By Lyra Gross
Jens Larson is a circus coach and AYCO board member. He performed in the circus from 1981 – 2000, taught math for 14 years, and then decided to return to circus as a coach. He has been teaching circus ever since. He specializes in hand balancing and aerial rings, but is also always willing to try new forms of circus arts. I was lucky enough to be able to interview him and hear about all his amazing experiences as a circus artist. Here are a few of the questions that led to some incredibly inspiring stories.
What is one of the craziest things you’ve done or witnessed as a circus artist?
I’d say maybe the easiest one to describe is Roman riding on two Percheron horses through Cortlandt Park in the Bronx! Roman riding is standing astride two horses that are bridled together, and Percheron are a type of draft horse so they’re really big and easy to stand on, but also very imposing and quite noticeable when going by women with strollers! Now, of course, the people most likely knew the Big Apple Circus was in town, so they probably put two and two together, but we were not right next to the tent either, so that also added to the peculiarities of the situation.
Have you ever made an act that you felt emotionally connected to?
Well, when I joined my first circus I got to see Dali Jacobs perform on the rings. When I watched her I was thinking, “that’s a beautiful act.” But I was in men’s gymnastics at the time and they did the rings totally different. So I decided to create a whole different act. It took every, every last bit of energy out of me each time I did it. It was my own creation, and it was scary, because I was swinging very high in the air. But the effort it took made it even more meaningful.
Have you ever had an act with animals in the circus?
I helped out with some of the animal acts, and I helped get the animals ready for shows at times. I also substituted in Circus Flora as a patron who was served things by an elephant. I had to be sure that I wasn’t too goofy, though, when I performed the act. If I was, I would lose control over the elephant, which could be really dangerous. I also at one point had to introduce a bear act and move props around during the act! I also remember one time I was getting this horse all bridled up and ready, and then just as I was supposed to bring the horse out it ran in the complete opposite direction! So as the curtain drew back to present the horse the audience just saw me chasing after the horse out the back.
What is your favorite act that you got to do in the circus?
The chair balancing act with my wife was my favorite act. It allowed me to do my full on hand balancing skills, but it was also part of a comedy act, and just worked really nicely. My wife got to be my assistant because she was also really funny. It was a fun act to do because we got to be a little goofy, and I still got to show off my hand balancing skills.
Do you have any hobbies outside of the circus?
Well, before I started Phoenix Youth Circus Arts I got back into juggling . . . as a hobby. There was a local juggling club that met in the park and I would just show up with them and juggle for fun.
How do you motivate / push yourself in Circus?
I guess it is just part of my personality that I always want to get better. Doing the same old thing isn’t as much fun, so I am always pushing myself and asking myself what I could do to get better.
Do you have any advice for a circus performer like me?
Shoot for the very best training available. There is a constant balance between having kids explore many different acts, because versatility is always valued in the circus. But also not spreading yourself too thin so you don’t hurt yourself. It’s also good to have a backup plan if you end up not being able to perform as you get older or are out due to injury.
I had so much fun interviewing Jens Larson and hearing about all his amazing stories! He shows us that really anything is possible if you have the determination and bravery. He inspires us to live a bold and fearless life!