Kids run away to circus camp

Children have been drawn to the circus for generations to see acrobats and clowns perform. In a small, picturesque town in northern Vermont, Circus Smirkus camp teaches children how to be acrobats and clowns.

In a field near cows and barns stand huge colorful tents surrounded by a bustle of activity. Outside, children in pairs juggle clubs high into the air. Inside the huge, blue and white "Mama Mia" tent, aerialists swing high in the air. The bright red and yellow "Natalie" tent houses acrobats: stilt walkers, tumblers, and human-pyramid builders. The white "Wedding" tent is for performance artists, clowns, and dancers. Campers ages 10 to 16 in the intermediate-level circus-arts summer camp rotate among the various disciplines during the day.

Eleven-year-old Kate Kane's face reflects excitement and apprehension as she tries to balance on a trapeze for the first time. Although the swing is not high off the ground and a coach stands at her side, Katie finds the apparatus challenging. She laughs nervously as fellow campers chirp words of encouragement. Finally, she gains her balance and strikes a pose of complete confidence - a huge smile fills her face.

Circus is a noncompetitive art form that marries the creative with the athletic, says camp director Mary Blouin. One competes with oneself here, so the camp stresses personal goal-setting. Since almost anything can be incorporated into the circus, campers can always find something they're good at.

"Everybody has the ability to accomplish goals they set for themselves," Ms. Blouin says. "Your heart wouldn't let you want something you couldn't achieve."

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