The circus troupe is keeping their dreams alive by educating children in virus-stricken Mexico

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  • By Yussel Gonzalez / AFP, ATIZAPAN, Mexico

Children hang from hoops and aspiring acrobats balance on tightrope or spin in the air at a circus school in Mexico, determined to keep their dreams alive despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the virus forced circuses to close last year, a family began looking for a practice site in the suburbs of the hard-hit Mexican capital.

Hoping one day to perform with the internationally renowned troupe Cirque du Soleil, they found a warehouse that they converted into a gym, where Lumina Cirkum was born.

Photo: AFP

After a short time, their tightrope act, unicycles and tires caught the attention of the neighbors and they decided to offer local children acrobatics lessons.

The classes will help keep the 30 students busy during the pandemic and the family will help pay the rent for the room.

When COVID-19 first spread rapidly in Mexico and resulted in the shutdown of non-essential activities, everything was in the air, said Ana Zavala, who coordinates the project.

It is unclear whether acrobats should get jobs again or change careers, said the 44-year-old, whose daughter Karina Cervantes Zavala teaches at the school.

“We have decided to continue with the dream and training when circus work or activities resume,” said Ana Zavala, who has shared the wishes of her 21-year-old daughter since childhood.

The school is adorned with pictures of Karina’s performances and colorful posters, one of which shows a drumming bear. Spotlights and unicycles hang from the ceiling. There is even a popcorn machine.

It feels like a real circus – an activity with a long tradition in Mexico, but one that has been brought to its knees since the pandemic hit more than a year ago.

It wasn’t until April that circuses began to reopen with limited capacity in a country with one of the highest known death tolls from COVID-19 due to social distancing measures.

Masked children arrive at Lumina Cirkum and begin acrobatics even before they are instructed by their teachers.

“It feels great that the kids are getting into their first grade and everyone is happy and wants to keep coming back,” said Jairo Avila, a 23-year-old Colombian acrobat and trainer at the school.

The enthusiasm of the children is evident when they twist themselves in the tires and on the flying lines under the supervision of their teachers.

One of the best things about coaching is making the unattainable come true, said Ana Zavala’s partner Cristobal Salcedo, a tightrope walker with 20 years of experience.

“You tell people to stand on a rope and it seems impossible to them, but when you turn a corner near your house and see a man walking on the rope, you say, ‘If he can, can me too ‘”he said. “I like to teach that.”

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