How did you get started in acrobatics?
I started gymnastics at age 4. I loved gymnastics, and aerial acrobatics was something that I wanted to do from the first time I saw it performed. In university, a gymnastics friend introduced me to some friends of hers that had a aerial dance company and I began to train with them.
What inspired you to start your own business?
I think I always liked the idea of running a business. My dream job was always to have a gymnastics club, and once I began aerial arts, that dream became to have an aerial & acrobatic school. I love the coaching side of things, but I also love the management side of things.
You’ve taught at circus camps around North America, and toured with troupes. Is it a field in which travel is a necessity?
For coaching, traveling is not a necessity. I’m quite settled in Toronto and it would be tricky to travel and run the school. For performing, it definitely opens up more options. If you can travel, then you can do touring shows, cruise lines, work abroad, etc.
I enjoyed traveling for shows. When you travel with a group of performers, you get to spend a lot of time with the same performing group. I liked the friendships just as much as the traveling part. I’m happy I got the chance to travel and perform, but I don’t miss it. I’m happy living in Toronto and taking the odd vacation here or there.
What are the advantages to being a circus coach? What are the drawbacks?
Advantages: Not too many early mornings. It’s a social job and you meet a ton of great people. It’s amazing to hear a student tell you that since taking classes their confidence has improved or that class is the highlight of their week. You enable people to set goals and accomplish them. You have the opportunity to learn through your coaching and challenge yourself to become a better coach.
Drawbacks: You’re usually working evenings and weekends (when most people have time off).
Are there any misconceptions about your line of work? Do people make weird assumptions when you tell them what you do?
People think that you’re super active the whole time you’re instructing. When you’re coaching, you’re instructing others to do the tricks, you demonstrate here or there, but you stand around more than you exercise. Most people have been exposed to Cirque du Soleil and now understand what modern circus is, but there are still people who picture a circus tent, animals, and clowns. We only instruct athletic circus arts at Cirque-ability.
What has surprised you the most about being a circus coach?
I don’t think there have been too many surprises lately, but when I first started coaching, I was surprised by the strength and flexibility gains that adults with no experience could make.
Do you see yourself more as a performer or a teacher?
At this point more of a teacher. I am a good performer, but coaching is where I excel. I really care about all my students and want them to do well. The passion for coaching, along with patience, a desire to learn and an ability to break skills down into progressions makes me successful at what I do.
How do you see your business evolving in 10 or 20 years’ time?
I see programs continuing to grow and new coaches entering the picture. I see more student performances in the community. I see some of our students going on to become professional performers and many staying to enjoying the recreational aspect.
In your opinion, which city has the best circus arts scene?
I would say Montreal. They have professional training schools, world class performance companies and an amazing circus festival every summer.
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Heather Kentner is a circus instructor and the founder of circus school Cirque-ability. She lives and works in Toronto.