I fell in love immediately,” says Tuukka Pienimäki, 32-year-old software engineer by day, multiple-knife-juggling acrobat extraordinaire by night. “The joy of the circus lies in the fact that if you just try, you can be amazed at what you are capable of.”
At the same session 18-year-old high-school student Essi Karvonen describes tightrope walking as her new-found love, and 36-year-old Australian-born musician and computer scientist Gavin Van Dok hugs his unofficial coach after doing the first back-flip of his life. “It’s taken me 20 years to finally get the guts to do that!” he shouts.
There is no formal training taking place, but every week people both new and old come by. This informal group attracts a hodgepodge of students, professionals, 20-somethings, 30-somethings, internationals and Finns.
“Everyone is always happy to teach anyone else what they know and everyone who walks in the door has a new skill to offer,” says Rinta-Lusa. New members show upon word-of-mouth recommendations from friends, and the old come by to feed their particular addiction – be it balancing, back-flipping, hanging upside-down from the ceiling or simply socialising.
As Rinta-Lusa puts it, “a circus is about learning something about yourself, not just learning skills. It’s about finding self-confidence and building a social network.” Or, in the heartfelt words of one of the participants, “a circus is a place where there is magic happening.”
All you need
Yet while many individuals have discovered circus training, for most of the population the very word still conjures up images of elephants on stools, lion tamers and a top-hat sporting ringmaster. In other words, not something you’d truly contemplate as a hobby.
This is most definitely changing. The simple fact that an organisation like the Finnish Circus Information Centre came into existence – it was founded in 2006 – hints at the impact of New Circus, both within and outside the literal spotlight.
Cirko Centre for New Circus
Finnish Circus Information Centre
Thanks to New Circus and a few decades of people like Rinta-Lusa and Lejeune, indulging the secret fantasy of running off to join the circus is not an impossible childhood dream. Whether you want to dance, juggle, balance on strange objects, walk the tightrope, fly through the air or just clown around, all you need is a positive attitude, a sense of humour, a bit of joie de vivre…and a few hours to spare after a long day at the office.