My Circus Life: Training at the ENC!

So I recently started training at the National Circus School here in Rio, a.k.a. the “Escola Nacional de Circo” (or, the ENC) in Portuguese. Here is their official site, and here is the Wikipedia article (in Portuguese).

These days my schedule Monday through Friday goes something like this:

10:00am      Awake to the sound of waves crashing…. hit the snooze button
10:05am      Awake (again) to the sound of waves crashing… hit the snooze button
10:10am      Dream that I’m sleeping on the beach to the sound of waves crashing and attempt to drown out the sound by hiding under my pillow.
10:15am      Get out of bed, brush my teeth, wash my face, put on stretchy pants, eat yogurt and granola.
10:25am      Go downstairs and wait for what feels like forever to catch the 457 bus to Praça da Bandeira…
10:50am      Aerial Silks Class at circus school!
12:30pm      Lunch at circus school!
1:20pm        Handstand class at circus school!
3:00pm        Leave circus school to go home and grab Jiu Jitsu gear and, possibly, take a nap.
4:30pm        Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class!
7:00pm        Get home. Shower. Eat something. Attempt to be productive on my computer. …Eventually pass out.

And repeat! :) :)

I decided to train at ENC because I wasn’t getting enough circus anywhere else in Rio. I wanted to train for hours every day, without paying a ridiculous amount of money, and I wanted to train with other people who were reaaally good, rather than beginners.

According to the links I gave above, the school was founded in 1982 and it’s the only circus school in Brazil that is state funded. We don’t even have a state-funded circus school in the States! Psh.

Anyway, it’s not one of the best circus training facilities in the world by any means, but it’s probably one of the best places to train circus in Brazil.

Their website isn’t entirely clear about what is required to enter the school, so I had to go there in person to speak with the administration to figure it out.

Here’s the lowdown:

There are THREE programs that you can do (currently), all of which you must test to get in. All three programs are completely free. (…Which is amazing.)

  1. The “Bolsista” Program: This is a 1-year “fundamentals” program for aspiring circus artists. I believe the school year is broken up into trimesters, the first of which is totally boring conditioning type of stuff. It’s like having to take a mandatory writing course as part of your liberal arts major. The second and third trimesters you do get to choose what you specialize in though. This program is ONLY open to Brazilian citizens because it’s 1 year of FULL funding. That’s where the word “bolsista” comes from: you receive a living stipend/grant to train at the circus school, a “bolsa.”
  2. The “Regular” Program: This is the normal 4-year program that you do to officially become a circus artist. This program is open to both citizens and non-citizens! Many of these students (colloquially called “alunos regulares”, i.e. “regular” or non-grant students) did the Bolsista program for their first year. You do not receive a living stipend as a regular student.
  3. “Reciclagem”: This is a 3-month program that occurs twice each academic year (I believe the first starts in March, and the second starts in August). This program is open to citizens and non-citizens. This program is for professionals or semi-professionals who are looking to hone their pre-existing circus skills. You must specify your area of specialty to participate in the appropriate class.

The “bolsistas” (aka the first-years) doing warm ups and conditioning. Totally boring. So glad I don’t have to do any of that. ;)

Oh. And did I mention that lunch is free for anyone enrolled in any of the programs above? (Okay, so it’s not the best food ever.. but still!)

As you might have guessed, I’m doing the third program, “reciclagem” (which literally means “recycling,” but refers to the honing of pre-existing skills).

To get in, I had to provide a bunch of formal documentation (e.g. a recent medical exam, a formal letter of having studied my circus art somewhere already, copy of passport, copy of my visa, etc.) and take a test in my area of specialization (aerial silks for me).

The test itself was really not a “test.” It was more like: climb up the silk and show the aerial silks instructor what I can do. If I look like I know what I’m doing, great! I pass. If I don’t, then, well.. nope.

So, yes, I passed. Yay!

Classes for aerial silks started in mid August and they’ll continue until the end of the school year, at the end of November.

As a bonus, I managed to convince the handstand professor to let me take his handstand class which is normally for people who, well, can actually kind of do a handstand (..which means, not me). He’s awesome.

Here’s a photo of him being awesome:

My handstand instructor, Edson Silva, on the bottom. His brother is on top.

I get to train alongside this guy (Thiago)…

One-armed handstand on canes. He makes it look so easy…

He helps me a lot…. (Thanks Thiago!!)

Attempting handstands on canes… I have a LOT more work to do…

If you ever wondered what it takes to get a reaaaaally crazy split…

Just, you know.. stretching.

As with everything here in Brazil, things are equal parts unnecessarily bureaucratic but also totally unpredictable and non-sensical.

For example: While I was required to show proof of professional circus training and provide a bunch of other official documents, when it came to the most important part of my application, the entrance “exam,” that was a joke. There was no exam (even though the administration kept referring to it as such).

Then there are a lot of little things that you just kind of get used to.. Like, if your professor doesn’t show up to class, well… Oh well. Nothing you can do about it, maybe he’ll show up tomorrow?

Or, when you’re in the cafeteria getting your lunch, and the lunch lady doesn’t give you any juice because they ran out of cups. Ah, well, okay, I’ll see if I can find someone else’s cup and reuse it.

Or, you show up to the school, only to find out that none of the professors are there because of an official meeting, so no one is allowed to train or use any equipment (safety regulation) . So you and a bunch of students are just sitting around (or practicing handstands, since that doesn’t require any equipment), because no one told you guys that there was an “official meeting.”

…But it’s all stuff you get used to. :)

It’s still been a hell of a lot of fun meeting other circus people and finally getting to train every day without paying out the ass. Circus people always feel like home for some reason… :)

Anyway, so my goal while I’m here is to improve my aerial silks skills and learn how to hold a handstand. Go! :)


6 responses to “My Circus Life: Training at the ENC!

  1. Hey there, I landed in your blog through googling Escola Nacional de Circo. I’m thinking of applying there and it would be great to hear some more first-hand(to hand) info. Couldn’t find your contact info on the blog, would be great if you could write me at and we’ll talk, if you feel like (:


    • Hey Hillary,

      It’s a full-time school, so all classes are for full-time or part-time enrolled students. There are no drop-in classes. However, there are a number of other locations where you can do drop-in classes in Rio. The ones that I’m most familiar with are Base Dinâmica (their only online resource is their Facebook page here) or Intrépida Trupe (they also only use a Facebook page, which is here).

      If you go to Base Dinâmica, give Guilherme a big hug for me!

      Hope that helps! :)


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