One of my favourite things about Dublin is its two-facedness, in the best possible sense. The city will amiably morph into whatever you desire it to be. Dublin is full of hidden treasures, and has long been a hub for niche interests.
Here, more than anywhere else in the country, you will find people with strange and fascinating hobbies who are exercising parts of their minds and bodies that go malnourished in their everyday lives.
Such people don’t permit themselves to be squashed by cynicism; they maintain communication with that essential sense of enthusiasm and adventure we have in our youth.
Keeping a hold on the enthusiasm that seems to come naturally in childhood is a challenge. A child’s physical environment is a jungle-gym. While I might stand, disgruntled, in an airport queue and find a toddler’s attempt to climb on to the luggage belt tedious, the toddler is engaged and connected to his body.
A trip to the circus when I was about seven mesmerised me. I recall understanding fully why the acrobats should want to contort their bodies in that way, working in unison to produce shapes that seemed to defy their very anatomy.
Dublin Circus Project
Beyond the Garden of Remembrance, hidden away in Frederick Court, is the Dublin Circus Project’s practice space. I’m not sure what to expect. Taking part in a beginner’s circus course sounds like exactly the sort of thing I would put a lot of energy into avoiding. In the spirit of acquiescing to new challenges, however, I find myself there.
The door pulls back to admit me. What I see is unexpected. A long, open space with exposed beams looms out of the night. The floor is covered with cushioned mats (foretelling ominously the falling to come) and the room has a look of charming chaos. In one corner, unicycles are piled high. Hula hoops hang from the wall; soft sofas covered in random circus equipment look rather inviting.
The teachers – Theo and Laura, both performers with the Dublin Circus Project – have an enormously positive and friendly attitude, which gives the impression that, although they are capable of performing the most amazing tricks, my slightly sideways acrobatic attempts really impress them. I’ve rarely felt more at home.
We work on acrobatics, and even I, although short and cumbersome, am impressed by the things my body can do with the help of others and some concentration. Balancing in mid-air with only the soles of a stranger’s feet on your pelvis while they lie on their back offers an unexpected sense of achievement.
A topsy-turvy world
The skills required for circus performance seem at home with the natural movements we perform to test our bodies as children. We rarely conduct our business upside-down in adulthood, but it is strangely satisfying, and the trust built from putting your safety in the hands of others is very reassuring.
I balance upside-down on my shoulders, held in place by a pair of hands that aren’t mine. I stand upright on Theo’s forearms, using my full weight and miraculously not killing him outright. I fall over. I get up. I try again. I look silly. I don’t mind.
Theo and Laura’s apparent refusal to grow up and become dull is refreshing. They’ve maintained that evasive sense of wonder, and it’s easy to see how.
Even after the class, they use the time to throw themselves about with scruffy abandon as children might, testing the limits of their bodies and discussing which movements will work and which won’t. The Project works with schools, and is fund-raising for a new, larger space so that they can bring children in, teach them and perform acrobatics while hanging from the ceiling. And why not? Onward and upward.