Circus love

Lizzy Harvey shares her love for circus arts to instill confidence and self-trust in youths.

Kati Wolcott, bottom left, Emily Larson, bottom right, and Katie Harvey perform a pyramid during the intermediate kids circus skills training at Carnegie in Walla Walla.

Kati Wolcott, bottom left, Emily Larson, bottom right, and Katie Harvey perform a pyramid during the intermediate kids circus skills training at Carnegie in Walla Walla. Photo by Michael Lopez.


WALLA WALLA — Evelyn Sisk, or “Evi,” could not be more clear why she’s enrolled in Walla Walla Parks and Recreation’s “Circus Arts” class.

“I was really interested in the circus,” the 9 year-old explained. “I wanted to be interactive with people older than me … and I really wanted to learn to do flips.”

She was on her way in a recent session of the intermediate class at the Carnegie building, where Evi was joined by four other — and older — girls doing “egg rolls” on gym mats to limber up. Grasping ankles and laying on their backs, the youngsters rolled from side-to-side like happy sow bugs, bumping into each other with apologies and giggles.

It’s the second time in the circus ring for the city department, noted recreation coordinator Angela Potts. Her department offers a number of classes for children and adults, such as painting, ukulele and guitar, yoga, sports of many flavors and parent-child events.

The success of the first go-round last autumn showed organizers that circus class is pretty special, Potts said. “When someone tells you they want to ‘run away with the circus,’ you envision them in a playful and magical world and that’s what we want to create for children in the Walla Walla Valley.”

When kids push themselves through the physical work of tumbling, acrobatics, juggling and clowning, it helps overcome fears, Potts said. “And not just fears inside circus class, but fears of everyday life. Through Circus Arts, children find confidence in who they are as a unique individual.”

Ask Addie Snow. The 12 year-old was staring down the cannon barrel of a backward somersault for the first time and walking a tightrope over it.

She knows where she is supposed to land — the trick is letting her body in on the secret, Addie explained.

“I don’t think I can do this. My body just doesn’t want to do that,” she said to class instructor Lizzy Harvey.

No problem, Harvey replied, then proceeded to take a nervous Addie through the steps, resulting in a respectable backward roll. As the youngster sprang upright with a surprised look on her face, Harvey reassured the group hesitation is normal. “The hardest part is trusting yourself to go backward where you can’t see where you’re going.”

Confidence is just one benefit of this particular class, she believes. “Circus is the perfect thing to do with kids. It helps kids come out of their shells, learn to take risks and explore new things. But it’s also about building a connection with each other.”

Now a Whitman College sophomore majoring in English, Harvey was a member of Circus Club in her high school and attended San Francisco Circus Center. She credits the curriculum with teaching her important life skills such as trusting a partner and being “legally silly,” she said. “You can just get ridiculous and the kids absolutely love it.”

Silly is in plentiful supply on this day, with chatter about manicures, school mates and “mean” dance teachers rising in the hallowed Carnegie building on bubbles of girl gossip.

It has a peaceful ring to Katie Wolcott, 13. “I feel like this is a place I can be myself. I’m under a lot of pressure at school and here I can dance around.”

Harvey eager to impart the wisdom and fun of the Big Top. As she sends fleet-footed girls scrambling like crabs to loosen muscles, the instructor uses a variety of silly songs and gestures to warm her students up. Then it’s time to get serious with core-toning pushups and plank-holding. Harvey preaches form and muscle development. “You don’t want to sprain anything or hurt yourself.”

None of the students plan to really run away to find work in a circus, although Emily Larson, 10, notes clowning might be an avenue to explore some day.

What circus students do take away, however, will be tools for any kind of life, Harvey believes.

She, in turn, will take what she is learning from kids here to her summer job in San Francisco. There she will teach underprivileged children in a program designed to give them an academic leg up.

Harvey’s best act of all will be the elective she gets to add in, she said. “They asked me if I would teach circus. Of course, I said I would love to.”


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