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Update From Nettie Lane, Residency Artist

I am working at a school in Vermont right near the border of Canada and New Hampshire. It’s cold and snowy over here, but something happened that warmed my heart.

I have one student who is in a wheelchair and doesn’t have much muscle or muscle control. It is difficult for her to lift things. Yesterday, we worked together on finding ways to adapt the activities. We cut a stick down making it a lot shorter and worked out a plate spinning routine. Today, her mother found me before my class to say ‘thank you.’ The circus magic had taken hold.

Apparently, in the past with other artist residencies, her daughter never felt she had something to offer the performance. But yesterday she came home so excited about circus that she wanted to cancel her Friday medical appointment in Boston so she could be in the evening show.

Near the border of upstate New York there is a small school in Vermont where all the kids know one another. Which is wonderful….for the most part. Today we were focusing on balancing, which meant bringing out the rolling globe.

One by one, the students lined up to give it a try. Everyone, except one reserved 4th grader. I wasn’t surprised because I see this often. This girl was large. She weighed more than I did and I could tell she was scared, but also embarrassed to try in front of her classmates. There are ways to adapt. You can step on a crate or chair and then stand on the globe. But she was adamant in her refusal to try.

I didn’t push her, but said if she changed her mind to let me know. I offered to stay behind if she wanted to try after her classmates left. I set her up with feather balancing while the rest of the kids continued on. Right before the bell rang, her quiet voice she asked if she could stay behind. I was surprised but saw the adamant refusal had now transformed into a determination. The PE teacher spotted her from the back and I from the front. “Ready,” I said.

She put one foot on. “Hup! The other foot followed. She was really frightened and shaking. I coaxed her to breathe, look straight ahead, imagine the silver cord. She held on to me for dear life. But there was one instant where she felt the balance point and for a second released her grip. “Ok, I want to get down now,” she said. When her two feet were on the ground, she said, “I wanted to prove to myself I could do it.” A small moment, a big victory in conquering her own ‘Everest.’

I am working with the K – 6th grade even though the school goes all the way up to 12th. Monday afterschool, as I was getting ready to leave, an 8th grade boy tracked me down. He had gotten wind of a visiting Smirkus Artist. He proceeded to ask me questions, getting the specs on my identity and what sort of circus skills I teach and do. He was very matter-of-fact. After the interview, he said he was a juggler. And then, in his deadpan way, asked if I needed an Assistant. The question took me by surprise. But of course I answered, “Yes, I most certainly do!” He then preceded to tell me all the time she was available to help.

Today he showed up with all his juggling equipment – 4 balls, 3 rings, and 3 clubs and a partridge in a pear tree. (I’m kidding about the partridge). Because of the school schedule, I am bouncing back and forth between two buildings – the gym and the multi-purpose room. He arrived just in time to help carry all the equipment to the gym. Since the 6th graders had just learned how to juggle 3 scarves, I had my Assistant demonstrate all his skills. Needless to say he wowed his audience. With my Assistant’s permission, I pointed out that they have a juggling instructor at the school if they want to continue after the Residency is over. The bell rang and my Assistant went back to his classes. Wait a minute! You forgot your juggling stuff! But no, he left it intentionally because he thought I might need it. Later, he found me at lunch to ask if I needed help, but thankfully I can eat lunch without assistance.

My days are long at the school. This particular day, I was feeling tired and not too enthusiastic about schlepping the equipment back to the other building, when lo and behold who should arrive? My Assistant! In his characteristically impassive way he asked me his favorite question, and mine too, “Do you need help?”

We chatted as I organized things. He asked if I could juggle 5 balls with two people. Yepper. We didn’t have a 5th ball, but we had 5 rings, so we did those instead. By the time we were walking back with the equipment it was settled. At the end of the K – 6th performance Friday night he would make an appearance demonstrating the juggling possibilities after scarves.

Friday night rolled around and the show went great. After everyone performed, I announced our guest artist. My Assistant came out from behind the circus curtain on the pedalo juggling 3 balls! The audience went wild! He went through his set. And guess how he ended his performance? Juggling 5rings with yours truly. What a honor to share the stage and be his Assistant!

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