Meet Newcastle's Circus Acrobats from All Ways Good Company
Living North meet topsy-turvy teachers Jane Park and Dora Rubinstein
Circuses aren’t all big tops, red noses and oversized shoes, and Jane and Dora’s magical blend of storytelling and interactive fun would inspire anyone to join. But just how do you get into acrobatics – and what are the benefits? Jane and Dora, founders of All Ways Good Company, are just the acrobats to ask.
‘I have a background in theatre, which I got into when I was at school,’ says Dora. ‘I used to do the Live Youth Theatre and loved singing at Sage Gateshead. When I was 16, I went off to a drama school in London and while I was there mum got into aerial.’
Jane was teaching yoga at the time. ‘A friend asked if I wanted to go to a trapeze class because she wanted to give it a go before her 40th birthday,’ Jane says. ‘I went along and took a photograph of her and she said “thank goodness I don’t ever have to do that again” but I got up and said “I don’t ever want to do anything else but this!” That was my first experience, but it became my thing. There weren’t many places you could do it at the time but I threw myself into it and quite literally turned myself upside down.’
While Dora was in London, Jane was sending her photos of her newfound skills. ‘I hadn’t done a lot of dance before I went to drama school (focusing mainly acting and singing) but I started to do a lot of dance in London,’ says Dora. ‘I got really into the flexibility side of it. It’s funny because we were both learning similar things at the same time, even though there’s a big age gap. When I came home for the holidays she asked me to give the classes a go and I really got into aerial and partner acrobatics. When I graduated I started working in the theatre industry; Mum was teaching aerial at this point. We decided we should do our acroyoga teacher training at the same time. We were the first mother-daughter team to do the training and we’ve been teaching together ever since.’
They began running classes, and were constantly being asked if they could teach specific movements and lifts. ‘It got to a point where people would say to me, “I really want someone to run a day of workshops in my school, do you know anyone who can do that?” Of course, we could do that and we already were,’ says Dora. She moved back from London in 2019 and now lives in York. ‘I was closer to my mum and had a bit more time to think about how we could make our own work as artists, rather than waiting to be asked to do certain things.’
The duo got a week’s residency at Dance City, offering them the opportunity to work together creatively, combining Dora’s theatre knowledge and Jane’s art background with their circus knowledge. Although they’d done a lot of teaching together, they’d never made a show, but lockdown put paid to any idea of that, so instead they ran performances and classes online. ‘When Theatre Hullaballoo put a call out for commissions this year, we realised this would be the perfect time to suggest our show idea [Swings & Roundabouts],’ says Dora. ‘I was in America at the time so I wrote the application on one of my days off, sending edits back and forth to Mum in Newcastle.’
Swings & Roundabouts was commissioned by Theatre Hullabaloo and showed at Hullabaloo in the Park in July, and at York’s Theatre at the Mill in August. Blending storytelling, aerial circus and acrobatics, the show is a selection of short stories about everyday moments in the park, told in an extraordinary way as Jane and Dora turn the park into an aerial playground – and the audience are encouraged to give it a go too! ‘Even though we’re doing quite extraordinary things with aerial and acro, we’re representing things that locals recognise,’ says Dora. ‘We’re proud of our base in the North East but if we were to tour the show Swings & Roundabouts (which we hope will continue to have a life next year) as an outdoor piece internationally (because there’s a really great festival circuit in Europe), then we’d be able to take those stories that are rooted in the North East across the world.’
Equally as important as sharing stories is being able to inspire others to give acrobatics and aerial a go. ‘I teach a lot of aerial classes in Christ Church Newcastle,’ says Jane. ‘I teach a lot with Bare Toed Dance Company too. I had been teaching with Circus Central for years and when it closed down I wanted to keep myself and those I was teaching in the air. One thing about aerial when you’re older is that you can’t stop doing it. If you don’t do it, you can’t do it. You always have to keep training and there’s nothing quite like it. It’s not like you can go to the gym or do yoga instead because it uses particular muscles in a certain way.’
Everyone is encouraged to get involved with All Ways Good Company, no matter their age. ‘Something we try to weave into our shows, and one of our strong values, is that this isn’t just for the kids,’ says Dora. ‘With Swings & Roundabouts there’s a “have-a-go” section at the end and we would never just make parents stand and take photos of their kids. We always encourage everyone to have a go. Something I like to hear, and do hear often, is “I didn’t think I’d be able to do that”. It’s all about inspiring people to see that they are strong enough to be able to go upside down. It’s not about being perfect and making beautiful shapes, it’s about celebrating what your body can already do.’
‘And enjoying it and having fun with it,’ Jane adds, as she explains how it can help in improving mental health too. ‘You simply can’t think about anything else when you’re doing it,’ she continues. ‘It makes you hyper-awake. We have quite a few medics who come along to our adult class and I don’t know whether it’s true nationally or just here, but I think because their brain is so full, it’s a great way of clearing it. Quite a few studies show how good it is for your mental wellbeing.’
Going upside down, whether it’s aerial or acro, literally and figuratively changes your perspective. ‘It turns your world upside down,’ Dora laughs. ‘As long as you remember to breathe, it’s almost like a healthy shot of caffeine – it certainly wakes you up. There’s also a sense of community spirit that our classes create. Everyone at these classes is celebrated for who they are. Mum leads them and I’m always in awe at the sense of acceptance, which I think is something that’s really prominent in circus across the board. It’s hugely physical and you build up incredible strength and flexibility, but it also creates a community for a lot of people.’
‘Sharing that adrenaline and experience with people really brings you very close together,’ Jane agrees. ‘It’s all about cheering each other on.’
If you’re planning a festival, party, or a private event, All Ways Good Company can create a bespoke performance or interactive experience and they can also help to coach or choreograph to enhance your own production. But why not give it a go yourself?