BIOGRAPHY: Kristy is known for her extensive work in the Youth Circus sector, leading a team of inspiring artists as the Head Trainer and then Artistic Director of Flipside Circus in Brisbane for several years. Working as a creative producer and choreographer during her time at Flipside, Kristy collaborated with a number of leading arts organizations, venues and festivals such as: Strut n Fret Production House, The Brisbane Powerhouse, Out of the Box Festival and the Brisbane Festival. During her time at Flipside Circus, Kristy developed a keen interest in using circus to help children in need, at risk and who struggle to find their place in the world. In 2006 she completed Cirque Du Soleil’s “Cirque Du Monde- Social Circus Trainer” course at the National Institute of Circus Arts in Melbourne.

In 2009 at Flipside Circus Kristy partnered with Occupational Therapist Fiona Jones to set up a specialised circus program for children with special needs, particularly those diagnosed on the Autistic Spectrum. The program was a great success and led Kristy to pursue this area further and develop a passion for it. This led to Kristy returning to Griffith University to take on her Master of Arts and Media with Honours. Kristy received First Class Honours for her thesis paper titled “How Circus training can improve the well-being of autistic children and their families”. She now runs her own circus school “Circus Stars” which is dedicated to children on the Autism Spectrum.

Kristy is currently undertaking her PhD at Griffith University Gold Coast Campus, her area of research is the History of Contemporary Circus in Australia for which she received a full time scholarship.

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BA Creative Arts, School of Humanities, Griffith University
Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts and Media with Honours
July 2012

Abstract

This project is concerned with how circus training can benefit children diagnosed on the autistic spectrum and, in turn, their families. Many “special needs” children spend a great deal of time in physiotherapy, speech therapy, osteopathic therapy, occupational therapy and behavioural therapy. The thesis explores how circus can open up a new world to such children, enabling them to take risks, physically and emotionally; to stretch the capacities of their bodies in an environment that enriches their social development. Not only do they gain in strength, coordination and physical awareness, they can also gain confidence, opportunities for creative expression and a sense of “fitting in”.

For the parents and siblings of children with autism, circus training sessions provide respite and a chance to enjoy seeing their family member becoming involved with other children and achieving things that might not have seemed within their capabilities. There are frequently flow-on effects through improvements in autistic children’s skills and behaviours in daily life. Families can also become part of the “circus family” – sharing a sense of community with other families who understand the challenges that accompany life with an autistic child: a sense of isolation in the wider community, the frustrations, embarrassments and feelings of being judged. In the circus community, parents never need to apologise for their child in the same breath as introducing themselves.

The project draws on observations from my work as a circus performer and trainer; focused interviews with several physiotherapists, occupational therapists and circus trainers; literature relating to youth and social circus, and autism; and theoretical work on creativity, embodiment, difference, identity, belonging and changing notions of community, particularly from Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari, Agamben and Probyn.

I set out to demonstrate the practical value of circus to children with special needs and their families; that the environment of creative chaos developed in circus is particularly beneficial for children with autism; that the practice philosophy of circus values both difference and inclusivity, helping to build community; that philosophy and cultural theory can provide insights into how circus “works” for autistic children and their families; and that participation in circus can change how people understand the world and each other. My aim as a circus professional is to encourage us all to re-think how we approach physical therapy for children with special needs and to provide some theoretical frameworks that support the exceptional work of youth circus schools around Australia.

To read the full thesis, please head to our RESOURCES page.