TOWNSHEND — Dreams of being in the circus are not out of reach for some kids as they will put on their own show this Friday.
Troy Wunderle of Wunderle's Big Top Adventures(WBTA) is teaching circus and balance skills to students at Townshend Elementary. After having spent five days alongside Wunderle, the kids from prekindergarten to sixth grade will put on a show for staff and families on Friday evening. WBTA promotes safe and intriguing world class circus programming and entertainment for all ages and has a mission to, "spread joy, create memories, and inspire dreams," according to the website home page.
Wunderle himself is a former international performer with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. He also spent more than a decade touring throughout the United States as a freelance performer and was an employee of Circus Smirkus. Besides his own credentials, he does it for the kids and what they get out of it.
"This is full involvement, we talk a lot about being able to try hard things and to be okay with failure," said Wunderle. "And these kids do it on a regular basis and they are taught to process what caused the failure and how to alter what caused that failure and ultimately how to succeed."
Wunderle calls this lesson, "failing successfully," and he goes over that every day with each classroom.
Monday through Friday of this week students practice with diabolos, lassos and jump ropes, devil sticks, hand sticks, plates, juggling balls, feathers, rola bolas, hula hoops, pogo sticks, stilts, pedalos, scarfs and globe walking balls. The students are taught each skill in a safe environment and then they pick which acts they want to perform for Friday's show. They practice their chosen skill throughout the week and then work to perfect it as time goes on. On Tuesday, fifth and sixth graders worked on their balance by adding a hand-eye skill with it. For this exercise, some of the students practiced globe walking (where the performer balances atop a large sphere, sometimes taller than the performer) meanwhile passing juggling rings to another person across from them.
"It's a full awareness of your body and your surroundings. Circus allows you to be able to master skills and then present them in front of a live audience," said Wunderle.
He added that by being able to conduct two skills at once, it gives an individual the ability to become a full performer. In other ways, performers learn how to divide their focus and yet remain focused on the sole presentation. Townshend Elementary School Principal Deborah Leggett said she feels the program brings other types of positivity to the kids.
"I feel the arts helps students develop confidence and self expression, so I always look for good residencies because I really think they help children go deeper into those experiences," said Legget.
The students were all smiles and giggles, even when they fell off their pogo sticks or did not perform something properly. Some of the students explained what goals they have for Friday's show and said they didn't mind having Wunderle as their instructor either.
"My goal for Friday night is to get up on the globe by myself and juggle with Troy," said Hannah Frost, 12. "I like that he's pretty funny."
Another sixth-grade student explained what skills he is taking away from this week-long training.
"On the pedalo, I'm learning to keep my balance," said Tyler Claussen, 13. "If I slipped and I tried to catch my balance, I could easily get it now because I've been training."
Claussen added that aside from practicing on the pedalo, he also enjoys "going high" on the pogo stick. He also mentioned what his goal is for this Friday's show.
"I'll try not to fail easily and keep smiling. If I fail, I would just keep going and not worry about it," said Claussen.
This Circus Arts Residency is co-sponsored by the Vermont Arts Council, which provides $250 per day along with the Townshend Elementary School Club. This is the third year WBTA has been at Townshend Elementary and Wonderle says he has held this program at 24 different schools for this 2015-2016 academic year. They are one-week or two-week programs that culminate with a presentation for the community.
"Another beautiful thing about this program is that there are kids that will shine in this circus, that may not have a daily chance to shine because maybe school is a little tough for them," said Wonderle. "So there are kids that come in that absolutely dazzle the audience. Some come in very engaged and become real stars in this show, which will give them a boost of confidence that they will take with them for the rest of the school year and beyond."
– Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext. 275.