The Art of Creating Healthy and Nurturing Community

BUST, a six week circus intensive for women, finished at the end of June. All of us participants had the opportunity to learn partner acrobatics, stilt-walking, clowning, trapeze and aerial fabric. We were encouraged to push ourselves physically. Often, our physical pushes often were entwined with mental and emotional pushes. I remember this aspect of BUST and I think about my relationships with the different activities and my relationship with my self. What about my relationships with others – with the teachers, with other students? Lately, I’ve been thinking about BUST and community.  What kind of community did we create over those six weeks? In what ways did we have to push ourselves, go out of our comfort zones, exercise extra discipline in order to create healthy, nurturing community? What went wrong? What went right?

We were a group of people voluntarily coming together for our individual reasons. From the very beginning – the opening circle – the teachers underplayed the performance that would take place at the end of the intensive. They told us that the performance wasn’t the main point of this intensive. Yet, I believe that the fact that we had before us the task of creating a show together put a particular emphasis on community. And in this way, the performance at the end of the intensive is a big part of the BUST experience.

Community. In social policy circles, community is a sort of buzz word. “How do we build community?” is a frequently asked question. For me, community is a neutral word. A gang, for example, is a community. I prefer the question, “How do we create and nurture healthy and restorative communities?”

At the beginning of our BUST journey, we were steered by a guiding principle: tap into our highest or best selves and support each other to do the same. Even without the task of creating a performance, this direction would have played an important role in creating an atmosphere of acceptance, support and encouragement. With a performance added into the mix, this direction took on an extra weight.

In a performance, it is in the collective interest that everyone shines, everyone gives their best, everyone takes responsibility for making the show happen and run smoothly. The way BUST works, we were trying to all be stars -whatever that meant for each of us. Everyone performed. We didn’t have lead roles. We were given a strong sense that bringing out the best in ourselves involved bringing out the best in others.

What kind of community were we building?

One where my rising didn’t involve someone else getting pushed down (well, maybe, in certain acrobatic moves…).  One where we sought to create a safe physical and emotional environment for us to take risks and go to our edges. Because in going to our edges, we were expanding our potential as individuals and a collective.

Did we simply have six weeks of a love-in, while we developed our skills and abilities in the circus arts? No. Because that’s not how the spectacle that is real life and how we live together works. We had to navigate the rough waters of personal relationships.

If we listened to our own voices, we would hear: That woman there, she drives me batty with all her self-loathing talk. That one there, really??? Does she really have no clue that she kind of self-absorbed? Oh, and that one there, she knew I wanted to wear that costume but she took it anyway. She’s so needy! She can do everything, but it always takes me forever to learn things. She’s so much better than I am.

Inhale. Exhale.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know that part of my BUST experience was about enhancing my skills and ability to show up in a community as someone who has a nurturing and restorative presence. Like everyone else, I had many a time when I didn’t get it right. Yet, I tried. I tried to be nurturing and restorative. I tried to keep learning about what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes, the exact action that I thought would be helpful was actually irritating as heck to the person on the receiving end.

Trying. Succeeding. Trying. Failing. Continuous experiments. Continuous learning. In the course of BUST, I expanded my awareness about my self and the process of creating healthy relationships with others.

What worked? What didn’t? Ahh, yes. Those questions. I’ll save that for future posts.

How do you show up in the different communities you inhabit? What do you aspire to bring to them? What do you actually bring to them? How might you show up differently?


(a picture backstage during a BUST show, having just performed an act with stiltwalking and clowning)


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