Imposter Syndrome

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Ever receive a compliment, or an accolade for your work and respond with something along the lines of “oh, I just got lucky”? Ever look around at where you are in your circus career and feel that you have somehow “tricked” people into hiring you or moving you up to the next level? Ever shy away from being evaluated, or from learning something hard because you’re pretty sure you’re not good enough, and have just been hiding your inadequacy? Congratulations (not really) ! You may be suffering from “Imposter Syndrome”.

Imposter syndrome is characterized by self-deprecating thought patterns, feelings of having fooled others into accepting us, feelings of being a “fraud” and fear of being “found out”, all against a backdrop of objective success. Imposter syndrome is not a mental illness, it’s a collection of thought patterns that seems to plague many humans, especially folks who have high expectations of themselves, tend toward perfectionism, and may have relatively high baselines for anxiety and self-criticism.

Here’s an example:

Janelle trains very hard for several years and develops some skills. Based on an audition, in which she performs said skills, Janelle is cast in a show. Janelle looks around at the other folks in the show, and feels she is not nearly as good at skills as they are, and that somehow she has fooled the director into casting her. Janelle has the same number of acts in the show, and is paid the same amount. She is included equally in the choreographic process, and receives the same amount of praise and critique as other performers.

Because we can see the objective measures of success: casting, feedback, compensation, stage time, we know Janelle is NOT actually much worse than the other performers. Her thought patterns do not reflect reality.

Here’s the thing about imposter syndrome and circus though...most studies of imposter syndrome are conducted in academic or traditional professional fields. These arenas have many objective measures of success: grades, pay raises, titles, promotions etc. The arts are relatively bereft of objective measures of success, which can make it harder to know if we are experiencing imposter syndrome, or if we are really in over our head! If you find yourself experiencing any of the self-deprecating thought patterns discussed here, and ESPECIALLY if you find that your thinking is preventing you from taking opportunities to learn or receive feedback, stop and check with a friend or colleague! Get a perspective from outside of your head. A good coach will also be able to give you a more objective sense of how you’re doing.

The good news is, it doesn’t really matter!

The tools to combat imposter syndrome are also part of a healthy mental approach to life, training, and growth anyway! So whether you can objectively determine if your self-doubt is imposter syndrome or not, replacing self-deprecating thoughts with the following thought patterns will help you out:

  • I have worked hard to get where I am now.

  • I don’t have to be “the best” to be worthwhile.

  • If my work is not up to par, my coach/director/manager will let me know so I can improve.

  • I am always improving.

  • I’m amazing and unique in my work, and no one else is quite like me.

Another way to think about it: If imposter syndrome were sapient, what would it want for you?

It would want you to be isolated, to avoid new things, to feel inferior, to feel like you don’t belong. Would you ever listen to a “friend” who wanted those things for you? I sure hope not! So you can combat the imposter syndrome by taking action to become more connected to others, by challenging yourself to learn and try new things, even if you aren’t AMAZING at them (remind me to tell you about the time I learned a bunch of Samba choreography!), and by celebrating your achievements and successes!

You are where you are for a reason: to learn, to grow, to change the world for the better, and to be changed!

Hello from Cirque_Psych!

Hello, the circus-internet! Cirque_Psych here to share a little about myself, and about this endeavor before we dive right into content. First, I want to be very clear about a few things: Inclusion, Boundaries, Mandated Reporting, Complexity.

Inclusion: It is of utmost importance to me that my work is of service to the denizens of the circus internet, all of us. I am here for the circus artists of color, of size, who are queer, trans, poly, of different ability, immigrants, of different ages, in recovery, privileged, oppressed, religious, etc. AND, I am very aware that my own experience is a narrow sliver of what is out there, and that I hold implicit biases that will come out in my work. I promise you all that I will never do less than the best I can to make my material inclusive, and I promise you that when I learn better, I will do better. I do not promise you that I will always be perfect and never make mistakes. I ask that you hold me accountable, and help me serve the community better when I need to.

Boundaries: Boundaries are one of my favorite things to talk about! Those who know me IRL will be laughing right now because it’s so true! In developing a vision for Cirque_Psych, I have been reflecting on what I can, and cannot genuinely provide. You should know my qualifications: I have my Bachelor’s in Peace Studies and Biology, as well as my Masters in Social Work. This means that I have the education to provide therapy, and even to make provisional mental health diagnoses. In my past muggle work, I have been responsible for both of those activities and more. Cirque_Psych does neither of those! Rather, this project is all about what we call “psychoeducation” - teaching people about how the mind works, and Community Building. I will be providing general information based in current research, I will create some case-studies as jumping-off points for discussion, I will share my own reflections and opinions, and I will provide 1:1 and group consultation and training. I am not your therapist, nor do I claim to be. A major factor in therapy is the relationship between the client and the therapist. This relationship is specific, profound, nuanced, and healing (if approached well). I simply do not believe that I can be in such a relationship with the entire circus internet!  Any questions about what this looks like, just ask!

Mandated Reporting: Simply this: if you disclose to me in any format (DM, comment, text, email etc…) any information that makes me believe you or someone else has harmed, is harming, or intends to harm a minor, or an elder. I will report your disclosure to law enforcement. If I feel it is safe for me to do so, I will inform you of my report.

Complexity! In case is hasn’t already become abundantly clear, mental health, psychology, circus, and LIFE are vastly complex. Part of my work here is simply allowing complexity, while also sharing information as clearly as possible. There is almost never one single right answer to any question or dilemma. My voice is just one, and is is NOT the most important one: yours is. Yes, you. The individual reading this. The best thing that could come out of this work would be for YOU to feel informed, empowered, and to trust your own true voice.

#notyoga #notstretching - what Contortion is, and isn't.

Hi All, it's been a minute since I wrote something of length here. However, a recent conversation with the lovely Joanna Rabon gave me some food for thought.  A lot of people, even fellow circus people, have some misunderstandings around flexibility, stretching, and contortion. So I wanted to dispel some myths, point out some distinctions, and start a conversation. There are a few things I want to address: yoga/contortion, stretching/contortion, coaching of contortion. 


-the inimitable Catie Brier has already made an excellent post by this same title, so please check that out! Here is my personal take, and the way I explain the distinction between contortion and yoga when I'm chatting in real life with students or potential students: Yoga is about the personal, internal experience of the practitioner. It's about how it FEELS in the body, mind, and soul. Yoga is not primarily performative, and is practiced with a goal of improving the mind/body/soul connection. Contortion is a performing art, and it is about the audience's experience viewing the seemingly effortless defiance of what we consider possible for the human body. There is overlap, for sure! I find great physical, mental, and even spiritual satisfaction in training and performing contortion, but MY experience is not the ultimate goal - likewise, some yoga poses take a great deal of flexibility and control, but are still practiced with the yogi(ni)'s experience as the primary goal. 



Okay, this is a slightly finer, but similar, distinction! Stretching and flexibility training are STILL NOT CONTORTION! This, too, is because of the ultimate direction/goal. Stretching is a practice used by athletes and performing artists of all disciplines as a means to an end in their art form. We stretch to lengthen particular lines of movement in the body. A basketball player stretches to maintain health and range of movement, but they are not practicing contortion. A ballerina stretches, and may be very flexible, but they are not a contortionist, and they're doing stretching-for-ballet, not contortion. Making sense? Aerialists stretch a LOT (or at least, we should...) and may do oversplits and deep backbends on our apparatus...but this does not mean we do contortion. It means we are flexible aerialists. 

What IS contortion then? 

Contortion is not just being flexible. It is an art in its own right, and consists of its own extensive set of skills, vocabulary, and techniques. Originally from Mongolia, the art of contortion generally includes deep front bends and/or backbends, hand balancing, oversplits, controlled movement quality, and synchronization of choreography with music. Sometimes, multiple performers move in synchronicity, or balance on one another. Contortion has overlap with dance and other acrobatic art forms, but retains its own distinct characteristics. The most striking characteristic of a contortion act is always the high level of flexibility on display. It's important to recognize the achievement that represents, but also to take into account the core strength, coordination, breath control, and musicality that allow the flexibility to shine. In order to safely practice and perform contortion, one needs a coach who can impart all of the listed skills, in the right quantities and the right order for each individual student. 

How to find a safe coach? 

Training contortion safely, and properly requires extensive strength, control, balance, and yes, flexibility. The only safe way to train contortion is to work with a coach who has also trained contortion with a contortion coach (who has trained contortion with a contortion coach...). Many of the best contortionists around have trained with multiple coaches throughout their career. There is a great deal of nuance that goes into determining which students are ready to attempt which skills, or even which preparatory drills. A coach will be able to help you identify your existing strengths, and set goals that will showcase them, while also bringing your areas of weakness up to par. If you want to train contortion, I recommend starting with a general acrobatic flexibility class to build body awareness and passive (and active, if you have a good flex coach) flexibility. This is a great way to meet coaches to gauge their experience and how good of a fit they might be for you. Then begin training individually with an experienced coach, and always be open to learning from other experienced coaches when possible. Constantly be in communication with your coach about how your body is responding to the training! This is key for preventing injury! Good questions to ask a coach you are considering: How long have you been training contortion? Who were/are your coaches? Tell me about your performing experience in contortion? What do you do to help your students stay healthy while training contortion? 

Getting Instrumental

Getting Instrumental

I made a post recently about believing that trapeze is the “piano of aerial”. Just as it’s commonly believed that piano provides a strong foundation and understanding of music for musicians, I believe that starting on trapeze paves the way for a strong, healthy foundation of aerial apparatuses for aerialists.

This led to a fun conversation with some of my new Denver circus friends about what instruments other apparatuses might be. For your entertainment and consideration, here were our ideas:

Trapeze = piano. Simple, classic, foundational. Important to learn general body mechanics, form, etc (like learning notes, scales etc).

Lyra = harp. Gorgeous by itself, just pluck a few strings and strike a few poses and it’ll be lovely. BUT, has hidden depths and can take years of dedication to bring out all it has to offer.

Sling = trombone? Sax? Something jazzy that lends itself to improvisation. There’s not a lot of codified vocabulary on sling, so I feel it’s like a slide trombone, versatile, with all kinds of non-notes available.

Silks = guitar. Easy to begin, incredibly challenging to master. Everyone wants to play it.

Rope = bass. Seems like a less-complex version of silks, but demands precision rhythm and hidden strength.

What do you think? Any others?

On Going for It - What do you think? 


You know that moment when you’re watching an act, and the performer is doing a skill that is right on the edge… and maybe they aren’t successful? I LOVE that moment! The “give it 3 tries” moment. The “look, I’m a human just like you “ moment. But as a performer, the idea of including a move in an act when I’m not 100% sure I’ll be successful is intimidating. So…is it a double standard? I’ll cheer your attempt, but keep my own vulnerability close to my chest? Is that the kind of performer I want to be? 

[obviously I’m not talking about doing dangerous things, or moves that are so far outside your wheelhouse that you can’t even hit them in practice]

Last night at Worst Witches Cabaret, I was having an awesome hand balance day backstage, so I decided to throw a side press into my act, even though I knew it would be iffy, given how much my contortion-warm back differs from my handstand-warm back (soon they will merge though! Practice!). I gave it two tries, and had little moments of hover, but it wasn’t the solid handstand I had hoped for. That said, I was thrilled with the act overall, and glad I had chosen to give myself that little extra push. I was validated to see other performers also challenge themselves that night, and we didn’t all hit every move, but DAMN were we real humans up there! 

What do you think as an audience member, and as a performer about those moments of challenge? 

#circus#Cirque#contortion#contortiontraining#handstand#hand stand#hand balancing#side press#performer#performance#contortionist#coaching#challenge

Befriend Your Idols!

Hi all! I am in go-mode for my move to Colorado. Choreographing like crazy, teaching hella workshops, and getting choked up by “goodbye for now"s. So this a a pretty stream-of-consciousness post.

Here’s the thing though. 2 game-changers happened for me in the last couple days.

1) I was offered a teaching position that I did not solicit! I am so gratified and excited that my career is now entering the stage where people come to me instead of vis versa. My partner, who has been in this stage of her career for some time now, has informed me that this means I will soon have to practice saying "no”. That will be hard for me, so stay tuned!

2) one of my colleagues told me that a student of hers reported feeling “fluttery” and like she “couldn’t talk to” me when I am around. I have a message to that student, and anyone who gets all “fangirl-y” (any gender can get fangirl-y) around performers or coaches you admire. I AM A HUMAN AND YOU SHOULD NOT BE SCARED TO TALK TO ME!!! ( all-caps really helps, right?) 
I know the feeling well, and am working hard to challenge it in myself. In fact, I signed my ass up for a handstand lesson with Olga Pikhienko, partly because my immediate response to the idea was “aaaahhh I can’t possibly!!!”. 
But really, please, please! Admire all you like, but don’t put people on pedestals! Be bold! Make friends with your idols! It’s an amazing way to grow.

On Progress

I’m going to keep it brief today and share some thoughts on progress and success in terms of skills. I’ve been doing a lot of hand standing lately, and in hand standing, even MORE than in in aerial, progress is slow, minute, and it whispers rather than yells. 

Progress doesn’t necessarily look like “oh, I can suddenly do the trick now!”, it often looks like “I used to have to focus really hard to straighten both knees, and now I only have to remember to straighten the right knee when I straddle up”, or some similar such thing. 

I suggest to students to pay attention to their struggles, not so they can fix them immediately, but so that when those struggles start to fade, their absence is notable. 

Progress is also not linear (see image above). I have had to revisit various elements of hand stands at different stages in my training. One day, I finally managed a press handstand, and then couldn’t repeat it for a week. Then I got it back, but there was a day a month later when I couldn’t do it again. The ebb and flow, the constant re-commitment is part of the process of gaining mastery and success. So, my darling readers, don’t beat yourselves up over slow progress or lack of big leaps. Don’t stress if something feels hard, even though it was easy last week. Just keep re-focusing and noticing what works and what needs work. You are on your way! 

Lesson Planning and the Pressure to DO MORE

Another short and sweet blog entry for y’all today. Something I feel in a lot of areas of my life is the constant pressure/desire to DO MORE. My coaching is no exception, and it comes out most in lesson planning and time management. 

My students laugh now when I roll my eyes and groan “time management” because it usually means I ambitiously planned a new warm up, 3 activities, 3 new skills, 20 minutes of review, and a full-on stretch session for a 90minute class…and it just doesn’t fit. 

I’m learning though, and I have recently challenged myself to pare my lesson plans down hard. Having only 1 or 2 things planned (outside of warm-up, conditioning and stretching, of course) has been a wonderful experience. Time itself seems to slow down a bit and it changes the tone and pace of class; no longer am I constantly wondering if students are “ready to move on yet”?, instead, it frees us up to dig into the little details, to ask “what if” questions, my students leave feeling confident in their new skill. It sounds obvious…and it kind of is… but it’s been a fun experience for me. Now to bring that paring-down to other parts of life.

K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple, stupid).