School: Cirque School LA
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Director: Aloysia Gavre
Students: Approximately 600 per month
Women & Circus: What do you think has contributed to the success of your circus school?
Aloysia Gavre: I think what contributed to the success of Cirque School LA was staying true to our mission statement and our tag line For Anybody With Any Body, which makes circus truly accessible to the ordinary person. It makes them feel comfortable when they would otherwise be intimidated to walk into a new environment that was really going to stretch and challenge them.
For Cirque School LA, it was also about making sure that intimidation levels for new students were at an all time low and giving prospective students the opportunity to really fulfill that childhood dream to “run away with the circus”. I think the way the class syllabus is structured [introductory classes are offered and students are carefully graduated into more advanced classes after achieving a series of milestones] really does make this achievable for Anybody With Any body.
I also feel our teachers come from such a wide variety of backgrounds, they are able to be both articulate but add humor to what we are asking these bodies [students] to achieve. We are able to address a variety of learning styles through a variety of teaching styles.
W&C: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when you first opened your circus school?
AG: Certainly the biggest challenge was believing that we would have enough students on a continual basis to lease our own building. Taking on that responsibility every month based solely on student capacity and LA’s interest in circus arts was definitely nerve wracking. The other part was also finding a space that was conducive to everything we wanted to do [aerial, juggling, acrobatics & handstands].. It was very challenging to find a space that would accommodate all our needs and an incredibly time consuming effort.
It’s also important for me to make the price point for classes similar to what is happening across the board in the nation. The cost of living in LA is very high (space rental included) and for many of these students this is an activity that quickly becomes an addiction. In order for students to get the greatest benefit from practicing circus they need to attend classes more than once a week and in order for them to do that, we had to keep the rates affordable and not make it a luxury for them but something that could be accessible and life changing.
W&C: What do you feel are some of the business challenges you have yet to overcome with regards to running your circus school?
AG: One of my biggest challenges is finding and retaining high quality coaches because one of our desires is to work with coaches that are currently performing. We need to honor them and their performance careers but at the same time we like to offer our students stability, so I am always on the lookout for good coaches.
I would also say another challenge we are continually faced with is what do we do with our space when we are maxed out for growth? How do we accommodate the students and the programming growth? We have wait lists of up to 6 students per class, which means the amount of people on a wait list essentially constitutes a whole new class for any particular discipline but there is no more space or time in the facility to accommodate the situation.
W&C: I know you still perform regularly, how do you juggle running such a large business and a steady performance career?
Having a stay at home partner who doesn’t do the same thing as I do [perform circus]. Rex Camphuis, my business and life partner, is able to add stability to weekly events. Also, having ‘talent crushes’ on my coaches, so I feel I can really communicate with them what my needs and visions are for the times that I am away. They like having that extra level of responsibility when I am gone, it helps charge them up and makes them feel like they are part of the school community at large and not just their individual class.
W&C: What type of future professional goals have you set for yourself and your business?
AG: A true measure of success for me would be to offer a serious pre-professional program. It’s already happening organically because our students are attracted to our high level of coaching and our artistic sensibility and we are accommodating approximately 8 people who have the ability to move into a professional career. However, it’s not a true professional program in what I would define one to be, where you are not only teaching well-rounded high level technique but you are also mentoring the spirit of the artist by helping them navigate into a career that often feels daunting and ebbs and flows when you are a freelance artist. Currently with my performance career, I can’t commit to creating that type of program.
W&C: How do you satisfy the recreationalists that come through your doors vs. individuals who want to develop a more dedicated practice?
So many of our students attend multiple classes a week and because of this, even some of our recreational students come across as emerging professionals because of their dedication and passion. Some of our classes are a mix of both types of student and this encourages a lot of shared wisdom within the group. For the students who do want to become more professional, they usually take a combination of advanced level classes and private classes and I encourage them to discover classes outside the school like dance and theater, allowing for challenges that go beyond the technical work they do at Cirque School.
W&C: How have you assisted in managing the development of students who want to take on a teaching role?
AG: Most often I will reach out to a student that I see has gone through our programming and has mastered technique, is currently at an advanced level but also has a background in teaching another physical modality like Pilates, Yoga or dance. I let them know I think they have what it takes to teach, including personal charisma, that will help share their passion and inspire. A coach with these qualities is really important for us at Cirque School.
Very often it comes from me selecting a student that I feel has that certain “Je ne sais quoi” vs someone coming to me and asking me for a teaching position, which rarely works out. It comes back to the fact that I want to have a ‘talent crush’ on this prospective teacher, it could be regarding their personality or even how they express themselves on their apparatus or ground discipline or it could even be how they are socially with people, how open or engaging they are. There are so many levels that make a coach attractive to me and if I am attracted to the coach then I am guaranteed that my students will feel the same.
W&C: What do you feel is the mission of circus art schools in the US?
AG: Even though Cirque School LA is for Any Body With Anybody we make sure that when a person reaches a certain level, that the attention to detail in regards to their technique is very specific and falls just below being taught as if they were aiming to be a professional. This approach is important to me.
Developing education and passion for the circus and promoting thorough education of circus disciplines by promoting a strong foundation and respect for the technical attributes required to make circus training safe, fun and for some students possibly performance-ready is also important. At Cirque school we teach all circus modalities, not just aerial, and this is important for a good circus foundation. I think it is also important not to be elitist and ensuring that circus schools serve the community at large.
For more information on Cirque School LA please visit their website: www.cirqueschoolla.com
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