Learn to fly
Amsterdam | Holland
Blixem Circus has existed since 2005. Few years ago it was taken over by three amazing women: Mel Morath, Mandy Kemper and Paula Chaves. Mel is the one we know the most. Anna met her at an Erasmus+ training, during which she proposed to us, participants, various interactive circus methods to integrate the group and warm up before an intensive training. One evening exercise during the training was to create our emotional life path and speak with one person of choice about it. Anna didn’t know anything about Mel back then, but she felt Mel is one of the very few people in the room she is ready to share the story of her life with. And that’s how the relationship started. Mel visited us a few months later in Warsaw and on our way back from South East Asia, which happened to pass through Amsterdam, we decided to stop and pay her a visit. She found time for us although it was a busy period of circus performances and changing jobs. It was challenging to find a quiet moment to interview her. Finally, we managed to extort one hour during the dinner, which we shared with Mel and Mandy. It was a fascinating discussion in which we were rather observers than active participants. Under the soft light in the big kitchen of Mel’s community house, we went through Blixem’s story, which from the side project is becoming a central point of Mel’s and Mandy’s life.
Mel: I had some experience in street youth work and I got fascinated seeing you doing juggling and other games with kids on the street. You really got their attention. It was a good way to motivate them and put them together to do something.
Mandy: We met in Germany, you were catching things very fast, I came to say you are good in it, you should do circus.
Mel: Really? Did you say that to me? [laugh]
Mandy: One month later you came to Amsterdam, do you remember?
Mel: I remember I came to Amsterdam, I don’t remember you said I’m good.
Mandy: I thought it’s the reason you came to Amsterdam.
Mel: There were many reasons for that.
Today both of them live in Amsterdam, a city of many opportunities, but yet not available for everybody. Blixem Circus concentrates on those kids which for various reasons have less chances than their peers. Thanks to Blixem they learn not only some circus skills, but above all how to collaborate, respect each other and believe in themselves.
Mandy: What really motivates me to continue are those kids. You see them so energetic and wanting to do things, they don’t want to leave the place after meeting, we have to almost kick them out. They keep repeating they want to do circus, go to circus school. You see them trying the same tricks again and again and getting there… It makes me so happy. I know that feeling, physically mastering things you train. It works on your confidence. See that you can learn it, it’s kind of a superhero feeling. I really want to help them with that. We are trying to use Blixem for much more than the circus itself. We want kids to explore, develop, gain confidence.
As we could see ourselves during one of the performances, kids paid much more attention into mastering their own skills, having fun and being together than to any kind of competition. They were natural, spontaneous, creative and just happy. For a few years Mel and Mandy worked with them in their free time, trying to combine it with other works. Recently, they made the big decision of quitting anything else and focused their effort only on Blixem Circus.
Mel: For a long time we were doing many other things at the same time. Blixem was there, but it was secondary. From December on we decided that Blixem is what we want to do and where we want to put all our energy. Since then we have been creating a new performance, which is quite nice, we did several workshops, we want to work with adults, as social enterprise, selling team building workshops to corporations. We want to be able to earn money there so then we can organize workshops also for kids which may not be able to pay for it.
That decision opens a huge range of new opportunities, but also challenges.
Mandy: Speaking about challenges… I would say money is the biggest but I don’t really want to say that. We are doing very big steps and for me it’s challenging to balance it personally. We need to put a lot of time and energy in it now. It will probably take the next 1-2 years to build the circus the way we want it to be. We don’t have much money so we need to decide if, how and in what we want to invest. Also from time point of view, last week there was not even one free night, no free day. It’s really a big challenge to balance that out, our passion for circus and personal needs.
Every passion, every changemaking project is related with challenges, but also with fear. It can be fear of failure, of unknown, or, like in Mel’s case, just fear of attitude while dancing on high buildings, which is a part of the performance Blixem offers. But fear should never stop you from taking action.
Mel: I think we are generally too afraid. I see it with kids, they are scared but then they can do it. I see it with myself when I hang down and I’m so afraid and then I see Mandy flying and I could have this feeling too, but I’m scared. People want to create jobs or follow something they love, but they are too afraid about money and so many other things and they don’t do it. Less fear and the world would be so much better a place.
One of the messages Blixem Circus tries to pass to children, and not only, is to fear less, believe more, doesn’t matter what is your background, gender, age, color of your skin. Most of kids who come to the circus class are from disadvantaged backgrounds, a lot of them were taught that they cannot achieve much. Circus is a metaphor for them, on every level. A place where in a non-formal, not completely conscious way, they learn more about life and themselves than about anything else.
Mandy: I think it’s really nice that we are three women doing circus. We don’t emphasize it, but I appreciate that as three women we organize everything, build things. It could be three guys and it would be still nice, but I like that girls can see that we do it ourselves and they start to think they can do it as well. And also when we collaborated with one guy, he was a black person, so we have more diverse people than three white, straight guys doing circus. What kids see at school is often very normative, boys are like this, girls like that. With Blixem, without going with rainbow flags, we can show them something different.
More about Blixem Circus: www.circusblixem.nl