I went back to Brussels today to visit l'Ecole de Cirque de Bruxelles. I have heard this school mentioned for many years, so I was honestly a bit surprised by its un-glamorousness. It is located in an old industrial complex - the gare maritime - and clearly does not spend much on cosmetics. But despite my hastily-announced visit, I was given a warm reception, and a tour around the school, seeing the various rooms where the students train each day.
The school is a non-profit, in existence for nearly 30 years, and in its current location since 2001. Its director, Vincent Wauters, was the original founder of the school in 1981. They currently teach over 600 students, including 12 students in the 3-year professional-track program. When I was there, these students were involved in a dance class on the top floor, which I peeked at. The secretary giving me the tour said that they've had students from all over the world in the course, but none so far from the United States.
This is their largest training space. It isn't all that large, but they only do static aerials, and for 12 people I'm sure it works fine. Rather than a big gymnasium space, this school is divided up into smaller rooms, which I'm sure has many advantages.
Besides the pro-track, the school also prides itself on children's programs, and especially, programs for the handicapped. By "handicapped" they are referring to mental & developmental disabilities, not physical ones - but they have quite an extensive, and experienced, program of offerings for these children.
Outside, there is a chapiteau, which I was told is used for performances and special events throughout the year. On this cold December Monday, it didn't look very inviting from the outside. But I believe it is one of the most prized parts of the school.
I left with souvenirs from the school, warm images of the students and staff, and my curiosity satisfied. Back through the streets of Brussels - streets which are, in my impressions, full of anonymous office towers, grungy subways, and people looking tired and preoccupied. I've been to this city three times now and I can't bring myself to love it.
POSTSCRIPT: I just found out that there are TWO circus schools in Brussels. The Ecole Superieure des Arts du Cirque is on the other side of the city, and looks to be the one for more serious professional artists. I feel like an idiot for making the trip all the way there and not seeing both. But I had no idea. And imagine that, the folks at the one school did not mention it to me. Argh.