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Clowning Around?

It is true, I have spent the last week participating in a clowning workshop here in the beautiful city of Brussels… and what a blessing it has been!

Clowning may seem to be a curious choice in my line of work, but having been fortunate enough over the past year to meet a number of clowns who travel all around the world bringing smiles and laughter to refugee children, I felt a huge desire to learn more and see what this practice could offer. And so this week, I laughed and laughed. In laughing I connected with others, built bridges, shared emotions, cried and hid and supported each other.

While on Lesvos, I saw many clowns engaging with the children on the island. I saw them bring such joy to these children’s day. I saw them engage non-verbally and yet connect so deeply and vulnerably and honestly. I was inspired.

The work that I am fortunate to do with children is movement-based, it’s about moving and breathing together. It’s about connecting through bringing bodies together and sharing space. Creating a community and a place where we all belong. But what if I could add more space for play, more space for creativity, for laughter, for childhood? What if there was a way to engage non-verbally, to build a therapeutic space that doesn’t need a shared language? These are all questions I am exploring and asking myself. And this last week has been the start of this exploration.

What is it about clowns that spark such joy? Is it in how they look? How they move? Is it in their foolishness? Or the magic they share?

While working with a group of children on Lesvos earlier this year I found myself feeling stuck in my relationship with two of the boys in the program.

When one of the boys, Mehdi*, was triggered he would have a melt down. He couldn’t tolerate being told no. He couldn’t regulate when his emotions became too strong.

The other boy, Aman*, was angry (and fairly so). He had suffered such tragedy and loss and his reaction was aggression and violence.

Both their responses were so big that they triggered me and at times, I struggled to find ways to connect to them behind these big feelings.

I found myself defending them when I could, being their advocate and voice, reminding others that they weren’t “naughty”, they didn’t need discipline or punishment. They needed love and compassion and they needed some skills to be able to tolerate the world around them.

We took a class trip one day and as we were starting to make our way back to school, I

found myself with Mahdi… who was distraught. He couldn’t calm down and was unable to engage with myself or our interpreter. We know that language can’t make its way through in moments like these, so I tried a little play. I took out a tape measure that the children had been using. I started to measure Mahdi’s arm and nose and, when it came, his smile. I told him the size - 22cm, 4cm, 8cm… And we smiled at each other. Now he wanted to try. How long was my nose? And our interpreter’s foot? What else could we measure and compare?

Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.

— Victor Borge

We slowly started walking back to school, well behind the rest of the class by now. And sure enough we came across Aman who was refusing to go any further. I didn’t know what had happened but the staff members with him didn’t know what to do. I said it was ok, that we would stay with him. So together myself, our interpreter and Mahdi started to measure Aman. And sure enough, the giggles came.

We made our way back slowly as we shared the tape measure and checked how long leaves were, a local farmer’s shoe, a gate… Together we came back to our bodies, to the present moment. The boys were able to regulate and connect through laughter and play.

My question was, where could this approach take us? How and where can we play as a way to connect and regulate? As a therapeutic tool?

And so came the clown… ​

I don’t know how this will unfold or the ways it will influence my work, but I do know that it is powerful and I feel so excited with the possibilities ahead.

Stay tuned for more updates and laughter! And feel free to get in touch with thoughts or ideas or general love and connections!

[Humanity] has unquestionably one really effective weapon—laughter. Power, money, persuasion, supplication, persecution—these can lift at a colossal humbug—push it a little—weaken it a little, century by century, but only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.

— Mark Twain

Curious to read more about amazing clowns spreading the laughter to children around the world?

Check out The Flying Seagull Project

Or Clowns without Borders