Inside Dubai Circus School, where acrobatics and flips help children find their feet

Happiness and fitness are the two pillars of the Al Quoz academy, says Colombian founder

Dubai Circus School empowers children by equipping them with acrobatics skills

Dubai Circus School empowers children by equipping them with acrobatics skills
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A nine-year-old boy hangs mid-air as he clings onto two swirls of fabric cascading from the ceiling. He wraps his arms and legs around them and jolts into a swing before landing back onto the cushioned mat placed below, a huge grin on his face.

“That's my brother,” Victoria Saint Pierre says proudly as she waits for her own acrobatics practice session to begin. Victoria, 14, was around the same age as her brother Alan when she started going to Dubai Circus School in Al Quoz.

“I've always loved gymnastics and flexibility, and I really enjoy learning new tricks,” she explains earnestly with a charming smile. “I'm pretty good at it too.”

While Victoria does ground acrobatics at the school, which involves tricks such as front pikes and back handsprings, her brother is in an aerial silk class. It is one of the most recognisable circus acts and involves artists performing aerial acrobatics while hanging from a specialised cloth. Various contortions and postures can be achieved using the silks, but the three main categories are climbs, wraps and drops.

Dubai Circus School also offers classes for adults, but co-founder Marcela Bello says the venue welcomes more younger clientele.

“I come here every Tuesday right after school,” says Victoria, adding that she hopes to continue to “maintain my flexibility”.

The children come out buzzing, like they just had the best hour of their lives
Donna Taylor Driscoll, parent and Dubai Circus School patron

Strength and flexibility are some of the most important characteristics when performing circus tricks. It takes a lot of body strength to climb a silk cloth, for example, and the academy has more than a dozen teachers to guide students through the painstaking process.

The warehouse-turned-circus playground also has an aerial hoop, trapeze bars, a trampoline and a hammock. Students can join group lessons or private classes, or use the facility to practise their moves.

“The teachers are kind and considerate, and they give us freedom to learn what we want,” says Victoria.

Donna Taylor Driscoll, who sends her daughter River, six, to the school for aerial silks training, adds: “This is a safe space for children. You can see that the coaches love what they do, and they're amazing about encouraging the kids to love it as well.

“Thanks to all the support, the children come out buzzing, like they just had the best hour of their lives. If you ask River now, she'll say goodbye to me today and run away to join a circus.”

Technical skills aside, Taylor Driscoll, who is originally from the UK, says benefits spill over at home, especially when it comes to health. “River practises her moves and stretches at home. She also eats more vegetables because she knows she needs them to be stronger and be able to climb the silks higher, for example,” she says.

It works that the school is more concerned about their students' happiness, rather than only focusing on technical progress.

Bello, who is from Colombia and is also an art director and a producer, says Dubai Circus School is primarily about spreading happiness. “We want to empower children. We want them to feel seen and appreciated.”

She adds that “something magical happens” when she sees students perform in recitals.

“Most of the time, the children aren't even aware of how impressive they are,” she says. “They think having climbing silks is normal, and suddenly people are clapping and cheering for them, and the realisation hits.”

Bello is also aware of the misconceptions around the circus, and she and the team aim to raise awareness about what it entails. “Some people think it's all about performing animals, like elephants,” she says. “But it is more about discipline, expression and happiness.

“Our goal is to make students try something fun and new, to feel confident and become a better version of themselves. If they happen to also want to become a circus performer, we can help them in that regard too.”

Updated: March 09, 2024, 6:14 AM