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Circus Visits Briarcliff Elementary School

BRIARCLIFF MANOR, N.Y. – Fourth grader Sophia Khosrowshahi had never stood on a big plastic ball before, but with the help of her gym teacher and circus performers, she was able to spin a plate while standing on a ball.

"It feels like I'm spinning the world," she said. "You just have to keep your back straight and keep your navel in."

Khosrowshahi's fourth grade class and all of the classes at Todd Elementary School received workshops Thursday on circus performance as part of the National Circus Project's education outreach.

"We're a nonprofit education outreach company based on Long Island, and our mission is to preserve and promote circus arts through education and outreach," said Greg Milstein, executive director of the National Circus Project. "We visit hundreds of schools in the northeast U.S."

Circus performers from the National Circus Project come to Todd School once each year, said physical education teacher Michelle Hiltsley. They perform in an assembly, and then they conduct workshops with individual PE classes where kids can practice spinning plates, walking on stilts, walking a tight wire, juggling, balancing on "the globe," handling the Chinese yo-yo and throwing "devil sticks."

"Circus skills are individualized, self-motivating, non-competitive, non-contact and safe," Milstein said. "Very often the last-to-be-picked-for-a-team type kid will excel in circus. The star athlete and the physical underachiever suddenly become equal when holding a spinning plate in their hand."

For fourth grader Andrew Winiarski, walking the tight rope was the most fun circus trick he tried.

"It's just fun walking across,” he said. “It's easy, well for me it is.”

Classmate Stefanie Lobello successfully walked on stilts in the gym while her other classmates on stilts struggled to move away from a wall.

"I did it last year because the circus came last year, and now I'm really into it," she said.

Todd School has its own circus equipment and offers circus skills as part of its physical education curriculum, Hiltsley said.

"The kids love it. They love to watch it, they love to do it," she said.

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