H1 Circus Skills

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Aim: To introduce the group to different circus skills and give them opportunities to practice and perform them. Taken from the BB Company Section Discover Pro Pack, Skills, Interests H1


Activity 1
• Devilstick (also known as Flowerstick / Lunastix / Spinstix)
• Control Handsticks (usually included in the cost of the above item)

Activity 2
Spinning plate
Plastic spinning plate stick

Activity 3
• Toothbrushes (a toothbrush with a slightly bendy head is better than a straight one!)
• Silicon Coated handstfcks


Activity 1 - Devilstick

Aim: To introduce the devilstick and teach the basic horizontal and vertical control skills and also some additional tricks.

The name ‘devil’ has nothing to do with the devil. Probably the origin of the devilstick is situated in China. In the course of time the English name has been established from the original meaning for hitting the stick back and forth. The devilstick was probably brought back from China to the west in the beginning of the 19th century. Using written documents it has been proved that the devilstick is more than 200 years old but it is thought that it existed long before. As the Europeans brought the stick to the west they changed the name from the original meaning for playing the stick back and forth (greek: diaballo) to the English word ‘devilstick’.

• Hand out a pair of control handsticks and a devilsticWflowerstick to each young person.
• Tell the young people to place the handsticks on the ground, balance the devilstick horizontally on top of their handsticks and then lift them up. We are going to learn some horizontal tricks with the devilstick before learning the slightly more difficult vertical tricks!
• The handsticks should be as far apart as possible to allow for stability (although obviously not too far apart or else the devilstick will just fall to the ground!).

1) Arm Roll — Lift your arms up slightly, and the devilstick should roll up your arms towards your chin. You could then trap it under your chin, then release and let it roll back down your arms which you have lowered this time. Make sure you decrease the rolling speed on the way down, otherwise the devilstick will keep going and fall off the end of the sticks!
2) Throw — Throw the devilstick straight up in the air, not too high. As you are about to catch the devilstick, bring your handsticks down a little to absorb the impact.
3) A 180 Degree Spin — Now as you repeat your throw (previous trick), lift one arm slightly higher than the other so that the devilstick will turn 180 degrees in the air. Repeat this trick but in the opposite direction (if you did clockwise, now do anti-clockwise). It is important to learn all tricks with both hands so that you don’t develop a one-sided looking performance!
4) A 360 Degree Spin — same as 180 spin, except you need to throw the devilstick either a bit higher with the same amount of energy as before, or lift your arm slightly higher as you release (so you will either have a slow turning high 360 degree pattern or a low and fast pattern). You could also attempt a 720 degree throw if the ceiling is high enough!
5) Cross Arms — Throw devilstick straight up in the air, and switch your arms over so that you catch the devilstick with your arms at opposite sides. Not as easy as it sounds!
6) Roll Onto Handsticks — When your devilstick inevitably falls onto the ground, instead of just picking it up and placing it on the sticks, place your handsticks on top of the devilstick, and roll the devilstick as quickly as you can towards yourself. Quickly insert your handsticks underneath and the devilstick should now roll on top! This may not work as efficiently with a flowerstick as the tassles tend not to allow much rolling to occur!
7) Pirouette — Throw devilstick straight up in the air, do a 360 degree pirouette (spin yourself) and then catch the devilstick.
8) Kickup — Throw the devilstick Gust a little throw), then move your handsticks out of the way so that you can kick it back up in the air, and then catch it. If your kick is exactly on the centre of the devilstick, then it will go straight up in the air, and if your kick is slightly to one side, then it will make the devilstick do a turn (such as 180 degrees).

These are harder to learn than the horizontal tricks, but worth persevering with if you have some time to spare at the end of your session.

Kneel with the devilstick standing upright. Using just your hands, toss it back and forth so that the bottom end of the devil stick does not leave the floor. Now use the handsticks in place of your hands. Catch the devil stick on your handstick 3 quarters of the way up and throw it to the other handstick (while still keeping the bottom of the stick firmly on the ground). You should be allowing the devil stick to rest gently on each handstick, like you are throwing and catching the devilstick, rather than hitting it back and forth.

Gradually see if you can get the devilstick to lift a Unle off the ground, by giving some upward push also. It takes a lot of practice, and you may find that after a few throws, the stick gets out of control:
• If your handsticks are in a V shape, with the wide end nearest you, then the devilstick will come towards you.
• If your handsticks are in a V shape, with the wide end furthest away, then the devilstick will head away from you.

When you notice that the stick is out of control, make sure that your handsticks are parallel to one m another and horizontal. You should now be able to start from a kneeling position, and slowly stand up whilst tapping the devilstick. Try to keep the movement slow and even. If the pattern becomes fast, this could be because the handsticks are too close to each other.

When you can achieve a smooth tapping motion of the devil stick from handstick to handstick, this is known as a steady rythm or tick-tock. When you can tick-tock smoothly, you are ready to try some more tricks!

1) Spins allow you some time when the devilstick is in the air. This time can be used for a number of more advanced moves. Spins are very easy to do though!

SINGLE SPIN: Get a steady rhythm going and then push and lift a little harder with one handstick to make the stick do a half turn.

DOUBLE SPIN: You require a bit more force than for a single spin (experiment until you get the right amount)! The stick should do a complete 360 degree turn, before it lands at your other handstick.

2) Juggling — if participants can already juggle clubs, then they should be able to attempt juggling two control handsticks and a devilstick.
3) Balance — Balance the stick upright on a handstick, then try to spin it over and catch it once again in the upright position!

Tips / Advice:
• Horizontal tricks are much easier than The vertical tricks. By beginning with teaching The horizontal tricks, you can build up some confidence in the participants before they move on to the vertical tricks.

• Make sure that the leader can demonstrate each trick in front of the young people before they are given a try. It is vital That the young people can see what they are meant to be attempting rather Than just have it verbally explained to them!

• Silicon Handsticks can be used for scarf twirling and toothbrush twirling (see the Toothbrush Twirling Circus Skills activity for more details).

• Lending a devilstick and control sticks to each young person would enable them to put in a lot of practice in order to fully master using this prop.

Safety Issues / Risk Assessment:
Bruising if hit by the devilstick. SOLUTION: You are only going to get hurt by doing high throws, or abusing equipment. Equipment is only given out after it has been demonstrated and an eye is kept on people using this equipment.

Activity 2 - Plate Spinning

Aim: To learn how to plate spin and learn a few simple tricks.

• Spinning plates have a large rim on the underside. You will also see that the underside slopes towards the centre.

• There are 2 good techniques for learning to spin a plate. One is very simple and enables all participants to spin a plate quite quickly and thus enables them to attempt various tricks. This will be taught first. If there is time, then the other method can also be taught. It allows for a much faster spin, although the technique is much harder and usually requires 5-15 minutes (or even more) of practice. Some people won’t be able to plate spin using this latter technique so don’t worry too much if they don’t get it!

• Be aware that using the simple method to spin plates doesn’t keep them spinning for much time. When the plate starts slowing down, give it another spin as attempting tricks with a slow (or non) spinning plate is very difficult indeed!

Ask participants to hold their stick near the bottom end. They should then place the centre of the spinning plate on top of the stick and let go with their hand. The plate should now be balanced and ready to be spun. Ask the participants to make their hands into a spider shape (so that the fingers are all dangling down) and then rest the fingers and thumb on top of the plate and just give a little spin. On subsequent attempts, they can try giving a much faster spin, but beware that if they try to give the plate the fastest spin they can, it will just fly off, so there will be an optimum level of spin that each participant needs to find.

Once each participant can spin a plate, they are then ready to try the following tricks:

1) Throw and Catch — Do not throw the plate too high! A simple low throw will be adequate. When the plate is about to land on The stick, bring the stick down a little to absorb the impact.
2) under the Leg — Pass the stick under the leg to your other hand. It is usually easier to grip the stick nearer the top end so that you don’t have to raise your leg really high!
3) Spin Plate on Finger — You can replace the stick with your finger. Just slowly move your forefinger up the stick and then when it reaches the top, substitute your finger for the stick and bring the stick away cleanly.
4) Go for Numbers — Once you have got one plate spinning, ask a friend to pass you some more plates. You will have to experiment with the best way to hold the sticks once you have more than one plate and sticks in each hand!
5) Curls — While spinning a plate on a stick, cud it under your arm (it may be easier to hold the stick near the middle or top to achieve this if you have shorter arms). You can then pass it behind the back to your other hand, and finally curl the plate under your other arm. It is important to do this as quickly as possible before the plate stops spinning, but not too quickly otherwise the plate will fall off the stick!
6) A Grand Finish! With the plate spinning on the stick, give a little push straight up in the air and let go of the stick. You should be able to catch the stick in one hand and the plate in the other and go straight into taking a bow (and hopefully get a round of applause!)
7) Combining other Skills — If you have developed some other circus skills (such as riding a unicycle, pedal go, fun wheel, or juggling 2 balls/rings/clubs in one hand, then this can be combined with plate spinning).

This method is more difficult, but it makes the plate spin for far longer and thus makes all the tricks listed above far easier to accomplish! This method takes quite a bit of time to learn, but if you have time at the end of your session above, then it’s worth attempting...

1) Hang the plate on the stick (like putting a jacket on a hook) so that the tip of the stick is resting against the rim of the plate.
2) Slowly draw some tiny circles in the air to get the plate starting to spin. This motion should only involve your hand and wrist and your arm should not be moving in a circle.
3) Now twirl the stick faster and faster while increasing the size of the circles you are drawing in the air, until the circle is as big as the rim of the plate. When the plate looks as if it is horizontal (e.g. it is not dangling vertically but it looks horizontal on top of The stick) then just stop spinning. The plate will gravitate to the middle of the stick as the underside is sloped to allow this to happen!

Make sure that the stick is pointing straight up in the air the whole time.

If you find that your arm is moving in a circular motion, then grip it and hold it still with your spare hand so that it is only your wrist that is doing the spinning.

Because you now no longer require two hands to spin a plate (one to hold the stick and one to spin a plate) you are now free to pass your spinning plate (either directly across, or under the leg, or curling under arm and behind back) so that it ends up in your other hand, at which point you can start spinning another plate using your good hand once again.

1) You could then spin some more plates and keep feeding them across to your weaker hand. You will have to experiment with the way you hold The spinning plate sticks and the angle they are held at, but it is quite possible to hold 4 spinning plates in one hand.
2) Your throws can be a bit higher now. You could also hold the stick halfway up, but with your hand twisted so that as soon as you throw the plate, you turn the stick round the other way and catch the plate on the opposite end of the stick. Experiment with finding a grip that is comfortable for you to do this trick.
3) Try learning to plate spin using your weaker hand. You know the technique now, so go on, give it a try!

Tips / Advice:
• Make sure that the leader(s) in charge of this activity can plate spin and do at least a couple of the tricks mentioned. It is important and most helpful that the young people see what they are about to try for themselves.
• Make sure that all participants can spin a plate before moving on to teach tricks, otherwise you are leaving some participants behind and they will feel excluded. If you have more than one leader, then it would be OK to give a bit of one-on-one tuition while the rest of the group moves on.
• Lending a spinning plate and stick to each young person would help them to practise at home and really improve their skills.

Safety Issues / Risk Assessment:
• It is possible for young people to poke themselves or others with the sticks, or fall while running. The worst case would be for them to fall on their own stick stabbing themselves. This is very unlikely. SOLUTION: Plastic sticks are best when teaching young people to spin plates. Wooden sticks may be used once a person has shown an aptitude for plate spinning and can be trusted. Most people find wooden sticks easier to use, but safety comes first!
• Young people could use the spinning plate sticks as a weapon or as Frisbees. As long as discipline is maintained, the likelihood of injury is very low.
• Do not use real plates!

Activity 3 Toothbrush Twirling

Aim: To learn the art of toothbrush twirling!

The silicon coated handsticks are ideal for this task. They are usually supplied as a pair with a devilstick. If you do not wish to purchase these sticks, then you could try using any other sticks you can think of (plate spinning sticks, garden canes etc.).

Make sure that the leader(s) in charge of this activity can toothbrush twirl and are able to demonstrate each of the tricks. It is important and most helpful that the young people see what they are about to try for themselves. Spend some time making sure that everyone can spin one toothbrush on a stick before you move on to demonstrating all of the other tricks, as this is the basis for every subsequent trick attempted.

Before handing out the equipment, demonstrate how to toothbrush twirl. The idea is to move your stick or finger in little circles so that the toothbrush rotates under the finger and then over the top of the finger.

If you find that the toothbrush just flies away as soon as you start, then it is possible that you are trying to spin the toothbrush in the wrong direction. If you are having problems, then either change the direction you are spinning the toothbrush, OR change the side on which the toothbrush hangs (so that it is facing the other direction). Do not change both the side and the direction or else you will have the same problem again! The idea is for the toothbrush to stay touching the stick at all times, so only one direction can possibly work.

Hand out one toothbrush and one stick to each participant. Ask them to balance the toothbrush near the end of the stick (furthest away from them) so that the toothbrush head balances on top of the stick and the rest of the toothbrush is just dangling.

Once you have succeeded in spinning one toothbrush, the following tricks can be demonstrated and then tried out:

1) Use your weaker hand. (if you have been learning using your right hand, Then switch to your left and vice versa!)
2) Use both hands. Try spinning toothbrushes on sticks in each hand at the same time.
3) Try spinning multiple toothbrushes on one or two sticks. This is nearly just as easy as spinning one toothbrush. Do not get discouraged if one or two toothbrushes fly off, as you will probably still have a few on your stick still spinning which is still very impressive! See how many you can do.
4) Pass stick from hand to hand while keeping the toothbrush spinning. Quite tricky — but just needs some practice and a quick changeover!
5) Behind the Back — just pretend to spin it as no-one can see what you are doing!
6) Catching The toothbrushes — when you stop spinning, the toothbrushes will fall to the ground. You could instead try and stop spinning, then catch all of The toothbrushes!
7) If you have spinning plates then you can spin a plate on a stick then pass it on to a toothbrush (the non-bristle end!) A good combination trick and it looks quite silly!
8) Marching: You can try and accomplish a marching routine with participants spinning their toothbrushes on their stick at the same time. Alternatively, they can pretend to be a plane with a stick in each hand serving as propellers.
9) Spin on finger — It is possible to spin the toothbrush on your finger. Not as easy as with a stick. Either the forefinger or pinkie are the best fingers to use.

If anyone is really struggling with toothbrush twirling, you can join two toothbrushes together by interlocking the bristles, and this acts like a stabiliser!

Tips / Advice:
• If you hand out equipment before explaining how to toothbrush twirl, it will be very hard to keep your classes attention. They will either start trying to toothbrush twirl while you are speaking, or the room will be filled with sounds of toothbrushes dropping, and participants exclaiming “I can’t do this, it’s impossible”!
• Let the participants’ imaginations run wild with toothbrush twirling! They can probably think of some more tricks that aren’t listed above.
• If you lay your handstick on the floor, you can place the toothbrushes onto the stick ready to be lifted. This can be a lot easier than trying to load your stick with toothbrushes while holding the stick in one hand! Alternatively the participants can group together to help each other out.
• You could have a competition to see who can spin the most toothbrushes on one or two handsticks
• You will have many participants saying that they cannot toothbrush twirl. You just need to watch exactly what they are doing and correct them as the problem will ALWAYS be that they are spinning the handstick in the wrong circular direction or that They have swapped the toothbrush to the other side AND changed direction of spin instead of changing just one!

Safety Issues / Risk Assessment:
Toothbrush could fly off the stick and hit someone. This is unlikely to cause an injury as the toothbrush would have to be moving particularly slowly to be able to fall off the stick! SOLUTION: Ask every participant to find a big space all to themselves when practising.


  • circus skills
  • company
  • discoverer
  • interests
  • skills

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