Park program turns into a circus

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By CHRISTINE VERNON

The circus is in town! The circus is in town! Well, actually, it's one of the top circus trainers in Vermont who's in town. Her name is Suzanne Rappaport and she teaches at the New England Center for Circus Acts. But this summer she's been teaching at the Park District of Oak Park. It's a first for the park district, the first time such classes have ever been offered by them for Oak Park children (although the old village Recreation Department used to put on circuses at the local rec centers every summer for years).

This year's program was set up at Lincoln School with the help of James Schubert and his company "Acrofabulous" because it requires specialized equipment. Schubert works with the Skokie Park District and has been instrumental in making the three-week program possible.

In Vermont, Rappaport teaches children and adults aerial arts-more like the acts seen in Cirque du Soliel than Ringling Bros. Her goal for her students in Vermont, and for the 28 children in the program here, is "not to conduct a training ground for Cirq or Ringling," she says, "that's not the point. The goal is to have fun, be safe, have an appreciation for the circus arts, experience something that sets them apart, for instance, have a one-of-a-kind essay when it comes time for a child to write 'What I did on my summer vacation'."

All this plus by-products like flexibility and improved self-esteem, which result from newly acquired skills by the young participants.

At the first session, the students performed an exercise called "walk the globe." They are presented with a large ball and learn to balance on it. One girl was so successful at this the first day she attempted it, she was able to walk the globe, with guidance, stepping in and out of a hula hoop while in motion. Not bad for a first lesson.

Rappaport can tell you about the "crocodile," i.e. balancing on one hand while the body is suspended in air horizontally. And if you really need to know, she can tell you exactly what muscle groups are used to perform the maneuver. The proof can be found on Rappaport's website, still under construction, which shows pictures of her at a public performance doing aerial work with a sling (draped fabric) from an underpass in Boston.

How does a young woman, raised in a middle-class family in New Jersey become an expert in circus arts? Suzanne Rappaport fell in love with the trapeze on a Club Med vacation to the Caribbean when she was 25. A testament to synchronicity, when she returned from that vacation to New York City, she spotted a front page article in one of the New York dailies about a trapeze school in NYC. She has been involved with Circus Minimus at the New England Center, and Circus Smircus, a travelling children's circus out of Vermont.

Rappaport has had students as old as 70. She looks at performing "not as a competition with others but a competition with yourself. Students need to work on strength and awareness of where you are in space." She advises working on core strength through Pilates, or circus aerial acrobatics or gymnastics.

In the course of performing, she has met many people who are descended from generations of circus performers, but Suzanne Rappaport is a first in her family. She graduated from Syracuse University and feels grateful for and values the fact that she has not been trained in just one thing. "I have other skills," she notes. Her friends, for instance, will attest that she is a good cook.

Teaching and sharing her passion for circus arts, however, are her passions at present, and she has come to Oak Park to share that love.

The circus program held its performance last Thursday night at Lincoln School.

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