Grants help St. Louis kids learn to flip, fling and fly at city rec centers
Kids in some St. Louis neighborhoods are getting the chance to learn circus skills, thanks to a partnership among local foundations, the city parks department and Circus Harmony.
The social circus first hosted classes at the Tandy Recreation Center in the city’s The Ville neighborhood as part of a project exploring art and architecture in city parks. Over the summer, they expanded to weeklong camps at seven centers, including Tandy.
Now, with funding from the Missouri Arts Council, the classes are held every week at Tandy and four other centers, with the goal of eventually resuming classes at all seven.
“Most of the programs at rec centers are competitive sports,” said Jessica Hentoff, Circus Harmony’s founder and artistic executive director. “There’s not a lot of creative arts-oriented activities, not a lot of performing arts activities.”
The classes are similar to those offered at the Circus’ home ring at the City Museum, Hentoff said, but are in locations that are easier for kids in more neighborhoods to reach.
“Public transportation being what it is in St. Louis, it's not easy for everyone to get to us,” she said.
On a recent Tuesday night at the 12th and Park recreation center in the LaSalle Park neighborhood, Frankie Watson led a group through a hula hoop routine. On a blue mat nearby, Amy Anthenill helped another group perfect somersaults.
The somersaults were the best part of the night for 8-year-old Brooklyn Collier. She had big plans for her newfound skills.
“When people are going to have a birthday party, and they have nobody to perform, I can perform for them,” she said.
Carlie Jefferson, 5, did her first cartwheel and said she planned to cartwheel everywhere, though not at school.
The night ended with Hentoff, Anthenill and Watson helping the eight students in attendance build a three-level pyramid. Though it took a few tries, they eventually nailed it.
“When we got it, I felt really good and really powerful,” Collier said.
Monica Dixon, 10, said learning how to do stunts like pyramids will help her in other settings.
“In school we have to work together with each other for, like, group projects and stuff like that, and it teaches me how to work together with all my other people that's in Circus Harmony,” she said.
The Arts Council grant covers the cost for two years. Hentoff hopes to be able to make the program permanent.
See more from photojournalist Tristen Rouse below: