CLINTON — The dream of joining the circus doesn’t require any running away at the Waldorf School.
Circus Arts curriculum has come to town, thanks to a new movement education program.
The students of the Whidbey Island Waldorf School present their first circus arts performance at 11 a.m. Friday, March 23 in the Performance Pavilion of Huckleberry Hall in Clinton.
Karen Benson, Educational Support Teacher and the ringmaster of sorts for the “Movement and Games” course which includes the circus arts, was busy running a rehearsal for the fifth graders in the school’s outdoor performance area. Her assistant was Matt Hoar, a Whidbey Island circus artist, whose name folks might recognize for his colorful character’s presence at various island festivals.
During the regular school day rehearsal, the students were waiting their turns to go onstage and practiced various skills on the periphery, while Benson and Hoar ran through the progression of the show with each of the acts. The performers had chosen favorite skills from the program based on their ages, including tightrope walking, stilt-walking, unicycle, rolla bolla, juggling, tumbling, acrobatics and clowning or performance arts.
Benson said the program was designed by Harvard graduate Jackie Davis, who continues work on a PhD which would support the path of circus arts as a vehicle for the physical, social, emotional and cognitive development of young people.
Benson added her own spin.
“Circus arts is a program where students of all ages, sizes and athletic abilities may challenge themselves in entirely new ways,” she wrote in a recent email.
“It offers opportunities for boys and girls alike, celebrating the strengths of each gender in its own way. It is an ideal setting to try and fail and try again, teaching the value of learning from mistakes and perseverance.”
A conversation with a few of the performers revealed a smattering of what these educators may be after, but what mainly stood out is that these 10- and 11-year-old students were having a lot of fun.
Zach Lindstrom said he’s been tumbling for about six years as a competitive gymnast at Leading Edge Gymnastics Academy in Everett. But at school he’s learned a new skill that he would not be exposed to at the gym: tightrope walking.
“It’s kind of challenging and has definitely improved my balance,” Zach said.
The gymnast is looking forward to the show and using a combination of his skills, both new and old.
“I told my teacher I would do a round-off back flip,” Zach said.
Rowan Scholz, 10, is new to circus arts and approves of what he’s learning in the course. He’ll be juggling scarves and performing acrobatics.
“I think it’s fun to learn new skills and things you’ve never seen before. I never juggled scarves and I’ve been learning acrobatics, doing pyramids and stuff,” he said.
Rowan may not realize it, but these new skills are affecting his brain.
Juggling, Benson wrote, promotes rhythmic coordination between the two sides of the body and the two sides of the brain, a type of psycho-physical ambidexterity. It also enhances muscle tone and quickens reflexes. Juggling allows a student to learn how to divide her attention appropriately between several pressing elements, while simultaneously maintaining an awareness of the “big picture.”
Tumbling and acrobatics not only strengthen core muscles in the body but foster skills in cooperation, communication and trust. Think about building a pyramid with bodies. And it’s fairly obvious that the arts of equilibristics — unicycle, tightwire, rolla bolla and stilt walking — will improve one’s sense of balance, but they also offer opportunities to confront and overcome fear, as well as the ability to hold oneself together in unstable situations, Benson noted.
Holley Johnson, who is almost 11, has learned a thing or two about walking the tightrope, tumbling and acrobatics.
“I’ve gotten a lot better at gymnastics and the tightrope improves your balance a lot,” Holley said. She’s confident the show will be entertaining and the classmates surrounding her agreed.
But one of the words used by all the students who were interviewed was “fun.”
“There is something to interest everyone, and it is endlessly creative, with each newly acquired skill or trick leading inevitably to the idea, ‘What else can I do?,’” Benson said.
As with most performances, fun is one of the key ingredients to building any show; without it, there’s not much point.
Holley’s sure the students will shine after all the hard work they’ve put in.
“I think it’ll be really fun for the audience,” she said.
The Whidbey Island Waldorf School is located at 6335 Old Pietila Road in Clinton.