The Smallest Show On Earth

Youngsters become circus stars for a day

By Klint Lowry, The News-Herald

PUBLISHED: July 21, 2006

Photos by Klint Lowry
Performing their death-defying, or at least scraped knee-defying, balancing ladder act, Riley Klauza of Lincoln Park (left), Gene Miracle of Dundee, Zach Oswald of Wyandotte, Stephanie Spuhler of Lincoln Park and McKenzie McClendon of Riverview rank a big "ta-da!" at their Cirque Amongus spectacular.
With so many other options to fuel their flights of fancy, not as many kids today dream of running away with the circus as in previous generations.

But for your parents to drop you off for a daylong circus skills program, that's pretty cool.

More than 40 youngsters got to try out the trapeze, the tight wire, tumbling, trick riding and several other circus stunts at Lake Erie Metropark on Saturday, as part of a circus workshop run by Cirque Amongus.

Staffed by experienced performers, the Livonia-based company has been around for the last six years, working with schools and other youth-oriented organizations by running circus camps that last from a day to a week.

"It is a challenge, but it's also geared to them," said Sem Abrahams, who along with Andrew Wrobel ran Saturday's seminar at Lake Erie Metropark, assisted by park employees and volunteers.

This was the second year the group has come to the metropark.

Gerald Wykes, curator of the park's Marshlands Museum and Nature Center, said the circus theme fit with one of the park's regular summer attractions.

"Every other year, we have a real circus here," said. "Last year we had the Carson Brothers' Circus.

"What the museum is about is interpretation. And what a better way to interpret circus acts than to actually to it yourself and find out a little bit about it."

"We had such fun with it last year. This year, we got twice as many kids."

The way the program works is the Cirque Amongus staff introduces the children to a range of circus skills. There is a tight wire, albeit one that's maybe a foot above the ground. But that's the same way the folks who do it high inside the big top first learn their skill.

Likewise, the trapezes are suspended barely three feet above the ground, still ample room for most grade school age children to be able to swing and take a crack at an assisted flip around the bar.

Other skills that are part of the program include balancing on large balls and barrels; trick riding on various large, small and oddly configured bicycles, tricycles and unicycles; tumbling and acrobatics; juggling; and magic.

"All the stuff we do is adapted to them so they can achieve a lot in a very short time span, so everyone leaves with a sense of achievement," Abrahams said.

As the day goes on, each child picks three skills to focus on. At the end of the day, when their families come back, the whole troupe puts on a show with their newly found skills.

"I learned a lot of stuff," said 7-year-old Brendan Molnar of Brownstown Township. "The whole thing was fun."

In his case, Brendon liked magic and juggling pretty well, but the unicycle was his favorite, so much so that he'd decided by the end of the day he'd have to get one for home.

Along with the circus skills, Abrahams said, all through the day they remind the children of the importance of showmanship, how a big smile and an enthusiastic "ta-da!" is part of magic of showbiz.

At the end of the day, the children are raring to put on a show for their families.

The temperature was well, into the 90s by mid-afternoon Saturday, with parents and others in the audience using a pair of small trees for shade as the circus set up in a section of the asphalt parking lot. Even in clown costumes, makeup and wigs the performers' energy level was at a peak.

With circus music blaring over the speakers, the neophyte circus was underway. And while they weren't exactly flying through the air with the greatest of ease, they won the crowd over with their sheer enthusiasm.

No one was really expecting the Flying Wallendas after six hours, but some of the children showed some real raw skill.

"We are amazed on a regular basis," Abrahams said. "There are so many talents we come across on a regular basis."

Sometimes, the kids even amaze themselves.

"It surprised me today," said 11-year-old Jenny Hunt of Carleton.

When it came time for the balancing act to come out, she and a few others were noticeably good at keeping themselves on top of the beach ball-sized wooden ball and on a barrel laid on its side.

Jenny said she does like to occasionally try to balance herself on things, like any other kid, but she'd never really been aware that she was this good at it. Now that she knows it, she will work on developing her skill further.

While the program has the potential of spotting and encouraging performing or athletic talent, the real lessons, Abraham said, are teamwork and persistence.

"And it's a big self-esteem booster," he said.