Climbing ropes, painting faces, and walking on stilts are part of school program to boost self-esteem

December 20, 2001


There was a circus-like atmosphere inside Trombly Elementary School on Wednesday, and for once the principal and teachers didn't mind.

Students from the Grosse Pointe Park school spent the day learning the ropes of being a circus performer. At day's end, they donned loud outfits and painted their faces for a show for their parents and teachers.

The daylong program was the first put on by Cirque Amongus, a Livonia company that brings all the equipment and instructors needed to put on a circus. Cirque Amongus, which is based on a program in the Netherlands, hopes to bring the circus to other Detroit-area schools.

"It promotes teamwork, self-esteem and fun," said Teresa Abrahams, a Cirque Amongus instructor whose husband, Sem, and brother-in-law Aristide are from the Netherlands.

There definitely was an abundance of fun as students laughed and giggled while they tried to ride unicycles and tiny bikes, walk a tightrope or with stilts, jump rope, do magic tricks, stay atop a rolling barrel, swing on a trapeze or learn to juggle.

Before lunch, the students tried each of the 10 different circus acts. After lunch, they chose their favorite and spent about an hour perfecting it and putting together an act with about a dozen classmates. Cirque Amongus instructors and volunteer parents, who were shown the ropes the night before, assisted.

The students chose costumes from a vast collection of striped, polka-dotted and sequined outfits. A group of parents then painted the students' faces.

Shelby DeGalan, a Trombly fifth-grader, propped herself up against a locker as she climbed aboard a unicycle. She slowly wheeled herself down the hall, her hand rarely leaving the wall.

"I just learned how to ride it today," she said. "It's hard, but I like trying. I like the stilts, too."

Abrahams said one of the messages of the circus is that kids should try something new and to practice. "You're not always going to get something the first time," she said.

Benjamin Miller, also a fifth-grader, enjoyed riding inside the barrel while a classmate walked on top of it. But he opted to be a part of the magic show.

"They taught us the rope trick and the disappearing-tissue trick where you put it in your hand and it disappears," he said.

Caitlin Buchanan, a fourth-grader, sported a red unitard with black sequins and frills. Her face had a big, red smile painted on it. She said it was fun riding the unicycle but she wanted to do a balancing act with ostrich feathers and wooden sticks.

"I do tricks with the feathers, like switching fingers or putting it on my nose and other stuff," she said.

It was a two-ring circus at Trombly, with shows in both the gym and the auditorium. Each act performed for three minutes.

"The parents are having a great time and the kids are having a great time," Principal Jean Rusing said.

Before their big performance, it appeared as if Gabriela Jones, Nina Pieroni and Kathryn Ourlian practiced their grand entrance and their bows more than their tightrope walking. But the trio showed that they have a future on the high wire as they walked forward, backwards and even pirouetted in the middle of the wire.

"You just put one foot in front of the other," Gabriela, a fourth-grader, said simply. "You just look forward like nothing is going wrong."

And Kathryn, a fifth-grader, had the most important advice.

"You have to finish," she said, throwing her arms up in the air and sticking her neck and chest out, "with a big flourish."

For more information on Cirque Amongus, go to

Contact DAN SHINE at 313-223-4554 or