Glittering coats, fluffy tutus, wild top hats and painted curly mustaches gave the Millennium Middle School track an almost Vaudevillian atmosphere last Wednesday. Sixth-grade students at the school donned the outrageous gear in preparation for a truly unique event in the school's history - a two-ring circus with students as the stars.
A group from the Livonia-based company, Cirque Amongus, visited Millennium on Wednesday morning and began a series of training and choreography sessions that culminated with the students planning and executing their own acts.
Millennium teacher Nancy Pantaleo brought the Cirque Amongus folks to the school after she obtained grants from the Michigan Humanities Council and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs to help pay for the program.
She said that when she heard about the group, she thought the skills they taught in their workshops could be of benefit to the students at Millennium, as many of those skills relate to the Habits of Mind emphasized by teachers and administrators.
"The unicycle is the best example of persistence. They try and try and they don't give up," Pantaleo said. "For the kids, they find out they have a lot more capabilities than they thought. Everybody was able to master something."
In the morning, the kids divided into groups and went through a series of 10 workshops each emphasizing on a different skill for circus performers. Experienced circus performers from Cirque Amongus gave instruction and encouragement as the kids learned the ropes of clowning around.
Students learned how to swing from a trapeze, how to walk a tight rope and how to juggle while balancing on a giant wooden ball, among other activities.
After each student had gone through every workshop, the kids chose a skill that they wanted to perform and worked out the details of a 3-minute act with the help of their classmates and a parent volunteer.
Shortly after 1 p.m., the big show began, as students performed their acts to an enthusiastic audience of their classmates, parents, teachers and siblings.
Student Jessica Knapp performed on the trapeze. She said the whole day was a fun challenge, as mapping out her group's performance involved the difficult task of coordinating many complex movements in just one hour.
"We do flips and we have a real cool ending pose," Knapp said, just before her performance. "It's been a lot of fun."
Pantaleo said that she raised $780 through the two grants after authoring the applications with the help of the Circus Amongus group. Her successful applications earned a congratulatory letter from Senator Carl Levin's office.
The Millennium PTO pitched in $500 and each student paid a $5 fee for participating. And while the effort of raising the money and coordinating the actual event was an arduous one, Pantaleo said she thought the success of the event made it well worth the cost.
"If we took them on a field trip, the cost would be the same," Pantaleo said. "With this, they get to learn and we bring the field trip to them."
Dan Trudeau is a reporter for the South Lyon Herald. Reach him at (248) 437-2011 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.