My name is Mick Holsbeke, and among other things I’m a clown.
When I tell people that I perform as a clown for a living, there is usually a small mix of reactions that I receive: surprise, confusion, or disbelief; or sometimes distress or even disapproval.
And of course the rare “wowed face” where they are sincerely intrigued, think it’s quirkily impressive, and want to know more. I’ve grown accustomed to all of these possibilities, and I often ask myself, “How would I have reacted, if someday in a Back to the Future movie I had met my future self, and he told me he is, and I was to be, a clown? Honestly, I have no idea how I would respond, but in a weird sort of way I don’t think it would surprise me.
Two days after graduating from high school in Naples, Florida, my bags were packed, and I was leaving to join the circus. In the year before I had learned to juggle from my high school economics teacher, and I was immediately swept off my feet by the creative potential of this oddball activity. It was the only thing I wanted to do, and I was ready to dive in as far as possible. There was no particular circus in my sights, but I had circus dreams in my blood, and I was following a hunch. Someone had told me that if I wanted to find circus, and vaudeville, then I should head to the Pacific Northwest. So with no further delay the engine was ignited, and I hit the road.
My path took many turns in years to come, but it wasn’t until four years later, while eating pizza in Portland, Oregon that I met Chuck Johnson, and my circus dreams finally took root. At this time Chuck was just beginning his new nonprofit venture with Jo Montgomery. The name of the venture was SANCA, and their goal was to build a safe community and gathering space for people of all ages, sizes, and abilities. Their medium—circus!
Chuck invited me to come see the place, and take a class. They had roughly 50 students at this time, and the school was housed in a small warehouse on the south side of Seattle. If you didn’t know it was there you might never have found it. There were no signs, no logos, little heating, and the bathrooms were separate from the space. The only sign of life was a big yellow door, beaming outwards like a ray of light. I fell instantly in love with the ambience that surrounded SANCA, and I offered to help in any way I could.
As luck would have it they were looking for someone to help them teach classes, and they were willing to train me to be one of their circus instructors. It was the perfect opportunity, and I gave 100% of myself to SANCA.
During my time with SANCA I was a student, instructor, and outreach coordinator. I taught circus classes to students ranging from toddlers to adults, helped to organize and orchestrate their blooming school outreach program, turned screws and bolts where needed, and constantly continued my own personal acrobatic training under the tutelage of Chuck and Jo. I loved my job, and my new circus community. My students were amazing, and the training I received as an instructor was invaluable.
After spending a year at SANCA I was completely transformed, and decided to audition for one of the largest professional circus schools in the world, École Nationale de Cirque (ENC), the National Circus School in Montréal, Canada.
ENC, is the leading school for aspiring circus artists, and my next six months were dedicated to preparing for this audition. The chances of a small-town, recreational circus hobbyist such as myself being accepted were slim, but SANCA pulled upon their greatest resources to help me align myself in the right direction, and on February 1st, 2006, the day of my 23rd birthday, a door creaked open.
I spent the following three years running around the Montréal school soaking up as many hidden circus secrets as I possibly could. I learned to flip, dive, tumble, jump, hang, fall, sing, dance, and most definitely flop.
Then in June of 2009, I graduated from the professional program at ENC, with a specialty in Clown. Why clown? Because I have been taught by people like Chuck and Jo that giving from the heart can change lives. A smile can make someone’s day. A laugh can change a perception, and love is a gift!
At SANCA I was surrounded by love, and welcomed for who I am. I was given a helping hand by total strangers, and my life has been forever changed because of it. Since leaving SANCA I’ve performed in more countries than there are fingers on my hands, learned to speak French, made several appearances on TV, and built a life out of circus. Some of my accomplishments include performing for such companies as the 7 Fingers circus company, the Palazzo Colombino dinner show in Frieburg, Germany, the GOP variety shows of Germany, and being an artistic coach for Cirque du Soleil’s 2010 show Banana Shpeel. Festival appearances include the Festival Juste Pour Rire in Montréal, the Beunos Aires Polo Circo Festival in Argentina, Piste de Lancement in Belgium, Montréal Completement Cirque, and most recently being a prize winner at both the Sol Y Circo Festival in
Germany, also the 31st Festival Mondial du Circque De Demain in Paris in January 2010, where I received the prestigious Prix du CIRQUE ELOIZE and Prix TELMONDIS along with an artistic grant for clown performance.
I would have never guessed that I would be where I am today, and there is something about it that just isn’t normal. It just isn’t normal to bend in half, stand on your hands, soar through the air or want to be a “clown.” It just isn’t normal, but that’s exactly why I love it. My name is Mick Holsbeke, and ladies and gentleman, thanks to SANCA I’m a clown.