"In a society that profits from self-doubt, liking yourself is a radical act."

These words are displayed near a mirror at Wise Fool, the local nonprofit that promotes social justice through circus, puppetry and theater as inspiration to break down societal expectations that teach people to question personal truths. This is a complex act, but is what Wise Fool aims to do through its annual circus intensive, BUST!

BUST! invites all those who self-identify as women, trans*, or gender non-conforming to spend six weeks learning an array of circus skills as a bridge for conversations about gender, race and privilege. Participants dive into these necessary and sometimes messy topics that are crying out for the attention of our communities today.

The name BUST! stems from the action of busting through barriers to a place of fluid freedom. This powerful journey began 15 years ago, and continues to challenge all that has been established to create a space for fully honest expression.

"Through the years, we have really worked to create a space for everybody—trans* people, gender nonconforming folks, queer folks, people of color—to be seen, fully seen," Amy Christian, artistic director of Wise Fool and a leader of the program, explains. "To not have to fit into any boxes of how we present ourselves in the world."

This is a continual process, one that keeps pushing the boundaries for a wider circle. "I feel that circus is getting to a more diverse space, but it's not 100 percent," BUST! participant Anangookwe Wolf shares. "It could go farther; we can mix in more queer voices, more voices of color."

The group works to make space for a multitude of voices, both in and out of the studio. This is no small feat, especially in a society that creates a limited gender binary and places people into predetermined roles that don't always fit an individual's true nature.

But BUST!ers are courageous and use storytelling to collaboratively create another narrative through physical activities including aerials, clowning, acrobatics and stilt-walking. For many in the program, this is an introduction to new skills.

"I didn't know I had a deep love for the stilts until I was standing and walking and realized this is something I have to have in my life," Ximena McBride says.

These movement-based exercises are interwoven with emotionally strengthening workshops including visual arts, life-coaching and classes such as Trans 101 and Decolonizing Gender. Participants express that this integrated process is both exhausting and energizing.

"One of the most challenging things is the physicality of the different disciplines," BUSTer Jinelle Scully shares. "I feel like I'm relatively strong, but I think there is an emotional connection to things in our bodies that we can tap into. It's a great metaphor to tap into your fears or times when you doubt yourself."

These obstacles lead to breakthrough moments for personal and collective growth. "Whether it's an emotional or physical challenge, everyone hits a wall in BUST! at some point," Christian explains. "But that's the beauty, because it means we are really stepping out to our edges, and that is where we discover our potential."

These discoveries, she says, will not end with BUST!'s performance at the end of the month, but will carry on into participants' daily lives long after the program concludes.

"I always hope that people leave BUST! with a renewed sense of potential," Christian expresses. "When you have worked and worked and worked to get up on that trapeze bar and the day you do it really easily and look out at an audience clapping for you, you realize that, with the right support, you can do anything."

Scully agrees. "I feel I'll leave this program knowing that, if there are things out there in my life that I haven't done because I was too afraid or because I felt I wasn't enough of something to do them, I can do them."

The powerful collective energy in BUST! dissolves doubt to reveal that it is no longer time to just clown around (though there will be some of that, too). It is time to explore previous stories, deconstruct altered histories and create a different reality that shares not one voice, but many.

7:30 pm Friday June 30; 2 pm and 7:30 pm
Saturday July 1. $5-$20.
Wise Fool,
1131 Siler Road, Ste. B,