By Michelle Miller
---- — Getting to see a circus performance is fun, but getting to learn how to do it is taking it to a whole other level.
That is what the National Circus Project is all about, and thanks to donations from the parent teacher association and an anonymous donor, Cooperstown elementary students are getting the chance to do just that.
The Project sent two circus artist residents, Little Lou Beekhuizen and Liam Selvey, to stay in Cooperstown for a week. Juggling, stilt walking, acrobats, plate spinning, Chinese yo yo-ing, devil stick flipping, balancing and more have all been a part of Circus Week activities, which will wrap up Friday.
The program is being hosted by the physical education team of Bud Lippitt and Connie Herzig, and festivities were kicked off with a Monday morning assembly.
Workshops, introducing elements of the circus arts, are being offered to every student as part of their physical education, according to Herzig. She said the district suspended regular PE classes for the week to transform the gym into a circus area.
“The third-graders are the target group,” she said.
They have been going to the gym twice a day for more serious study. Herzig said each third-grader chose an area of which to focus and and are working with others to learn a routine. The routines will be woven together to create a circus that will be presented to the entire school and parents Friday afternoon.
Founded in 1984, The National Circus Project is an organization with a mission to introduce the circus arts to students all over the U.S. It has been presenting circus programs in schools, summer camps and facilities throughout the northeastern part of the country for the past 25 years.
The last time artists were at Cooperstown Elementary was in 2004, according to Herzig.
“We were not able to afford it again up until now,” she said.
Teaching circus arts is not something new at Cooperstown Elementary, however. Herzig said she brought the idea with her when she joined the staff 21 years ago.
“We do an entire unit each year,” she said. “We do some things with kindergarten, first- and second-graders, but we really start things up when students reach the third-grade. They continue through middle and high school.”
The goal is to encourage more in-depth exploration into the circus arts, Herzig said.
“Circus arts are a wonderful avenue for non-traditional sports,” she said. “It also helps kids to learn to develop avenues in the non-traditional sports areas. It encourages balance, it encourages coordination, including hand-eye-coordination, it encourages kids to be able to explore talents that they were unaware of.”
Although Herzig said she has been including circus arts into the physical education curriculum for years, she admits she picked up more ideas after seeing artists from The National Circus Project perform. For example, she said she had never done devil sticks or plate spinning with the students before their visit.
Having the artists working with the third-graders so that they can perform a final act is an amazing growth opportunity, Herzig said.
“They are going to see their skills develop, they are going to be able to put it into a cohesive act and perform in front of the entire school, so that is all huge. It is going to be enormous,” she added.