Of course, the tricks are pretty cool. And walking through Circus Space’s facility, a renovated 19th-century Victorian electric-light station in London’s revitalized Hoxton area, it’s very hard not to be impressed by them. Everywhere you look, students are doing the kinds of maneuvers that make casual viewers catch and hold their breath. In one imposing studio space with 60-foot ceilings known as the Combustion Chamber, several fit young people juggle clubs and practice lifting each other into yogically impossible poses. In another studio with a floor made of a bouncy, squishy material, two contortionists work on a new routine involving backbends and complex handholds.
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NOT YOUR MOM’S HULA HOOP: Circus Space student Lisa

“When you’re here at Circus Space, it’s really normal — everyone does circus and people can easily stand on their hands or juggle five clubs and swing in the air, but when you meet people and you say you do circus, they say, ‘Oh, wow, that’s so unusual,’ ” says Rosie Rowlands, a 29-year-old Circus Space graduate. “It reminds you that it is really unusual, and not everyone does it, and it is a special thing. You see people doing these incredible feats that most human beings can’t do.”

But pulling off these feats takes a tremendous amount of work. There are approximately 60 students enrolled in the three-year degree course at any given time, though a typical graduating class will go from between 25 and 30 to 16 or 17 students by the final year. Such grueling physical practice — five days a week, seven-plus hours a day — tends to take its toll, says Philip Nichols, director of marketing and communications for the school. “You simply can’t do this if you don’t work hard,” he says.

But those who are willing to put in the effort reap great rewards. After graduating, students tend to have little trouble finding employment: Nichols estimates that 93 percent of Circus Space alumni are working in circus or in related fields such as theater three years after graduation. By comparison, U.K. graduates with degrees in information technology faced an unemployment rate of around 16 percent in 2010 — making running away and joining the circus seem like a much more appealing option.

Part of what makes the program so successful is the school’s emphasis on preparing students for not only the physically demanding aspects of a career in circus but the mentally demanding ones as well — the business, marketing and self-management sides.