In many ways, American Summer Camp was everything that I expected. Fries, chicken nuggets and terrible pizza for lunch and dinner day in day out. Justin Bieber blaring from every speaker all day long. Kids from wealthy families with their Lulu Lemon headbands, newest Nike spandex, Contigo water bottles and shiny iphone 6’s. Creaky and damp steel frame bunk beds. Cheesy American catch phrases – “always the best!” I wasn’t sure why I’d taken this job, it is the epitome of everything I can’t stand. Controlled and organised fun within a perimeter fence. A million miles from the carefree and independent existence I’d been living, exposed and alone in Thailand and the Dominican Republic. My wild and chaotic lifestyle suddenly replaced with a set of rules that defined every moment of my day. No alcohol, no smoking, sleeping where I’m told, with roommates I’m assigned, rest times when the schedule says so, meal times dictated.
I was incredibly skeptical. I came for the trapeze and the trapeze only. A programme that’s well known for creating amazing young flyers. A programme that empowers every student to be a professional level performer, even at 11 years old. A brave system, that pushes everyone to their full potential, regardless of all the red tape. Creating an environment where kids have to switch on, take responsibility for their actions, make mature decisions, fly to catch and return without any training lines. The only programme in the world of it’s kind.
And boy was I not disappointed. I couldn’t believe my eyes when the kids arrived. Kids that have grown up flying at Independent Lake Camp. Running to the rig, tightening the net, putting the bar up, warm up swings, turnarounds, face offs, tricks to the net, working board for each other. Every landing in the net with absolute precision. And not only that, but coaching each other. Encouraging each other. Supporting each other. An hour passed before I realised I hadn’t even put my gloves on yet. A courage and ability that I have only seen glimpses of in a handful of adult flyers in my journey across the world.
I came here to teach – which of course I did an eye-watering amount of. Eat, breathe, sleep teaching circus. It’s never ending. But what amazed me the most was how much these kids taught me. They taught me how to be patient. How to believe in someone even when they fail over and over again. That circus is 10% natural ability and 90% determination. How and when to trust kids to make safe decisions. The fine line between when someone needs to be pushed, and when someone just needs to be let off the hook. I learnt to look past what each student was doing and see their individual journey, see through their abilities and see their fears and their weaknesses – and to coach this. These kids pushed me to be the best practitioner I could possibly be, always questioning me and making me re-examine everything I’ve ever learnt.
So here I am at the end of the summer. Giving a hug to a 14 year old girl, who has somehow become a good friend. She’s crying, and I find myself crying too. Why? Because this girl’s life has totally changed over the last 2 months. She’s found her circus family. And I know all too well how important that is – that family will stay with you for life. Not only that but she’s found her place in this world. Because this girl who never really fit in anywhere has realised that she is capable of something extraordinary. And I’m crying because I know I’ve played a part in that. And because her determination, her fierceness, her courage in the face of absolute 14-year-old adversity leaves me totally in awe. And because my whole life so far has been focused on my own journey, of what I am capable of achieving, and suddenly I am humbled by the power to shape other people’s lives. To set them on a course to achieve their own greatness.
So I will swallow the camp nonsense, turn a blind eye to the petty dramas, learn to live with the fried food, and begrudgingly sing along to all of Taylor Swift the musical. And do something that I genuinely never believed I would – come back for another summer. Because I cannot imagine a more worthwhile way to spend 2 months of my time. And because I can’t wait to see how these kids surprise me next…
See you next summer, ILC.