Introducing youth to fun under the big top

Circus camp pushes kids to do more than just clown around


Grace Lohr climbed onto a wooden plank atop a plastic cylinder and tried to balance.

It wasn't easy - the plank teetered back and forth like a seesaw.

After a few seconds, Grace grabbed the hand of her spotter to keep from falling as she tottered off the board.

"I almost slid off, but that was so fun," Grace said as she regained her composure.

The 7-year-old Frederick resident was one of about 20 children ages 6 to 17 attending a circus clinic yesterday at United Gymnastix in Reisterstown. The weeklong program is led by Michael Rosman, a professional juggler who started the workshop because he wanted to teach circus arts to youngsters.

"I hope these kids take away some great fun, an extra confidence in themselves, a higher degree of perseverance, and an appreciation for the circus arts," said Rosman, a 40-year-old Reisterstown resident who is putting on the clinic for the first time this week.

The workshop runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and costs $215, which includes a T-shirt, juggling balls and a red clown nose.

The program is divided into three sections: classic skills such as juggling and tight-wire walking; gymnastics and tumbling; and clowning.

The first section focuses on skills Rosman perfected while a student of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College in 1988, such as juggling, walking on stilts, unicycling, spinning plates on sticks and balancing on a wooden plank and cylinder.

Some participants had never attempted to perform circus tricks. But others - like the Lamarra children of Alexandria, Va. - came to hone skills they had learned in their local circus club.

Seventeen-year-old Veronica Lamarra already could walk the tight wire, juggle beanbags and spin a plate on a stick. But for the first time, she was able to balance on a plank and cylinder - called the Rolo Bolo - while juggling beanbags.

"I know how to do a lot of things pretty well, such as the gymnastics and juggling," Veronica said. "So having the opportunity to balance on a Rolo Bolo and juggle is neat because I have never done it."

Across the room, several children attempted activities for the first time. Evan Mehring tried walking on stilts.

Using a pair of plastic stilts, the 8-year-old Reisterstown resident walked along a climbing wall. Gradually he moved from the wall and took his first steps without holding on.

"I was a little scared at first, but it was so much fun, I didn't ever want to stop," he said after taking 10 steps without holding on.

A few feet from the wall, other children worked on a tight wire, at first hanging on to an instructor's hand, and then trying to let go.

Josef Neschis, a Reisterstown resident, said it was a piece of cake.

"I learned the stilts on my second time around, and I can do this, too," the 9-year-old said, taking a try on the wire as his mother watched from a waiting room window.

"I'm jealous of the kids. I wish I could be out there," said Kim Neschis. "I have always wanted to learn how to do some of these things. But for now I will have to live vicariously through Josef."

Next came tumbling and gymnastic activities, as well as clowning instruction, during which the children learned to make clown expressions, fall down and spit water, said Rosman, who performed with the Clyde Beatty Cole Brothers Circus for a year in 1989.

"They have a fair shot of mastering the techniques at an early age," said Rosman, who earned a degree in finance from the University of Delaware in 1988.

Although he can't attempt to teach the children his favorite tricks - such as knife and torch throwing - Rosman said he wants to leave them with a lasting impression.

"I hope they leave here with a lot of fun memories," said Rosman who performs at the Maryland Renaissance Festival. "And some new skills and a sense of accomplishment."

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