For Siphelele Jan, life choices had been reduced to either risking getting into trouble on the streets of Khayelitsha or joining the Zip Zap Circus programme. 

The 24-year-old was raised by a single mother and shared a room his younger brother and two cousins. 

“When my mom told me that she did not want to see me on the street, because what happens on the streets is not for me (in fact, it is not for anyone), that was when I found out about Zip Zap,” he says.


MEETCHANGEMAKERS supports Siphelele’s Diabolo passion

Derived from the Chinese yo-yo, the diabolo is spun using a length of string attached to two batons or wands. 

In the hands of an accomplished performer like Siphelele, the tricks bring out the “wow!” in audiences. 

What many in the audience do not realise is the strength, fitness and many hours of practice that go into preparation for the Zip Zap performances. 

The discipline requires excellent hand-eye coordination, concentration, balance, and dexterity in controlling the apparatus. 

Dance movements and acts are added to inject excitement into performances, which means that Siphelele has had to master acting and movement as well as diabolo skills. 

MEETCHANGEMAKERS funding has helped Siphelele obtain a professional, performance-quality diabolo, which is critically important to ensure that he is able to train effectively and perfect his technical skills and artistry to the required standard, says Zip Zap Circus School Trust Programme Manager, Vanessa Curnow-Fortune. 

There is no “one size fits all,” as every diabolo performer has their own specific requirements in terms of size of the spool and length of string. 

Depending on the proficiency of the performer, more than one diabolo, or spool, may be used for some acts. 

“Mastering the diabolo as a discipline is quite challenging, requiring a keen sense of motor dynamics, understanding how the apparatus works and combining physical attributes of the performer to bring the discipline to life,” she says. 

Strength training is important, and Siphelele uses resistance bands funded by MEETCHANGEMAKERS to improve strength and control in his arms and legs. 

Resistance bands also aid with suppleness in his wrists, and dexterity. For Siphelele, the benefits extend well beyond learning a new skill and meeting his mother’s wish to stay off the streets. 

“Since joining Zip Zap there have been a lot of changes in me, and there is no more stress. I want to be a person who’s always travelling the world. It would be hard for me if I had to stop being part of the circus,” he says. 

With hard work comes rewards, and Siphelele’s ambition to see the world is coming true – along with his first flight. 

He travelled to Italy in July 2022 to represent Zip Zap at Module 3 of the Erasmus+ “Circus Overseas” project, funded by the European Union. 

“This provided a novel opportunity to learn from and network with instructors and peers in the international circus arena, from France, Belgium, Finland, Italy, and Cambodia, in the areas of teaching and pedagogy in social circus,” says Vanessa.

Now in his fourth year of the Dare2Dream programme, Zip Zap’s vocational programme, he has performed in a number of shows (he recently played the lead role in the show Slapstick), and also provides support behind the scenes.

Thankful for Support

We remain thankful for the funding received from MEETCHANGEMAKERS in May 2022, to purchase much-needed equipment to sustain activities in our circus programmes,” says Vanessa.

Tel: +41 76 466 6140