At The Point’s Live from the Edge Theater on a recent evening, a teenage boy wearing a red long sleeved t-shirt took a running start and hurtled into the air, tucking his knees beneath him and landing on a folding mat several yards away.
A girl wearing blue yoga pants and headphones lowered herself slowly into a split, then fell backward onto a mat. Across the room, purple and white rings flew into the air, one after the other in quick succession, in high arcs that almost reached the ceiling.
Every Tuesday and Thursday, dozens of adolescents spend the evening at The Point community center on Garrison Avenue in Cirque du Monde, the circus program that has been teaching young people to tumble, fly and juggle since 1995.
Before the circus workshop even starts, barefoot adolescents begin stretching, tumbling, running and jumping off furniture. One boy runs up to Amy Lukens-Gable, one of the instructors, and proudly exclaims, “I did four back flips in a row at school!” She gives him a high-five, and he runs off.
Once the program officially starts, most of the youngsters run as fast as they can to the tumbling line, while a few set up mats so their classmates can land safely. Victor Vauban, the head instructor, acts as a spotter, giving pointers and demonstrating how fledgling gymnasts should be tucking their heads, or jumping off stronger with their legs.
After some time, the more adventurous participants start to try more difficult and impressive flips, as other kids stack trapezoidal blocks to act as platforms or hurdles.
Within just a few minutes, two tiny 11-year-old girls are struggling to hurl themselves over the big, colorful blocks, now stacked higher than they are. One of them, Skye, climbs on top of the platform and dances to the Michael Jackson song blasting through the speakers, until her peers heckle her to finish her turn, and she quickly somersaults down.
In a separate part of the theater, a smaller group of about half a dozen kids juggle, trying to keep the flying rings, balls, and pins from ending up near the tumblers.
Paris Goudie coaches them, slowly adding objects to keep in the air. Today, because she juggled three objects seven consecutive times, 11-year-old Kira has earned her very own juggling set, three weighted tennis balls that she can take home to practice with.
The class has also received a present: brand-new juggling rings, because, as Goudie proudly says, the kids “do a good job of respecting the equipment.”
Goudie also teaches students the Diablo, or Chinese yo-yo—a device shaped like two funnels attached at the narrow end that the jugglers spin on a string, toss in the air and catch back on the string.
Elsewhere, Lukens-Gable is supervising a group composed mostly of girls who are doing handstands, hula hooping (some up to four hoops at once), walking a tightrope or dancing.
The girls sometimes take a break from practicing their skills to talk to one another. Many of them have joined the program with friends from school, but they have also made new friends. As they sit on the stage, 12-year-old Bianka says, “This is a place where you can forget about everything and just do what you want to do.”
Her friend Briana, also 12, agrees, adding that she really appreciates the instructors, who “always just encourage you to keep trying until you do it.”
The teachers also encourage the kids to take responsibility for their class. The youngsters lead their own warm-ups, and they set rules for themselves, including “no eating,” “no cell phones” and “no bullying.”
Alexis, 16, has been attending the workshops for three years, and says that her favorite thing to do there is teach, “because the kids get really happy and you help make that happen.” She has brought her own, fancier set of juggling balls to teach “partner juggling,” in which pairs of jugglers throw the balls back and forth. Keeping all of them in the air requires the same action as regular juggling, but twice the coordination.
In what seems like just a few minutes, the session is over and the kids gather for Closing Circle. Someone calls, “Thumbs up for a good time!” and everyone puts two thumbs high in the air. Eventually they give themselves a standing ovation.
Then they put thumbs up for individual accomplishments and challenges, which they call on each other to share.
Within seconds, the whole group is on its feet. Paris praises Kira, who seems a bit shy to say that she is bringing home her own juggling set. Another young acrobat learned a new trick on the Diablo, and one of the smaller girls calls out that she “flipped in the air without laughing,” before bursting into giggles.
The instructors commend certain kids for teaching, others for inventing their own flipping or juggling moves and routines. They emphasize respect for one another.
The faces of students and instructors light up when they are asked why they spend their time at the workshop.”
“I live in this community; it’s my pride and joy. I love to teach the kids what they would pay a lot for in other places. All they have to do is show up with their energy, which they always do, ” Vauban replies.