When Jaime Bouvier decided to try aerial circus acts nine years ago, she wasn’t particularly good at it. In fact, she said it was a place for her to be bad at something she enjoyed doing.
And, she noted, it helped give her a new perspective into her law students.
She had only recently stepped away from practicing law, which had her working upward of 70, 80 or 90 hours a week at times, and had begun teaching at Case Western Reserve.
“While school had always come easily to me, [aerial performance] did not,” Bouvier said. “It felt like a way that I could understand how to be a beginner at something again so I could better relate to my students coming in and going through that first year of law school, which is a tough time.”
Now, in addition to her work as an assistant professor at the School of Law, Bouvier teaches others at Sokol Greater Cleveland and performs and choreographs for her company, Shanty Circus.
As a teacher of circus acts, Bouvier said one of the most rewarding moments is seeing a student accomplish a crossback straddle, a move that’s considered beginner level, but difficult because it requires doing an upside down sit up in the air. When an individual reaches that milestone, Bouvier said, everyone in the gym takes a moment to applaud and make a big deal out of the achievement.
She likens the circus arts to playing a video game: There are always skills just out of reach, and once one attains a skill, there’s another one that comes into view. That helped Bouvier stick with the practice, even when she wasn’t good at it.
The work she does in the gym may not seem related to what she teaches in the classroom, but Bouvier has found connections.
For instance, when teaching students in circus acts, what they need to do to improve is often as glaring to Bouvier as seeing a problem when grading a student’s writing. And though she can give the feedback over and over in either realm, it often takes time for a student to adjust.
“Watching that learning curve with different people I think has made me a better teacher across the board,” she said.
And her favorite part of both practices is the same: the storytelling. In circus acts, she loves how she can turn “a very physically taxing discipline into a story, into something beautiful to watch.” And in law, she explains: “It’s not about memorizing rules. It’s about understanding human stories and understanding perceptions of fairness and how to make arguments and how to frame issues,” she said. “And that is storytelling; that is theater; that is humanity.”
Take a look at how Bouvier responded to this week’s five questions.
1. What’s next on your reading list?
The book on my nightstand, which is The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. It’s a book I’ve read before but I go back to it every five to 10 years. It’s one of my favorites.
2. Do you consider yourself an early bird or a night owl?
I’d choose early bird, although I’m often forced to be a night owl.
3. What is one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?
As an aerialist, I’m afraid of heights. I’m terrified of heights. I also get motion sickness, even though I’m someone who spins a lot.
One thing I love about that is you can actually cure it. If you just spin enough and make yourself sick over and over, you build up tolerance, which has actually changed my life. I can ride in the backseat of a car, I can do roller coasters all for the first time now in my life in my 40s. I never could do it as a kid. I built up tolerance just by spinning all the time.
4. What do you think is the most beautiful spot in Cleveland?
Edgewater Park. There’s a group of us that meet there every Sunday to do acro-yoga. It’s just a beautiful location with wonderful people and it’s a really supportive environment.
5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?
The campus feel. I try to park cheap and so I often try to park on [Martin Luther King Jr. Drive] because I love walking through the statue gardens by the Cleveland Museum of Art. I always think what an absolute treasure it is that my walk to my car goes through the Cleveland Museum of Art gardens, the botanical gardens or Wade Park. What a beautiful walk into work every morning. How lucky am I to have that?