Vermont Arts Council

Two Free Hours

This is Serious

Being diagnosed with cancer is serious business. It’s scary and it’s sad. Within hours, you are cast into a divided world. Some people know about your condition and some people don’t; some people understand what you’re going through and some have no idea. Decisions are made: What to talk about, to whom, and how. You are sick, and see a lot of doctors. Effects from treatments may last the rest of your life and those effects may worsen. A wide range of emotions, not understood by everyone, present themselves each day. The disease takes a toll on your family and your finances.

All of this was explained by Margaret Bowrys, one cancer survivor who was hanging out with her family one Saturday afternoon. They really were hanging out—in fabric, upside down, during a workshop for survivors held at the New England Center for Circus Arts (NECCA) in Brattleboro.

Hanging WebBut This is Fun

The survivors’ workshops are only one of many workshops and classes NECCA offers. They are run by Suzanne Rappaport, an occupational therapist and circus arts instructor. She has combined two activities she loves, now using circus as a therapy. In the space of two hours, participants make up their own trick, walk on a metal bar, swing on a trapeze, throw and catch colored rings, hang in fabric, and perform a clown act. Margaret came to the workshop with her husband and son; all of them were eager to participate. The workshop is an escape.

The feeling of escape is created intentionally. Suzanne gives context: “The circus is a place where marginalized individuals were valued for their uniqueness and that outsider culture proves to be powerful for cancer survivors. At times cancer can make one feel like an outsider—even after treatment ends, the survivor may be disease-free but not free of disease. Being incorporated into that role of a circus person, even if just for the afternoon, can be transformative. Through Circus for Survivors, the participants experience a reprieve from cancer, a reconnection to the body, a space to play and develop self-efficacy.”

Balancing-WebMargaret Agrees

Margaret, a dancer and choreographer, echoes Suzanne’s description in her own words, saying there is freedom in “allowing space for expression, for connecting to the self and to the body—embodying the life force, really—and giving a place to share from the heart.” She recalls, “I’ve always gone to dance and to creative movement for the telling of stories. Movement is empowering.”

Not once is the symbolism discussed, but it is consistently revealed. Within two hours, the family has leaned on each other for support, faced fear together and separately, waited and watched for each other. They’ve also smiled and laughed, and found two free hours.

The Bowrys have been to this workshop before and they’ll be here again. As the session wraps up, all participants follow circus tradition. There are no good-byes to each other. Their words are, “I’ll see you down the road.”


The New England Center for Circus Arts offers a number of programs. Visit the NECCA website to find out more.