U.S. Fulbright

Playtime in Port Elizabeth

May 20, 2016
Thalia Patrinos-1

Thalia Patrinos, 2015-2016, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to South Africa, with her incredibly entertaining Circle of Life team leaders, including Duncan, Mishka, Pieter, and Danny

By day, I am a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant at Paterson High School in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

By night, I am a hula hoop teacher, circus performer, and fire dancer.

My hobbies may seem eccentric, but they offer opportunities for endless exploration, healthy exercise, and incredible cultural connections with students and audience members.

I began the journey into circus arts during my first year of college six years ago, and I have never looked back. My side career in the teaching and performance of fire and flow arts have taken me to festivals in Hungary, theaters in New York City, and classrooms here in South Africa.

We all need a little bit of playtime in our lives, whether we are children or adults. We need to be encouraged to have fun, let loose, and get lost in something, and all it takes is something as simple as a hula hoop to get us there sometimes.

Over the last school break, I utilized the opportunity to travel to Cape Town and teach at the Circles of Life Holiday Programme. My team and I worked with a large and diverse group of children to prep them for a performance of their own—complete with live drumming, acrobatics, juggling, and plenty of colorful face paint and wacky costumes.

During my remaining time in Cape Town, I held continuous workshops for adult performers wanting to hone their craft—I delved deep into fire fan spinning, fire eating techniques, and double staff basics. Not only did I get to share some of my experience with the South African circus community, I was able to spend many hours before and after each class learning from them. What resulted was a continuous flow of ideas, a natural give-and-take of knowledge. The most organic, rewarding type of learning happens when it is incorporated with play and movement.

Back in Port Elizabeth, I have formed The Port Elizabeth Circus Society, which currently has 77 members on Facebook. (Feel free to join!) I organize weekly fire practices on the beach where performers can get together, and anyone who is interested can come by and watch. We represent a multitude of backgrounds, including clowning and slack lining—both of which I would have never have tried if I hadn’t met these incredible people.

Thalia Patrinos-2

Thalia Patrinos, 2015-2016, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to South Africa, with her adult hula hoop class at Edge Fitness Gym in Jeffrey Bay.

This past weekend, I traveled an hour from Port Elizabeth to Jeffrey Bay, where I taught a hula hoop class for both children and adults at a local gym. With both groups, I was continuously amazed by how quickly my students picked up the moves—and how much they encouraged each other every time. When somebody nailed a trick, everyone else in the class would stop what they were doing to cheer.

I believe this experience fully encapsulates what it means to be a Fulbrighter—to allow yourself to acknowledge everything. When a student tries something new for the first time, they deserve to be congratulated. When somebody expresses kindness or effort in everyday life, they deserve to be thanked. I fully intend to take these experiences with me into the classroom at Paterson High School, where students are consistently trying new things and pushing themselves to excel. Maybe I’ll also take some hula hoops.

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  • Reply haydee cloud May 22, 2016 at 10:55 am

    Awesome Tippy ♡♡♡

  • Reply Alison April 12, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    Do you give classes in Port Elizabeth for hula?

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