Ausnew Home Care | Circus WA's All-Abilities troop helps teenagers with disabilities learn to fly

Circus WA's All-Abilities troop helps teenagers with disabilities learn to fly

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When Olivia Riley was seven she had an operation on a brain tumour that left her with a condition impacting her balance, flexibility and coordination. But up in the air on a trapeze, she's totally at ease.

Olivia, 14, lives with ataxia, a movement disorder caused by problems in the brain.

As a keen gymnast and dancer, learning to live with the condition was difficult for Olivia.

"I love to perform all the time, I love to just move every second of the day," she said.

"[But] I can't do as much stuff as I would like to do like jump or run a race … I can't go to Acro and do a bend back, splits or a cartwheel because I will hurt myself.

"I need to learn all those things again."

A year ago Olivia joined Circus WA's All-Abilities Circus in Fremantle, a circus program that trains children who have physical and intellectual disabilities.

Olivia Riley sits on gym mats, Ausnew Home Care, NDIS registered provider, My Aged Care
Olivia is already one of the circus's star performers.(ABC News: Jacqueline Lynch)

She said it had changed her life.

"When I'm at school I sit in a chair and look down most of the day and my back kind of gets sore," she said.

"So it's good to just let all my worries and stress out and be a bit flexible and feel like I can do some of the things my friends do."

Now the Perth teenager is one of the troop's stars.

She recently performed a trapeze routine in front of a crowd alongside two of Circus WA's regular youth performers.

"I didn't think I would do that, but I love it," Olivia said.

"I did the trapeze and I wasn't nervous. I forgot the audience was even there because I was so involved with just smiling and remembering what I had to do."

Circus WA all-abilities performers take a bow on stage
Dozens of young people have come through Circus WA's All-Abilities Circus program.(Supplied: Dan Macbride)

'Many people couldn't do that'

Circus WA artistic director Jo Smith said she was blown away by how far Olivia had come.

"She shakes a lot, she's quite unstable on her feet, but we put her in the air and she powers and she floats and she flies," she said

"There's one move that she does where she's sitting up on the trapeze facing the other performer, and she lets go of the trapeze and she swings backwards and then back up again.

"We can spend years working with all-abilities people trying to give them the muscular strength to do that and this young woman does it with ease."

A woman stands in front of a wall.
Circus WA artistic director Jo Smith says the troop is not about providing therapy, but training young people in circus.(ABC News: Jacqueline Lynch)

The all-abilities program has been up and running since 2018 and has trained dozens of teenagers living with a variety of disabilities, including children with Down syndrome, acquired brain injuries and cystic fibrosis.

Ms Smith said the program was not a place for therapy, but a place to train the next generation of performers.

"We're very clear we don't do circus therapy – we do circus," Ms Smith said.

"There is no reason why anyone who has the desire and the passion to become a circus performer couldn't do so."

The all abilities circus troop in Fremantle.
The All-Abilities Circus program is helping to break down barriers for young people with disabilities.(ABC News: Jacqueline Lynch)

Training ground for the Paralympics

Simon Meade is the chief executive of Rebound WA, which helps people with disabilities get active.

Many of its members have gone on to compete in the Paralympics.

Mr Meade said he was pleased to see more opportunities open up for young people with disabilities in Australia.

"Sixty years ago the only opportunity to get active if you were living with a physical disability was formal sport and that turned into the Paralympics," he said

"Now this … where people can have active participation which is more artistic and doesn't necessarily keep score," he said.

He said programs like the all-abilities circus paved the way for a better future.

"I think the [final] phase is where all barriers are reduced and people can choose any level of activity.

"We're probably still a little way from that – both the amount of equipment people need and the attitudes that people need to overcome but we're all working on it.

"It's fantastic that everyone is pushing in the right direction."


Source: ABC

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