Léana Valentini Circus Research

Dear GCC Community,

I’m Léana. I’m currently a tutor at Galway Community Circus and I’m passionate about circus pedagogy! A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to share the work that we do in GCC: I participated in a young researcher’s day as a contributor at Centre National des Arts du cirque in Châlons-en-Champagne in France. Linking social science research and Galway Community Circus, the University world and the circus world, could seem surprising. It’s what I’ve been doing for two years now, here is what got me there:

In 2018 I was a student in the Master Lifelong Learning in educational sciences in a Parisian university. Circus sprouted my interest as an innovative and creative way of educating. After an inspiring internship for the European Social circus Network Caravan, I was looking to work and conduct an educational science research in one of its member schools. I contacted Galway Community Circus and they warmly welcomed me as one of their team. From September 2018 to March 2019 I did an internship to conduct my field work for my end of study research. I learned loads about teaching circus, experiencing circus and how it impacts the life of its participants and creates community. I got hooked on circus! I wrote and presented my research and happily graduated last September. I then had this great opportunity last week to share and discuss my research on which I will give you a short insight.

My research is entitled “Galway Community Circus, a tool for conviviality?” and it articulates social circus pedagogy and the concept of conviviality in order to envision the impact of GCC at a society level. My research tries to answer questions such as: What community does GCC create? What individuals does it foster? What social space does it invent? How does it convey conviviality? Conviviality is a socio-political concept invented by Ivan Illich who was a philosopher and critic of western modern institutions. The fundamental idea in this concept is that the tools we use to create have to respect the ability of the user to survive, to be treated as an equal and to build autonomy. In opposition to the industrial and modern world/society/machine, this concept brings to the heart of any output the quality of the socio-political relationship that it creates. In my research I transfer this concept to circus creativity and evaluate GCC’s ability to foster such a convivial tool.

I engaged in an action-research methodology: I took part in its diverse activities, I was a punctual assistant teacher in most of the group ages, I coordinated the writing and editing of GCC’s curriculum in close partnership with the administration and the tutors. With the Pierrot group (18 to 25 years) I conducted interviews, gathering their recollections of specific situations they had experienced at the circus and how it had impacted their lives. Through my own experience as a member, teacher, co-worker, student, user and inhabitant of this space, I embraced multiple perspectives on what GCC fosters and how. What I found is that GCC fosters a sense of community and creativity based on the embodied values of inclusiveness and equality. The circus offers a space for young people to find a place to escape from everyday life pressures, show their vulnerabilities, be themselves, and build special relationships with each other, contributing to a convivial society. I look forward to pursuing my work as an academic circus researcher as this experience showed me how research could support my practice as a circus teacher.

Circus is becoming more prominent as an art form worldwide in a number of ways. Scientific research accompanies and analyses this societal trend. The work of the young researchers that I met last week at CNAC presented many different perspectives on circus: the contemporary history of juggling in France, the literal dramaturgic potential of trapeze, the rise of nouveau cirque in Chili, the creative research of a non-mixed feminine acrobatic collectives, the aesthetic of hard-core circus in the 80’s. It was very inspiring and unleashed a fountain of curiosity and motivation. If you would like to know more on any of these topics, I’d be very happy to share some of what I’ve learned with you! Come and talk to me at the circus school!

This young researcher’s day at CNAC was also a wonderful opportunity to connect and link informally with young people facing the same challenges in terms of the ethics and value of scientific research, the financial precariousness of young researcher’s and the latest French reform of university research. Circus research is still frail and not-well recognised in the academic world, this was a great opportunity to connect with other young circus researchers to face these challenges ahead. It felt too short as an opportunity when we were just touching the tip of the potential iceberg of discussion and sharing. It’s now in our hands to keep the link and stay in contact with each other.

I want to thank warmly the people that made this possible: the GCC team, the GCC community and the “Collectif de Chercheur.e. s sur le cirque” who organised the presentation day. I would also like to thank and acknowledge all the people that make the circus world go round!

Here are a few links to inspiring circus work I discovered:

An acro dance feminine corporal research work by Femmes de Crobatie:
A show I really want to see of La collective du Biphasé:
A highly inspiring social science research work by Jennifer Beth Spiegel in Canada: