Having grown up performing with her family’s youth circus in her native Finland, Ulla Hokkanen says she “wanted to give back some of the fun that the circus had brought to her life” through her involvement with the innovative Galway Community Circus
Ireland’s first dedicated youth circus, Galway Community Circus was established in 2002 and has since been granted charity status for its work with minority and disadvantaged groups.
Working primarily with young people aged from two to 23, the group provides outreach programmes and workshops for youth and community organisations throughout the country, helping disadvantaged, at risk and vulnerable youths to develop self-confidence and social skills through circus arts.
Juggling, aerial acts, unicycle riding, stilt walking, acrobatics and hula hooping are just some of the broad range of activities and acts taught by Galway Community Circus. “Through the many skills we teach the children and adults, we see their confidence, independence, creativity and individuality growing and evolving,” says Galway Community Circus Project Manager Ulla Hokkanen.
Galway Community Circus also offers adult classes and workshops, providing an opportunity for participants to gain new skills, meet new people and have some good, old-fashioned fun.
It was this sense of fun that led Ulla to join the group four years ago. No stranger to circus skills, the Finnish national has been performing since she was seven, when her parents set up their own community circus.
While once somewhat marginalised, Ulla feels that circus acts are becoming better known, thanks to the likes of the Cirque Du Soleil, but she believes that they still do not get the recognition they deserve.
Her ultimate hope for the future is that Ireland will have a school where people can go to train professionally for the circus, as those interested in training to become professional performers currently have to go to the UK.
Despite this, there is obviously considerable interest in the skills taught at Galway Community Circus as over 150 circus members took part in this year’s Galway City St Patrick’s Day Parade, when they displayed some of their juggling and acrobatic skills on the city’s streets.
The charity was subsequently awarded the Best Community Entry prize for their colourful efforts, which Ulla says would be impossible without the fantastically dedicated volunteers of the circus.
The Galway Community Circus train and perform in St Joseph’s Community School, Shantalla and offer a bursary scheme for those who struggle to afford to take part in the circus activities. The charity receives annual funding from The Arts Council, and additional funding from Galway City Council and The Galway County Council. They also hold fundraising events throughout the year.
Anyone interested in getting involved with the Galway Community Circus can visit their website www.galwaycommunitycircus.com or check out their Facebook page.