Testimony – Stef Langmans’ project in Mexico

Stef Langmans from Cirkus In Beweging (Leuven, Belgium) tells us about his mobility project in Mexico:

I am Stef Langmans and I have the luck to work in Belgium for multiple organizations providing education in the arts of circus, mainly for Cirkus in Beweging that is based in Leuven. Most of my work consists of teaching the basics of various disciplines and inspiring young children to engage in a collective creative process within the arts of circus. Through my personal educational background as a social pedagogue and the opportunities created by Cirkus in Beweging and partner organizations, I am also involved in a lot of social circus-projects. Because I never went outside of Europe, I was really excited to get the opportunity to widen my horizon on this front over the European borders with the Suitcase Circus SCREAM mobility project. In my case it lead me to ‘Universidad Mesoamericana’ in the Mexican city Puebla. This private university is at this moment one of the few places in Mexico that offers licensed certificates within the field of circus-arts.

Arriving at the university campus UMA Puebla Sur, planted in the periphery of the city in order to elevate the social environment in this outskirt of the million-city, I immediately noticed that this educational organization was nothing like the ones I am used working for in Belgium.

The high entrance fee for the educational program, the big personal investment into their own circus-material and props, the hard and continuous training of multiple disciplines and their amazingly high level of skills combined with the strong theoretical and practical curriculum provided by old legends coming from the big traditional circus-companies in Latin-America made me feel very far from the educational practice I am used to.

This educational form seemed more close to the professional artist-training provided by ESAC in Brussels, than the social educational practice I am involved in. Also the lack or the minimal attention for pedagogical methodology within the program, made it even more distanced from my own practice of teaching. This in combination with the ‘Mexican way’, where timetables and arrangements fluctuate according to the situation at a given time (classes started very late after the starting-time, promises to visit social practices were altered all the time and at the end didn’t work out,…), and a personal language barrier, which made it difficult to get all of the content going around during the classes, practices and personal encounters, made the cultural shock quite big for me. It took me some time and some very vivid and deep talks with the amazingly open, warm, caring, enthusiast, social, funny, connected people who were involved in the exchange program to grasp the underlying social, structural, cultural, personal reasons why it is as it is in the Mexican scene of circus. Just as the wide social gap between the rich and the poor is so openly visible in everyday life and structure of the city, it is permeate in all fields of life as it is in the educational practices. There is not much else between the top or the street…

Enrolling in the program – joining lessons of body-training, ballet and contemporary dance, pantomime, gymnastics, basics of juggling, musical training, rigging, history of circus in Mexico – I experienced the wide variety of skills and knowledge that is needed to become an artist in the Mexican scene of circus.

Based on the harsh, disciplined, persistent Cuban style and inspired by the Russian and Chinese form of circus, this artists learn to overcome themselves in order to perform at top-level, even pushing themselves over their own limits. For me this clashed with my own pedagogical views, but seeing the passion and the results these artists carry out, I have to reconsider my prejudices and make room for this approach of circus-arts education. This finding out about the Mexican circus-tradition and practice in combination with the large historical experiences by visiting Maya-pyramids of Cholula, the exclusive tour around Puebla city and in his personal circus-library by professor Julio Rovolledo, the climbing of the old volcano La Malinche, performing on the high-stake university circus competition/festival, the visits to as well the local traditional circus-family shows as the rehearsal of the newly formed production-company of ballet and circus and the living and partying at the wonderful students places made this experience so much more then I could have ever imagined.

I wish everybody in our field of work is able to get changes like this in order to open the personal perspective to a more global view.

Thanks to this Erasmus+ project I learned about the major influence social environment and structures that have their impact on an in our field of work. This experience revived once again my motivation and drive to work on practices and theory of social circus and circus as an art in my own country as well as to participate in other exchange possibilities to fertilize each other even more.