Dolores en la Cabeza – Circus Community and Culture in Southern Argentina

You know that guy you always see at a festival? He is a total caricature – he is never seen without his poi in his hands, focused on little else than those weird balls spinning around him? Or the girl who never puts down her hoop, who gets down hard with it when a song she loves comes on? Well, if you are curious about those people, or are one of those people yourself, then you might already know that they have festivals of their own—places where flow artists, dancers, and those interested in circus can convene and learn from each other. Of course, this type of festival exists all around the world. Having been myself to festivals of this nature around the West Coast for several years, I was intrigued to see what the circus scene is like in Buenos Aires, Argentina, while I have been living here. I have to say – if there is anything I have learned from the circus community, it is not a new trick. It’s that there’s nothing better in life than waking up in the morning, sipping a hot yerba mate with your friends, and then spending the whole day learning and playing together. Let me give you some context.

DSC_0877To begin with, I think that Latin America, in general, has some next-level shit going on in their circus community. I am talkin’ people balancing umbrellas with spinning soccer balls on top of them on their chins while juggling three clubs, and singing a song. Let’s be real here, for a moment – that’s just downright cray! I also feel like there are a few interesting distinctions I noticed from the comunidad de circo in Argentina, in particular, in comparison to the flow arts community that I regularly interact with on the West Coast of the United States. At the Encuentro de Circo (Circus Convention) in Dolores, Argentina—“Dolores en la Cabeza”—it became very apparent to me that there is a certain togetherness and camaraderie that I often see lacking in fire-spinning and object manipulation festivals in the U.S. For example, everyone eats breakfast and lunch together, and people will roam around the tent area to try and wake people up in case they want to sip mate together in the morning, whether they know them or not—because being together is what it’s about. When the sun goes down, a few of the very best folks who volunteer perform in a show. Then, everyone parties together at night. There was no catty air of competitiveness that I could sense whatsoever, and maybe it is the fact that clowning is a really big thing here, but everything seemed very lighthearted. The weekend progressively got more and more hilarious as the clowns attempted to out-do each other… And they would really commit to their jokes. At one point one of the clowns pretended he was a Bay Watch lifeguard babe and acted out a whole skit before jumping into a totally dirty and disgusting pool, just to splash water on himself and roll around like a sexy super model. People were actually on the ground from laughing so hard. Other folks brought their kids with them, and the kids ran around, took workshops, and were generally trusted to be on their own—I am talking like four and five year-olds here—and guess what? They were totally responsible, and nothing bad happened to them, or to anyone else! Yay! Another fantastic thing was that the juggling and flow-arts community weren’t viewed as separate things. Down here, it’s ALL la comunidad del circo. Juggling, poi, acroyoga, aerial silk… En realidad, they are all circus, so why treat them like they’re different things, and miss out on all the unique awesomeness the different styles have to offer?

DSC_0424Finally, there was something about the DIY/makeshift nature of this gathering that really appealed to me. Many people made their own props, folks always helped cook, helped move the sound system, helped prepare the large tent for shows, etc. Incredibly, I was—and I know this is going to sound impossible—the ONLY PERSON WITH A HULA HOOP (I know. It can’t be true, but it was!). I had three of them, and that was enough to share. That being the case, I started to show two enthusiastic ladies a few tricks. Next thing I knew, there were two more women, as well as a guy, who had brought over some juggling rings from a booth that was selling props, to practice some isolation variations. A few minutes later there was actually an announcement on the microphone that I was teaching an “improvised class”. Others grabbed rings and joined along, until there were at least seven or eight folks in total. It was incredible to see everyone coming together to learn something very new, with a straightforward and genuine curiosity. Enough so that they even had patience for the gringa with the terrible Spanish to explain how to isolate. So the thought I ultimately want to bring back with me it this; let’s step up our game in every way! Let’s spend more time together, sharing our skills, playing, and growing in camaraderie.

Overall, the array of skill sets that I saw totally amazed me: an act with a guy using his whole body to juggle five soccer balls, bouncing them off his knees, feet, and head, as well as juggling with his hands, contortionists who could toss their clubs in the most incredible acrobatic positions, and clowns that could make even someone who barely speaks the language laugh —without a single prop! Now, I could rant and rave about how beautiful, talented, and amazing these folks were for days… But, I’ll just leave you with some photographs instead.

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