By Michelle Miller
---- — Cooperstown third-graders said they were really nervous while performing circus acts in front of the entire school Friday.
Nathan Grover may have had the most daunting task — walking on a tight wire blindfolded. He said he was excited to do it, but scared at the same time.
Although the students had a full week to learn their performances, Nathan said he felt pretty comfortable with his act about half way through. According to Nathan, students were told what they would be mastering for the show, and he is glad he was chosen to be a tight wire performer.
“I was really excited about it,” he said.
The National Circus 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-yoing, devil stick flipping, balancing and more were all a part of Circus Week activities, which wrapped up with a third-grade final performance Friday.
Workshops, introducing elements of the circus arts, were offered to every student as part of the physical education class, according to PE teacher Connie Herzig.
She said the third-graders were the target group. They were able to go to the gym twice a day for more-serious study, she added.
“They were just absolutely amazing,” Herzig said after the final performance. “I am just so proud of them all.”
Herzig said she was nervous at certain points while watching the performance.
“You never know how it is going to go, and you get individually excited and supportive for each kid,” she said. “It went off beautifully and I am extremely proud of them all.”
It has been such a growth experience for the students, continued Herzig. Although the students will not likely grow up to be jugglers or circus performers of any kind, Herzig said the experience will build their self confidence for whatever they do in the future. They will go out and do public speaking and some will become business men and women, and this will help them to learn to practice something and then be able to go out and present it, she said.
“At this age, it is so important to them to have an opportunity to gain skills, to get confidence in themselves and to be able to perform what they have learned in front of a supportive audience,” Herzig added.
Cooper Guzy was a part of the balance team during the performance and said he found it hard to learn to balance things.
“I was really nervous,” said Cooper, who had family members watching in the audience.
“It was exciting to perform in front of my family. It was a great experience,” he continued.
Emma Pastor was also a part of the balancing team.
“We practiced with Little Lou and she was a good teacher,” she said.
Emma said she was nervous before the performance but felt good once it was all over.
“It was a good experience,” she said.
The stilts were the hardest thing to balance, according to Madison Hayes. During practice, she said, she learned to balance other items such as foam noodles and feathers.
Abe Lippitt played a clown during the performance. He said, “I was very nervous and I just did not want to mess up. I just wanted to be perfect, so I just tried to go with the flow.”
“We just did what she (Little Lou) told us, and I think we did a great job,” he added.
Abe said it was a wonderful experience and he hopes the district brings the project back for other students in the future.
Herzig said the goal is to have the National Circus Project back again.
“We have made a commitment to have it back sooner than eight years,” she said. “We had it eight years ago, and it is an expensive program, but so many children, all the kids K-6, benefit from it.”
The elementary school was able to host Circus Week this year thanks to donations from the parent teacher association and an anonymous donor.
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.
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.”