Kids learn to juggle, tumble at circus camp

Swinging from ropes, juggling balls and riding unicycles have been just a few of the antics enjoyed by local youth at the Center Street Gym as the Phoenix Youth Circus Arts program has held two weeks of sold-out circus camp. Each week, the camp has taught new and challenging skills under the instruction of professional circus performers. The camp will culminate in a full circus performance on Friday, June 29.

“The great thing about circus camp is that kids of all types and ages can find something they like and come together to perform it in a show,” said camp director Jens Larson. “It’s fun and healthy and active.” During each of the two weeks of camp, 22 children from ages seven to 15 have dedicated their efforts to the arts of the circus world. “We call it ‘circademics,’ saying that circus is a good activity for social and emotional learning,” said Larson. “I’m learning to highlight those types of things in juggling and aerial arts and all sorts of things.”

Larson gained his circus skills during 19 years of performing all over the world. He then spent 14 years teaching high school mathematics. Hoping to combine his love for circus with his love for teaching, Larson then began to offer after-school circus programs for children. “My whole goal for Phoenix Youth Circus Arts is to bring people together as much as we possibly can,” Larson explained. “I try to offer scholarships to areas that might not have access to the summer camps.”

The summer camp has offered education in what Larson calls “circus basics,” which have included juggling of different forms, acrobatics and balancing. He also offered aerial skills such as Spanish Web and trapeze. At the camp, Larson has been joined by two other instructors, Dave and Athena Davis. “They’ve got a ton of experience juggling,” Larson explained of the two. “They’ve travelled all over the world taking and giving workshops. They’re really good at taking what the kids know and putting it into an act.”

Though the list of activities offered at circus camp could sound lengthy and intimidating, Larson insists that participants can make marked progress over the course of a week. “It’s really quite rapid and fun to see because we can see where their skills or strengths lie and we can suggest a trick that’s flashy looking, but might not be too technically difficult,” he explained.

Twelve-year-old Olaythe Littlehat, a rising seventh-grader at Grand County Middle School, attended the second week of the camp. “I did tumbling and I really had a great time,” Littlehat said. “I learned some new skills.” The 12-year-old had never attempted many of the skills she was taught at the camp, but decided to attend anyway to have fun and make new friends. “You have to build some strength,” Littlehat said of the activities she learned. “It’s kind of hard, but the more you learn, the better you get.”

During the camp’s end-of-the-week performance, Littlehat hopes to perform on the Spanish Web, a circus art in which aerial moves are performed while hanging from and climbing up a rope. “Right from the beginning, you’re gearing up for the show you’re putting on,” Larson said. “You want it to be low pressure, but you want them to be excited about it.”

The June 29 show will take place at the Center Street Gym at 2:15 p.m. Despite the focus on the show, Larson’s intention is to teach the children something new while having fun. “It’s really fun to give kids a format to do so many different things,” Larson said. “My motto is, “If it’s fun to do and fun to watch, then we’ll find a way to get it in the show.”

ByBy Jacque Garcia

The Times-Independent