Two red silk ribbons hang 20 feet from ceiling to floor at Circus Camp in Decatur.
The trick for acrobats is to climb the silks, strategically wrap the ribbons around one’s body, then twist downward, the silks unfurling along the way until the participant stops just a few feet above the floor.
Nine-year-old Helen Stephens used the silks to conquer her fears.
Participating in her fifth circus camp this summer, Helen said the silks and aerial activities such as trapeze are her favorite activities there.
“There were some scary things to learn and they helped me overcome my fears,” Helen said. “The drops were kind of scary and I kept telling myself, ‘don’t fall, don’t fall.’”
She did fall once, but with the help of a camp counselor got right back up and has been confident with the silks ever since.
“My confidence has been built up a lot because of the activities I do here and it helps me focus,” Helen said. “I get my work done better at school and my report cards are better.”
Building self-esteem is just one of the things camp owner Tim Dwyer tries to accomplish. Dwyer is in his 10th year as owner of the camp, which is celebrating its 20th year in the metro Atlanta area.
Boys and girls ages 5 to 18 are taught juggling, magic, clown techniques, costume and set design, and aerial tricks done on several different apparatus.
“Our philosophy is building the self-esteem of children through the magic of the circus,” Dwyer said. “It doesn’t matter what skill level someone has. There’s something for everybody.”
Circus Camp, which also is held in Dunwoody and Sandy Springs, is composed of eight one-week sessions. There were 130 participants at the most recent Decatur camp, which celebrated the end of the session with a performance June 29.
The unique part of the camp is that campers decide the activities they participate in.
“The kids can pick and choose what they want to do and make it their own experience,” Dwyer said.
Many campers, Dwyer said, come every year and eventually become counselors in training (CIT), counselors and even directors. Campers ages 13 to 15 are eligible to become CITs, and then at 16 are eligible to become junior counselors.
Activities director Kay Rosenbloom has been involved with the camp since it began.
“I remember riding my bike by and thinking this would be fun,” Rosenbloom said.
One day she went in and inquired about a job and was hired as a counselor. Rosenbloom has been a vibrant part of the camp ever since, whether she is painting sets or helping the campers with their performances.
Jacosa Kato has been part of the camp for at least one week every summer since it began, starting out as a camper at the age of 8. Before the camp started, she took classes from the previous owner beginning at 4 years old. The Grant Park resident has been the camp’s aerial director for the past 10 years.
“It’s really family oriented; most of the people involved have grown up here,” Kato said. “I really have a passion for it. It’s so fun to introduce kids to something like the trapeze for the first time.
“Some kids don’t even want to touch the trapeze, but by the end of the week they’re standing up on it,” she said. “To see kids literally change before your eyes and develop self-esteem is something.”
Eleanor Iskander, a 12-year-old student at DeKalb School of the Arts has been attending Circus Camp for five years. Like Helen Stephens, Eleanor’s favorite activities are aerial and the silks.
“I like doing the drops on the silks; falling is fun, as long as it’s safe falling,” said Eleanor, who added that she wants to become a CIT when she is eligible next year.”
Camp counselor Brian Regan, a 2008 graduate of Paideia, is participating in his final Circus Camp. The New York University graduate said he plans to move to Los Angeles to pursue a career in scriptwriting.
But he said he has a lot of fun memories he will take with him. Regan started attending as a camper at the age of 8 and worked his way through the ranks. He is teaching juggling this summer.
“I still like to learn new things and have fun here,” Regan said. “I’ll get on the trapeze and learn something new; it’s a good workout too.”
Regan makes sure his campers leave every summer with new skills and accomplishments.
“Everybody works at different speeds and I encourage them to keep working at it until they get it,” Regan said. “It’s rewarding to see when someone finally does get it; I remember feeling that way when I was a camper.”