Youth Circuses, Bat Mitzvahs, and Doing What You Love

Every year for the past few years, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to visit as many far away friends as possible.  The airlines are usually cooperative with affordable fares at least a couple of times a year to every location I need to visit, and so it’s really just a matter of finding the right weekend and/or occasion (e.g., TurkeyCakeFest).  A few weeks ago, I flew to St. Paul to visit Dan and Sara, good friends I hadn’t seen in much too long.

The event that finally made me prioritize purchasing a plane ticket was that A, their 10-year-old daughter, has been taking classes from Circus Juventas, the largest youth circus in the U.S., and participating in the end-of-season show that they perform.  A has been doing this for a few years now, and for each show, I see amazing pictures on Facebook that make me sad that I’ve missed out on such a cool event.  Not this year.  This year, we planned months in advance, I blocked the time on my calendar, and I pulled the trigger on the plane ticket.

Between the pictures and the buildup from Dan and Sara, my expectations were high.  Dan, who is probably the most articulate and analytical human I know, didn’t have words to describe the show.  He said, “I don’t know if it’s the amazing costumes, or the theatricality, or the savvy choice of music, but the show is awesome every year, and I can’t completely figure out why.”

The show started with preschool kids dressed as the cutest sailors ever attempting a dance routine.  You have seen something similar if you have ever gone to a children’s dance recital – the kids aren’t completely sure what steps they’re supposed to be doing, they’re all watching the teacher for cues, and it ends up being barely controlled chaos.  I started to worry that I’d been sold a bill of goods, and that I’d be sitting through three hours of beautifully costumed but confusedly executed dance recital. 

I was wrong.  After the preschoolers did their thing and were whisked by their parents off to bed (the show started at 7pm), things got amazing.  I saw kids ranging in age from 5 to 18 juggle fire, walk tightropes, and perform amazing acrobatic feats on gigantic balls, on metal wheels, on huge ribbons, on ropes in the air, and on various trapezes.  Sara made sure our seats were directly in front of A for her trapeze routine, and I couldn’t believe what she was doing so far off the ground.  I tried to get pictures and video, but my phone got in the way of appreciating what I was seeing, so alas, it’s another pictureless blog entry.

Last year in May, my mom took my sister and me on a tour of South Korea, in an effort to remind us of our heritage.  I actually learned a lot more about my mom on that trip, and it’ll be the subject of a future blog entry, but one of the things we saw on the tour was a children’s circus on Jeju Island.  It was an uncomfortable experience because of how good the circus was – it was like watching a Cirque du Soleil show, but on a much shorter scale.  Many of us were uncomfortable because all we could think was how these kids, from other Asian countries, should have been in school, and the level of expertise that they were demonstrating was evidence that they were spending most of their time in practice and rehearsal.  I left that circus feeling simultaneously impressed and disquieted.

The Circus Juventas experience couldn’t have been more different.  Despite the minor mistakes in execution at Circus Juventas, and even though the show on Jeju was technically perfect and more advanced, Circus Juventas was the far superior show.  It took a friend’s Bat Mitzvah service to crystallize the reason why. 

I met my friend Tricia because she cuts my hair and makes it look pretty.  She is one of the most genuine and enthusiastic people I know – what you see is what you get.  She knows exactly who she is, and who she is, she discovered recently, is a Jew.  So she took classes and studied for ten months, and all of that hard work paid off in a beautiful B’Nai Mitzvah ceremony with the other sixteen people in her class.

One of the things the rabbi discussed during the service was that as adults getting Bat or Bar Mitzvahed (I’m really sorry if I’ve butchered the spelling), these folks had all made an active choice of Judaism.  I’ve never been to a Bar or Bat Mitzvah before, but I have to believe that because of the act of choosing with clear eyes and full hearts, this ceremony was especially laden with peace and excitement and joy.

I felt the same peace and excitement and joy at Circus Juventas; I didn’t at the circus on Jeju. The costuming and musicality and theatricality were nearly identical.  The execution was flawless at Jeju.  But Circus Juventas was so much better and pleasurable to see because every kid in the show wanted to be there, and every act in the show was a labor of love.  It was three hours of pure happiness.  We should all have something so profound in our lives.

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1 Response to Youth Circuses, Bat Mitzvahs, and Doing What You Love

  1. Pingback: Dribs and Drabs | Travel, Food, and Life

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