On the outskirts of China’s financial capital, members of the “Shanghai Dream” acrobatic troupe practise for up to 10 hours a day to perfect their craft.

The 30 or so members juggle balls and twirl ceramic plates as well as perform gravity-defying headstands, flips and leaps through rings.

Around 10 are adults, with the rest teenagers and children as young as nine, who also take school classes at the house in Shanghai’s Zhoupu town where many of the troupe also live. “I started acrobatic training when I was nine,” said Zhang Jianlin, 28, the group’s leader. “I thought I could become a really good performer, that’s the main reason I joined.”

Many are from the poor central province of Henan, where the bright lights of a big city circus offer a way out. China has a long history of itinerant performers, but the training is tough. And despite their lofty ambitions, for now the Shanghai group’s audiences are the customers of a local amusement park.

Yang Kexin, a shy 14-year-old, joined at age nine but still obediently follows the direction of her coaches to improve her performance.

She watched a Chinese drama on her smartphone during a break from her gruelling preparations, which include whirling a “diabolo” - a yo-yo like object spun on a string - for hours on end.

“This place feels like home,” she said.