Claire Ogden on Navigating the Political Circus and Changing Culture One Student at a Time
This is the fifth in a regular series of blog posts in which I speak with exciting artists, innovators, and entrepreneurs exploring how their creative skills have enabled them to do incredible things in their personal and professional lives.
You can find all of these interviews by searching for the tag #CreativeInnovative.
Claire Ogden is a business owner, circus performer and activist. I first heard of Claire and her acrobatic duo Scrambled Legs in 2013 through her performance partner, Shane. I was putting on monthly showcases at Brisbane Square Library and looking for performers who would bring something unique and wild to the library.
Born in Canberra, Australia, Claire lives in Brisbane, Australia and represented the Queensland Greens Party in the Lilley district. In their performances, the interactions between Claire and Shane were a hoot and their performances a big hit with audiences. Earlier this year, Scrambled Legs went on a hiatus. Understandable, as both have moved on to other projects.
I am especially excited that Claire agreed to answer my questions because of her diverse life as a performer, teacher, and politician.
F: Tell me a little about your training in the arts.
C: I first became interested in the arts in primary school through participating in choirs and school bands. My parents didn’t have a lot of money but I was able to borrow and learn musical instruments through the school instrumental music program. In high school I got the opportunity to participate in drama and I went on to study drama at university.
After graduating, I got a job in the office of a contemporary circus company. I didn’t know anything about circus but I was inspired by the company’s performers and circus trainers to start learning some circus skills. I participated in the circus classes for adults run in the evenings and on Saturdays. Before long I was obsessed! That job changed my life. I am now in my eighth year of business, performing circus professionally and teaching circus classes for children and teenagers.
F: Has your art/training taken you to other places?
C: In 2012 I went to Indonesia and taught some circus workshops with children living in the slums and in orphanages. It was a great experience.
F: What drives you in your work?
C: Empowering young people and changing culture. I feel strongly that we can all be a part of changing culture and those shifts are vital to create a better world. I try to be a role model for my students to show them an alternative, fun and creative way of being an adult.
F: To what extent have you been able to make your creativity work an aspect of all of your jobs?
C: I make all my income from either teaching circus skills or performing circus. I feel lucky to have entrepreneurial abilities so I have been able to earn enough money from a fun and creative path. I am in my eighth year of business.
F: That is incredible! What are some of your accomplishments of which you are you proudest?
C: I am most proud of generating my own income for nearly eight years. I am also proud of getting a good work-life balance that allows me to engage in the world around me and the many aspects of my personality.
F: How do you manage burnout/feed yourself creatively?
C: I’ve streamlined my life so I actually have quite a bit of free time. I often consider what I need to be focussing on and that helps me to cut out the things that aren’t really important. I’ve become good at maximising the things that I enjoy and minimising the things that I don’t enjoy because I know that life is short and I’ll be more effective in the world if I am doing the things that bring me peace rather than frustration.
F: My work is underpinned by the belief that an arts education not only makes people better citizens, but that training in movement and performance gives individuals concrete and adaptable skills.
C: Yes. As an environmental activist and Green party political candidate, communication has been very important. There are many people in the world who come up with great ideas and innovative technologies but I feel that we already have many of the solutions to a happier and more sustainable life like for example, embracing the minimalist lifestyle and considering the impact that our diet and purchases have on the environment. I think one of the biggest challenges of our time is communicating the solutions and helping people to see how they can be part of a more sustainable and compassionate world. I’m grateful for my public-speaking skills which I have developed over the years.
F: What adaptable skills have you gained through your art form that you apply in other contexts?
C: When I was younger I watched circus with the belief that I was a mere mortal and the people on stage were somehow super-human. I realise after years of circus training that everyone can learn and practice to become good at what they do. This has been very empowering as I realise that nearly anything a person has passion and interest in can be learned to some extent. This has been particularly useful as I become more involved in politics. I see politicians talking with such confidence and I remember that I could also do that if I practiced all day, every day for years. Speaking to the media is a skill that can be learned and practiced like any other skill and I think that concept has helped me to take up challenges outside my comfort zone like running for parliament which I have done three times now.
F: That is incredible, particularly as you perform, and run your own business teaching circus!
C: Yes, I work with children, teenagers, and adults who want to learn circus for fun and fitness.
F: What values underpin your pedagogy?
C: I believe that choice is ultimately very important and I like to run classes where students have a lot of choice over their focus. I think people will get a lot more targeted and efficient progress if they are experiencing a state of creative flow. If they are lost in the moment that means they are so engaged in what they are doing that time moves in a different way. This is what happens when children are playing so I try to make my classes with children very playful.
F: That's a great approach, and people often lack agency in their own learning. It requires a lot of work on the part of the Teacher to give options and be responsive to students' needs. How would you describe your dream student?
C: Someone with a willingness to learn and a commitment to persevere
F: What do you say to people who claim to “not be creative”?
C: In my third year of studying drama I had a crisis of creativity. I thought, "Oh no! Maybe I’m not very creative.' I realise that this is nonsense. There are many ways to be creative like having a fascinating conversation that goes on all sorts of tangents or merely choosing to make a change like walk home along completely different streets. I also think the way a person lives their life can be a creative act. Simply questioning and being conscious of the forces at play in the wider world is a creative way of being. We can all be creative in our thinking and work on having the courage to let that take hold in our lives.
F: How can voice, performance, training benefit someone who doesn’t wish to be an artist/musician/performer?
C: Nearly all of the people I teach at Claire’s Circus School won’t go on to be performers or even work in the arts but I am passionate about helping people to see the value of the arts for our society. In a world that is increasingly corporatised and polluted, it is imperative that people can think for themselves and question things. We humans are living in a time of shocking waste and we are actually resourceful beings who can imagine and create a better future if only we have the willingness, courage and strong communities to do so. At a more personal level, circus training can help a person grow their brain and improve their posture - two things that are very important for a long and healthy life.
F: Did you have any teachers who were pivotal in your learning?
C: I have sessions with a kinesiologist and she has one of the best teachers I could ask for. The sessions help me to identify and get rid of subconscious beliefs that hold me back in life for example the belief of not being good enough etc. I think we are all making decisions based on subconscious programs that don’t necessarily help us and working on some of mine has been a truly profound, humbling and life-changing experience. My kinesiologist always helps me see the world in new ways and open my mind to new possibilities which has helped me more than I can possibly say.
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