Sunday: I went to the circus this evening with two old friends. We’ve known each other since we all worked at the Saint Louis Public Schools in the 80s. This year’s show was Time Flies, which one friend remarked was appropriate, since it had been years since she’d been to Circus Flora. And it’s been years since we’d first met.
We had worked under the voluntary desegregation program in a division called the School Partnership Program. Its purpose was twofold: the first was finding community partners to come into classrooms to share their expertise, the second was partnering City schools with County schools (ie: Blacks with Whites).
The district had about 120 schools at that time and they were divided among three managers, each with two assistants. Each manager also had a cohort of volunteers they managed as well. My manager, V, had Tyson Research Center, Laumeier Sculpture Park, and the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (aka: the Gateway Arch), among others. There were some pretty neat programs, usually very hands-on, and the Assistants racked up a lot of miles attending the different sessions to make sure things went well.
The managers were always looking to add new partnerships.
I had heard about a new one ring circus coming to town, and I’d never been to a circus.
(When I was a kid, I’d seen Toby Tyler on the Wonderful World of Disney and thought the circus must be great! Afterwards, my friend C and I would ride around on our bikes pretending to do trick riding on our ‘horses’ like Toby Tyler! I wanted to run away with the circus just like he did.)
So, I decided I wanted to go to the circus for my birthday. My brother L took me and it was enchanting, amazing, and wonderful all rolled into one. We entered the tent and it was packed. We managed to find a place to sit in the bleachers just in time, and the show began. It was magical – we were sitting under the stars and the Flying Wallendas were directly overhead! I knew about them because I had seen the TV movie about their terrible tragedy so many years before and was glad that they were still performing. It also was unique because there was no roof to the tent! So I was watching them perform under a background of stars!
I found out later that they had lost the top of the tent in a storm the week before.
It was one of my best birthdays ever.
Later that week I read an article in the newspaper about Circus Flora. They said they were making St. Louis their home base and were anxious to work with the local schools.
Awesome! I worked for the SLPS and in a program that was tailor made for someone wanting to get involved with schoolchildren!
I showed the article to my manager and she gave me the go ahead to contact Circus Flora. They were excited to be called because they were new to town and didn’t know who to contact. We set up a meeting at our office and worked out the details of the program. Sacha P and his wife Jennifer J represented Circus Flora, with V and me representing SLPS. V wanted the program for Gallaudet School for the Deaf because it was physical, and so many of our other programs were difficult to do there because of the language barrier.
The circus performer who taught the acrobatic program was Jessica H. She even learned basic sign language to better work with the students. And they loved the program!
Not long after we started the program at Gallaudet, J invited me to the first performance of her after-school program at the Monsanto YMCA in north St. Louis. Those kids were much more advanced and did some great tumbling. It was also the day that Donald H, the best tumbler, broke his arm!
J kept working with students and soon the circus created a children’s acrobatic troupe: The St. Louis Arches. By this time I had become a volunteer usher and I also got to know most of the kids, because they were performing in the show. At first the Arches were primarily Black students from north St. Louis, but over the years, students joined from all over the area.
So, it was wonderful to attend their 30th anniversary reunion at the beginning of June. The little kids who had done such amazing feats were now parents, and even grandparents!
Yes, Time Flies. And so do the Arches.
The St. Louis Arches will dazzle audiences who gather to see, hear and experience the spectacle, and mystique of circus arts at the 50th Anniversary of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington D.C. June 29 to July 4 and July 6 to July 9.