Ever feel like life in your house is a three ring circus? Kids climbing the walls, flipping off of furniture or just generally clowning around? Instead of threatening to sell them to the circus let them expend that energy and learn some actual circus skills at Circus Kazooo!
Jennifer “J” Richard is the owner and Leader of Circus Kazoo and our featured Mompreneur this month. Since “J” is my neighbor I knew her pretty well but wanted to check out the programs she offered at Circus Kazoo and find out a little bit more about it. The instructors that work with “J” are both circus professionals that have to travel to help her out, so right now her class schedule is limited by their schedules. We stopped in for one of the German Wheel classes at PCCS on Saturday afternoon.
What’s a German Wheel? As my son described it to his dad, “it’s like a big metal hamster wheel for kids”. Kind of want to go run out and buy one for your backyard, right? Well it’s a little more complicated than that. These are actual metal wheels from Germany, and while they come apart they are not adjustable so each one is the size it is. Circus Kazoo currently has 4 of them that they can use but due to sizing this class is limited to children ages 10 and up. A total disappointment to my just turned 9 year old! “J”’s love for the circus arts is undeniable and she wouldn’t let us leave without getting to truly experience it.
My kids loved it, as you can see from the pure joy on my sons face at the end. What was fun for me, as a parent, was to see him trying something totally new and different. I was chatting with “J” on the side while my kids were working with some of the other kids about the types of kids Circus Kazoo is good for, “everyone” she simply stated. There are so many different components to the circus that everyone can find something that fits their personality and skills. Even the non-athletic (and she has some in her troupe) can learn the skills to perform.
Prior to Circus Kazoo “J” was a Montessori teacher and those skills are obvious. My daughter is loud, very loud. She’s a squealer and a screamer. I was so impressed with “J”’s handling of her and her ability to get her to quiet down I am considering sending my daughter to her house for the summer. She took time and care to make sure that they kids knew what they were doing and more importantly what they shouldn’t be doing to stay safe. Safety is obviously very important I was impressed by how careful “J” was, making sure there were spotters on everyone and telling my kids there were things they simply could not do because she wouldn’t be able to reach both of them. You can imagine in a class with several tween boys given a large metal wheel that things could quickly get a little crazy with them trying out stunts and showing off. “J” and her coaches run a tight ship and there is no goofing off or messing around at all when we were there. In case you’re thinking, well of course not a journalist was visiting, no one knew we were coming until we walked in!
How did Circus Kazoo come to be?
Circus Kazoo was a journey that wove itself into my life even before I knew it would appear. I trained and performed with the Gamma Phi Circus of ISU where I attended college an earned a BS in Elementary Education. After school, I hung up my trapeze grips and dove into the teaching world. After time in both the public school system, and in Montessori, I left teaching in search of a new inspiration. A Madison pal invited our family up for Spring Break in 2013 to a circus camp. My children trained and I volunteered for the week to get a taste of the camp life. It was an absolute catalyst! I raced home and signed up for the AYCO Educator Conference that summer where I was further inspired. That week in Seattle offered vision into many approaches to youth circus and how amazing it is for those who participate.I met teenagers on their way to college to study circus, special needs kids looking for ways to self regulate and build self-esteem, and at-risk youth who wouldn’t have a path into college or trusting their peers if not for their circus troupe. I knew I had stumbled onto what I wanted to offer Lake County: a center for circus arts appreciation and training to nurture resilience and vibrancy in our community, and to create a mindful movement culture in which to belong.
Why Circus Kazoo?
Kazoo is a unique pursuit for any Lake County youth as we are the only developmental circus arts program around! Centered around open, social interaction and imaginative creative process, this non-competitive group is inherently cooperative. Lake County offers numerous competitive sports to join, where rules are set, victory is the goal, and skills set by adults exclude many. Circus is a mindful movement culture that offers flexibility, pliable goal setting, and self-authorship, where players can direct the process. I have heard it called magic. I have felt it to be so. There are kids out there who want to move and be active but are not interested in the attack of sports. Come join circus!
I encourage the pursuit of a variety of art to expand understanding and perspective. Join us for a class in unicycles, German Wheel, juggling, tight-wire, acrobatics, stilt-walking, poi spinning, or mime and see what skill these disciplines take. Seek out circus shows from Montreal, France, England, Sweden, etc and discover what critical thinking goes into show messaging lately. Hunt for circus inspired creations (Dagas, Picasso, Matisse!). Art can impress us with skill but also leads us to questioning and new understandings. Circus is expanding at a global level. These artists use the athleticism and artistry of circus to share their vision with the world.
Circus Kazoo is currently serving the Grayslake community in the Park District, D46 schools, and in the rented gym of the Prairie Crossing Charter School. There are sampler and apparatus specific classes for ages 7-adult to explore, play, and learn together. Our goal is to grow beyond the patchwork approach of many locations and open a center in Lake County where disciplines and age ranges can get more specific. I envision tot classes focusing on circus literature; performing troupe members walking local parades, studying art and writing show; seniors staying fit and young-at-heart; fringe students finding a place to belong and succeed; and teenagers mentoring their juniors at summer camps. The center is on track to launch early this fall. For now, visit the website and join a class to begin a new adventure. Discover the new you!
Connect with Circus Kazoo!
J is offering Little Lake County Readers 20% off any class at Prairie Crossing Charter School. Mention this story in the registration notes.
Check out some the instructors and students showing off their German Wheel skills:
See more pictures from our Circus Kazoo experience on our Facebook Page!