Big Tent Skills
What does hanging upside down 10 feet off the ground have to do with industrial and labor relations?
Can circus be a model for solving governmental problems? Could Congress learn a thing or two from an aerialist?
Perhaps surprisingly, yes.
“People’s perception of a circus is chaos,” says Nina Gershonowitz ’16. But, it isn’t chaos.
“It’s organized. It’s open communication,” she said. “You can’t just shut down a circus because you don’t like someone. You’re all under one tent. You have to work together. There’s something beautiful about that the whole world could learn from.”
Gershonowitz became interested in circus at age 9 or 10 after a friend came back from summer camp juggling and unicycling.
“I thought, ‘that looks like something I’d like to do.’” On the trapeze, something clicked, she said.
Her mother found Circus Smirkus Camp in rural Vermont, where Gershonowitz trained and where she now works as an aerial coach, teaching young people ages 6 to 18.
As a teen, after classes at New York City's High School of American Studies at Lehman College, Gershonowitz trained at the Trapeze School of New York in Manhattan. She loved the way the circus allowed her to hone her problem-solving skills and to work with people.
“I was constantly challenged,” she said. “There’s always something in circus you're working toward. There’s always something to learn.”
“In circus, you have to efficiently and quickly solve problems in order to facilitate a safe and smooth production or rehearsal period.”
Determining show orders, juggling patterns, rigging changes or acrobatic group acts requires the same people and problem-solving skills that Gershonowitz said she studied at ILR.
Although often taught through the backdrop of workplaces more conventional than the big top, the skills are universal, she said.
In any workplace, “if people are being treated unfairly, you have to find a way to solve that problem,” Gershonowitz said, and that helped develop her interest in the law.
“There was just something about law, having these guidelines and then using them to solve problems,” said Gershonowitz, planning to take the LSAT next year, then “freeze” her score for a few years while she performs and attends the New England Center for Circus Arts.
Gershonowitz is not sure what type of law she will practice, but she enjoys constitutional law and labor law, and an internship at Citizens Concerned for Children in Ithaca gave her an interest in possibly working with children.
A little bit like she’s doing now, in the circus.