Arts & Culture

Dreamt of life under the big top? Ottawa Circus School opens its doors

This summer, Ottawa’s first official circus school gets a permanent home. As of July 3, playful pupils who dream of a life under the big top — or busking on Sparks Street — can start some serious clowning around at the Ottawa Circus School.

Sophie Latreille is the artistic director and project leader of Ottawa Circus School
Sophie Latreille is the artistic director and project leader of Ottawa Circus School

The Ringmaster
Ottawa native Sophie Latreille spent years training as a dancer and eventually went to Montreal to study more seriously. “I got a bit into the dance world, and I wasn’t enjoying it. It wasn’t for me,” says Latreille. So, like many young people, she strapped on her backpack and set off for adventure, travelling for three years around North America. Time and time again, she was drawn to circus performers. “I think that the dance world was very serious, competitive, and sometimes not pleasant because of that high level of competition — and few contracts.” Since launching the Ottawa Circus School programs in 2004, Latreille has teamed up with local coaches in hula-hooping, acro-yoga, and various other playful practices that are as much fun to watch as they are to do.

Photo: David Trattles
Photo: David Trattles

Pick Your Play
Pupils at the circus school come in all shapes, sizes, ages, and abilities. Some parents prefer to put their children in activities that are less about winning the game and more about pushing one’s own limits. And there are plenty of adults out there looking for something fun and active. The small-group atmosphere of the classes offers students a chance to work together while keeping the focus off competition. Introductory classes allow people to try various circus arts: once you’ve found you’re more of a juggler than a contortionist, for example, you can pick the specialty that suits you best. Eventually, Latreille hopes to offer a pre-professional program for those looking to run off and join the circus full-time.

Nouveau Cirque
For the past 13 years, the Ottawa Circus School has operated out of various schools and community centres. And during the warmer months, Latreille hosted “circus jams” — free drop-in classes with coaches — on the Rink of Dreams at city hall. “It was my way of giving back to the community,” says Latreille. But the popularity of classes meant that before long, demand outstripped supply, and Latreille began searching for a place to call home. She found just that in a warehouse space at 2275 Gladwin Cres., near the Canada Science and Technology Museum. She has spent the past few months installing matting similar to that of gymnastics studios, installing points for aerial lines, and painting the space bright, welcoming colours.