AP PHOTOS: Circus school in full swing again, despite COVID

AP Photo package on how a Belgian circus school is dealing with the pandemic

BRUSSELS — The ropes are swinging. Chalk stains the mats anew. And students at the ESAC international circus school in Brussels are smiling again, even if it is through a mask sometimes.

The pandemic forced the school to close in March, but with new measures in place to limit exposure the smell of sweat and the grunts of exertion are back again.

“We are still training and working as hard as we always do,” said second-year student Sidney Billings, 20, enjoying the opportunity to hone her athletic talents again. Those who pick a circus career are so driven, they were quick to get rid of the rust.

“The students were excited to come back to work on a regular basis and to regain contact with teachers or project managers” said Spanish dance teacher Silvia Ubieta, 49, who joined the school in 2007.

For safety reasons amid the pandemic, Venezuelan school director Reynaldo Ramperssad had to cut the number of students by 25%, creating “bubbles” where only a few work together in a small group and do online theory classes.

Only technical classes are face-to-face at the school facilities, where the use of masks depends on an official sports protocol. It creates scenes where one student is hanging upside down with a white mask on while others are swinging with only a smile to cover their face.

Billings, the U.S. student, played down the impact of the measures on her daily routine: “Being in the school is honestly not so different: we have to wear masks and the different years are more separate,” she said. “Relationships with the coaches are a little bit different. We stay further away and they wear masks the whole time, but the actual relationship hasn’t changed much.”

Like so many students, Billings says the pandemic has drawn a thick veil over her future.

“I am not entirely sure where I would like to be in 5 years. I feel a lot of that depends on how we deal with corona. All I know is that I would like to be performing or creating in a circus,” she said.

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