A Collingwood teen is running to join the circus, but she’s not running away from the town where she discovered the niche world of circus arts.
Clara Alex has been accepted into the ultra-exclusive École nationale de cirque (National Circus School) in Montreal, and she’s one of only two silk specialists in the world to be accepted this year.
The 17-year-old has climbed her way to a spot among the world’s best with a hyper-focused and dedicated training regime and hours spent at Collingwood Circus Club, part of the Circus Company Inc.
Alex was introduced to aerial silks through the television show America’s Got Talent. After a single class in 2016, she became wrapped up in the athleticism and performance of the artistic sport.
“From my first class, I clicked with it,” said Alex. “I remember waiting the whole week until I could go back.”
Soon, Alex asked her mom to let her leave school so she could train at the circus gym during the day and home-school at night.
“It took a lot of convincing, and she said yes, so I left school to run away with the circus,” said Alex. “The amount that I got to work on my craft, the time I got to focus on it, truly made such a difference.”
She didn’t look back on her decision to commit her days to circus arts and forego attending traditional high school.
“Circus didn’t compare with anything else I could be doing,” said Alex. “It mattered to me.”
Aerial silks combine acrobatics and dance with long silk curtains suspended from a ceiling or mount to give the illusion of flight or floating through the air.
“It’s a thin piece of fabric you climb up and down and chuck yourself off of in different ways,” said Alex. “I think it’s an underrated sport in how hard it is and how physically demanding. Circus artists are … constantly resisting gravity.”
And they have to do it while also being entertaining.
“I loved moving and being athletic, and I started on stage and in theatre as a kid,” said Alex. “Combining those two aspects together made me love it.”
The National Circus School, which works with Cirque du Soleil, only accepts 25 students per year, and only two silk specialists from applicants all over the world. It’s an acceptance rate lower than Harvard.
Alex’s coach, Tara Leslie, said acceptance to the school is like being chosen for the Olympics.
“You don’t just have to be good; you have to be on another level,” said Leslie. “There has to be something special about you to get in.”
Special is exactly how Leslie described her student.
“She has trained hard to be where she is, and her performance persona is so captivating,” she said. “She just pulls people in … I find that aspect in a performer is very rare.”
Alex said she tries to bring a lot of theatre to silks, and also performs with hula hoops, which she occasionally lights on fire.
Leslie and Alex worked together to create her 10-minute audition video, then spent weeks waiting for the news.
Alex was in Las Vegas when she received her acceptance email, and called her coach to give her the news.
“It was a really big, full-circle moment for the two of us, because there’s all these years of training and working towards it,” said Alex. “My dream was to get into the school and then hopefully join a Cirque du Soleil production.”
She spends about three hours a day training at Collingwood Circus Club six days per week. Plus, she does at-home workouts, running, and stretching.
“I think it's both an art and a sport,” said Alex. “The higher the level of your athletic ability, the more artistry you can access.”
After training in her circus arts at the gym, Alex also teaches classes at Collingwood Circus School.
She and the other students will be performing twice this summer at the Simcoe Street Theatre. The dates of the shows are still to be announced, so stay tuned to the Collingwood Circus Club website and social media.
Alex will leave for Montreal when school starts in September. The three-year course includes circus training, academics, and classes in acting, dancing and singing. She will graduate with a degree in circus arts and, she hopes, a spot in a Cirque du Soleil show.
“My whole world is circus, training circus, and being good at circus,” said Alex. “There are people coming from all over the world to this school. It’s very exciting getting to be with some of the best in circus.”
Alex is on Instagram @circusclara.