Adventures as a Circus Camp Counselor

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Juniper and fellow counselors pose with new stilt walkers. Photo by Marcia Miquelon.

I recently spent three weeks as a circus camp counselor for a small circus day camp in Mazomanie, Wisconsin. The kids I was working with were ages six to twelve, a pretty large age range. It was fascinating to see kids try out circus arts for the first time. The camp I supervised at teaches juggling, clowning and mime basics, tightwire, low flying trapeze, acrobatics basics, and stiltwalking. Everyone learns a bit of everything. At the end of the week the choreograph a big show that the kids perform for their families. Watching the kid’s circus skills flourish reminded me why circus is my favorite obsession.

A major part of working at a circus camp is spotting people as they attempt things for the first time. This can definitely be kind of scary and difficult. I have done spotting work before, but not so much of it all at once. One of my major spotting duties was to spot first time stilt walkers. We start kids out on two foot peg stilts, which means that most kids need a spotter to walk with them constantly for the first few days. For the first two to three days most beginners need to lean heavily on a spotters arms as they walk. The gratifying part comes when they begin to start finding their balance and are able to start taking steps without a spotter. I love seeing how proud the kids are when they get free of their spotter for the first time.

The other types of spotting I worked with were on acrobatics and trapeze. Spotting acrobatics was mostly correcting the kids posture and demonstrating moves. We try not to get too complicated with acro, as typically everyone is on very different levels. Trapeze spotting involves a lot of making sure the kids don’t fall. You have to be ready to keep the head and shoulders away from the ground in case the kid falls. You also have to give the kid a boost if they need it. Once the kids perfect the skills we have to remind them to act like performers, and to “style and smile”.

Once a week, the other counselors and I would perform a short show for the camp kids. The goal of this performance was to give the kids something to work up to and to demonstrate showmanship. I really enjoyed seeing how in awe they were by the end of the performance. In all three weeks we saw admiration and disbelief. One kid even said, “I’d never be able to do that, not even in twelve million, forty thousand, eight hundred and twenty four years!” Of course, we had to assure them that if they worked hard, they could do anything someday.

Friday was definitely the most exciting day of the week. We had a whole show to rehearse and perform! Rehearsals are definitely harder and longer when there are kids involved. Kids generally have short attention spans, so you have to constantly remind them to stay on task. It can take forty five minutes to rehearse a fifteen minute act! However, the focus level goes way up once there is an actual audience to perform for. Another fun part about the show is costuming. We have a large costume collection, and the kids all get to choose costumes for the show. Us counselors got to use whatever costumes were left over once the kids had all picked. Each week the show went incredibly well. And, of course, the audience loved it!

It was so fun to see kids come in to camp having never even tried circus before, and come out as seasoned performers. I watched so many kids gain strength, confidence, and determination during my time as a circus camp counselor. And while I know that not all of the kids I worked with will choose circus as their lifelong passion, I am hopeful that at least a few of them will become circus performers for life.

– Juniper

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