Classes held Tuesday and Thursday evenings for youngsters from grade four and up
Tumbling mats line the floor as students do back flips off a trampoline, learning the proper ways to flip, each student trying to outdo the other. Two girls swing from trapezes that hang from the ceiling, attempting different tricks as their teacher spots them. Off to the side, a student juggles knives with extreme focus and precision, catching them by the handle, making sure they never drop to the ground.
Held in the black-box theater space at The Point, circus classes aim to teach kids the basic concepts of circus tricks, but also something more valuable: confidence, teamwork, focus and trust.
“I think circus classes allow for more self expression and self exploration than a regular fitness class or gymnastics,” said Yves Celestin, who’s been teaching the program for about five years. “We thrive on letting the students figure out what they want to do and what they are interested in, and I strive to relate with my students in a way where they appreciate me as a person and know that I appreciate them as people. “
Celestin is a former student of the program, as are all of the teachers. Because the teachers have walked in the shoes of the kids themselves, they find they are able to create a safe environment and build a community for self-expression, allowing students to come out of their shells by working together.
“Before I came here, I was really kind of antisocial so I didn’t really get involved with things,” said Amal Kharoufi, a 17-year-old Westchester Square native. “But now I’m more involved and go to the activities they do here. It’s helped a lot with my confidence.”
Held every Tuesday and Thursday from 6:30 to 8:30 in the evening, the drop-in classes are part of the social outreach program of Cirque Du Soleil for people in grades four and up. The program’s goal is to use circus as an alternative education tool to engage youth in communities.
Standing off to the side, Ajohntae Dixon, a 15-year-old student, juggles colorful balls with his friends, the group passing the props to one another, practicing their juggling skills. Dixon then picks up short silver knives and starts juggling them with ease, students watching on.
“I joined because the classes seemed really interesting, and there was a really overwhelming sense of community,” said Dixon, a Hunts Point resident. “Lots of people were really willing to help you learn whatever you want.”
Many of the students credit the cirque classes with helping them evolve as people, not just learn skills for the circus.
“The classes allowed me to meet all of these different, amazing people and get into the world of circus,” said Justin McMillan, 22, a student of the class.
Since getting hooked on the circus, McMillan has started attending clubs around the city, like the circus club at Washington Square Park and the juggling group at Bryant Park.
“The classes have allowed me and my friends to forge connections,” said McMillan. “I met all these circus freaks and if you’re an outcast, you feel at home at the circus. We get to become the people we want to be.”