Campers discover their inner ringmaster

Kate Waldstreicher, 8, balances herself on a rubber ball at the Bender Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington’s circus arts camp. Photos by Dan Schere

If you want to run away to join the circus, you need good balance. That’s what Kate Waldstreicher was learning as she wobbled atop a rubber ball. A moment later she fell off, but the 8 year old quickly got to her feet, ready to try again.

This time, Kate managed to balance herself for 10 seconds. “Ta da!” she said.

It was a moment of discovery for one of the dozen participants in a new circus arts camp at Bender Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville.

By the end of the first week, campers had learned to juggle scarves, spin a top on a string, balance a plate on a stick and walk on stilts. The children, all 3rd and 4th graders, have gotten a charge out of their new abilities.

Kate’s twin brother, Eli, said he is proud of himself for learning so many skills because circus arts are one of the few recreational activities he can perform well.

“I can move the stilts by myself, I can ride the tiny bike and I can do the rolling globe, which is a big red ball,” he said.
Many of the campers’ activities involved working on their hand-eye coordination, such as spinning a diabolo — a top that spins by moving a string connected to two wooden sticks.

After 7-year-old Emma Levit demonstrated her spinning skills, she explained that she at first had difficulty balancing the diabolo as it began to rotate, but realized a few days into the camp that keeping her body weight balanced was the key.

“They’re hard, but fun at the same time,” she said of the diabolo.

Emma Levit, 7, spins a diabolo.

Emma said the toughest but most fun skill she learned was walking on stilts. She had to learn that balancing herself on the poles required her to put her full body weight on her feet in order to stabilize herself. Walking meant lifting one foot at a time while simultaneously pushing down on the other foot.

“It felt scary, because you didn’t know what to expect,” Emma said. But after the third time, she felt comfortable with her new height. Now she wants her own pair of stilts.

It’s all a matter of trial and error, the campers said. Kate said spinning the plate on a pointed stick for more than a few seconds was nearly impossible at first.

“The plate kept dropping, and then I would get really frustrated, but I kept trying,” she said. “Now every single time I say I might not get it on my first try, I get it on my first try.”

Camp Director Phil Liebson said that in addition to the circus acts, the campers have been learning stage combat skills, such as how to create the illusion of slapping someone in the face or stepping one someone’s foot, without hurting them.

Liebson said that at first some parents were unsure what to think about the camp. But the ones who have watched their children perform new tricks have been impressed.

“When a parent first hears their child is going to be walking around on a ball, they think, ‘What is that going to look like?’” he said. “But when they see their kid doing it, it’s pretty impressive.

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