Mexican circus school keeps dreams alive in pandemic-hit country

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An aerial artist of the circus company ‘Atayde Hermanos’, Jairo Avila, practises at the ‘Lumina Cirkum’ circus training space in Atizapan de Zaragoza, Mexico State, on July 13. AFP

Children hang from hoops and aspiring acrobats balance on tightropes or spin in the air at a circus school in Mexico, determined to keep their dreams alive despite the pandemic.

When the coronavirus forced circuses to close last year, one family began searching for somewhere to practice in a suburb of the hard-hit Mexican capital.

Hoping to one day perform with the internationally renowned troupe Cirque du Soleil, they found a warehouse that they adapted as a gymnasium, where Lumina Cirkum was born.

Before long their tightrope, unicycles and hoops had attracted the attention of the neighbours and they decided to offer acrobatics lessons to local children.

The classes help to keep the 30 students occupied during the pandemic and the family to pay the rent for the space.

When the coronavirus first spread quickly through Mexico, leading to the closure of non-essential activities, everything was up in the air, said Ana Zavala, who coordinates the project.

‘I can too’

It was unclear if acrobats would have jobs to go back to or if they should change careers, said the 44-year-old, whose daughter Karina gives lessons at the school.

“We decided to continue with the dream and the training for when the circus work or activities resumed,” said Zavala, who has shared her 21-year-old daughter’s aspirations since she was a child.

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Children hang from hoops while aspiring acrobats balance on tightropes or spin in the air at a family circus school in Mexico, determined to keep their dreams alive despite the pandemic. AFP

The school is adorned with images of Karina’s performances and colourful posters, one of which shows a bear walking while beating a drum.

Spotlights and unicycles hang from the ceiling. There is even a popcorn machine.

It has the feel of a proper circus – an activity with a long tradition in Mexico but which has been brought to its knees since the pandemic arrived more than a year ago.

It was only in April this year that the circuses begin to reopen with limited capacity due to social distancing measures, in a country with one of the highest known death tolls from Covid-19.

At Lumina Cirkum, children wearing face masks arrive smiling and begin to do acrobatics even before receiving instructions from their teachers.

“It feels great that the children come to their first class and they are all happy and want to keep coming back,” said Jairo Avila, a 23-year-old Colombian acrobat and coach at the school.

The children’s enthusiasm is clear as they contort themselves in the hoops and on aerial silks under the watch of their teachers.

One of the best things about coaching is to make what seems unattainable come true, said Zavala’s partner Cristobal Salcedo, a tightrope walker with 20 years experience.

“You tell people to stand on a rope and it seems like an impossible thing to them, but when you turn a corner near your house and see a guy walking on the rope you say: ‘If he can, I can too.’

“That’s what I like to teach,” he said.