/10 Sports

Jonathan Frantini

Shanghai Acrobatics

It’s a tradition stretching back more 3000 years, a secret passed from master to disciple across the ages. Now Chinese acrobatics is battling for attention against an emerging global entertainment culture. On the west side of Shanghai 89 students and a visionary leader are keeping the faith.

Founded in 1989, the Shanghai Circus School was the first, and is far and away the greatest acrobatics school in China. They may be only human, their small bodies subject to the same laws of gravity as yours and mine, but the kids in this building are the rarest of physical specimens. Their coaches have crisscrossed China to find them, stopping in at dance and gymnastics schools and physical education programs in most provinces of the land. Each one has been painstakingly selected from thousands of hopefuls. Each one has been measured, examined, observed and put through his or her paces many times. As with all child prodigies, the kids in this pink cube have made gigantic sacrifices for their art. Many of them are still too young to understand what they are giving up, and what they may expect in return. For seven full years of their young lives, starting as early as six, the students of the Shanghai Circus School will spend their days almost totally confined to their urban campus, a small plot of the land, much of it asphalt, with a patch of grass and three pink-tiled buildings. They will seldom see their families. They will lose touch with friends and the whole wide world outside. They will do it for their art. Before you start feeling sorry for them, though, it might help to see things from their point of view. Wen Juan Dai, 18, first started dreaming of being an acrobat when she saw it on TV. She was overcome, she says, by its beauty. When the coaches came recluting at her school in Anhui Province, she could hardly believe her luck. Ya Min Hu, 16, who is from the Shanghai area, pushed and pushed his parents to bring him here, so he could have a try out; today he is turning quadruple forward somersaults in mid-air. And then there are the new recruits: Chi Ling Wei, 15, and her twin sister Chi Miao came all the way from distant Guand-Xi to join the school. Today marks the end of their first full week. Do they miss home? “Very much”. Do they have any doubts about their decision to come here? “NO. Our dream is to perform.”

Courtesy by Another Magazine
text by Alex Marashian