Science for circus performers

With the hope of one day performing their daring feats “with the greatest of ease,” students from the National Circus School (NCS) in Montreal must spend countless hours training.


Université de Montréal Kinesiology at Canada's National Circus School (in French) Forum en clips - Duration: 2 min 56 s

With the hope of one day performing their daring feats “with the greatest of ease,” students from the National Circus School (NCS) of Montreal must spend countless hours training.

So much so that it is hard to imagine asking more of them without risking injury or exhaustion.

Yet this is exactly the ambitious challenge taken up by the NCS and the Université de Montréal Department of Kinesiology, who are partners in the cooperative university-professional college program set up by the Quebec government.

An Olympian schedule

The three-year professional training program for circus performers has a pace and intensity that, combined with academic work, puts enormous physiological, cognitive, and psychological strain on students.

“We want them to be well-rounded—dance, juggle, play music, sing—and to be both creators and performers... If we could improve what we do by 10-15%, it would be no small feat,” says Patrice Aubertin, Director of Research and Teacher Training at the NCS.

Aubertin, who also holds the SSHRC Chair in Industrial Research in Colleges for Circus Arts notes that “the aim of the project is—in a safe environment—to push the limits of circus instruction and learning.”

Research in the circus arts: enhancing a science

(Photo: Roland Lorente)The partnership between the NCS and the UdeM aims to inform and enhance research in kinesiology—a main ingredient of the circus arts—to incorporate changes in teaching practice.

The project has three main objectives: identify evaluation criteria for best practices in training programs for circus performers; develop optimization protocols for practices that help to improve student performance; conduct a descriptive and correlational epidemiological study of student injuries to better prevent them.

By the end of the project, the UdeM and the NCS hope to have an internship structure in place for students of the University's kinesiology program. NSC students and teachers will also benefit from the specialized services of the UdeM Kinesiology Clinic to manage complex situations such as certain injuries or overtraining.

“The unique relationship between the University and the NCS that helps us to develop in terms of research is due in no small part to the importance that Patrice Aubertin has always given to teaching and science,” says François Prince, Director of the Department of Kinesiology at the UdeM.

"Our relationship with academic experts is based on dialogue, which helps to mutually guide us in our practice areas. It is a true bridge between training and scientific research, between professional college and university,” adds Patrice Aubertin.

Transfer of knowledge to the community

The project includes the development of training programs and services for companies specializing in the circus arts, as well as conferences and documentation for the community.
“Schools with at-risk youth and circuses with social mandates will also benefit from the training tools and protocols that will emerge from the NCS-UdeM partnership,” says Aubertin.

This article is a translation of a document originally published in French by Martin LaSalle


A school with a very special mission

Picture : Alex LegaultConsidered the largest school in North America for advanced training in the circus arts, the NCS is a secondary and post-secondary institution whose mission, over the past 30 years, is to prepare professional circus performers. Its three-year program leads to a college diploma (DEC).

It welcomes students from Canada and abroad.

“These are young elites from a variety of sports and artistic disciplines or preparatory schools,” says Aubertin. These students have strong acrobatic backgrounds, and our job is to make them into all-round performers so that their ambitions are in line with market needs, while giving them the strength and discipline required for a long professional career.”


The Department of Kinesiology's numerous partnerships