TOWNSEND — Hannah French is helping kids run away to the circus. Never fear, though; in this case, the circus is right in her own backyard.
French runs the Razzle-Dazzle Circus Camp at her house for three hours a day over two weeks in August and has been doing so for the last two years. Recently, though, she added a new program to the list — the Juggling Club at the Townsend Public Library.
French had the idea for the club in early October and, with her mother’s encouragement, asked Townsend Public Library Director Heidi Fowler for help in spreading the word. Fowler did that and then some, giving French and her students leave to use the library’s lawn in nice weather or to retreat into one of the meeting rooms in Memorial Hall when the elements are unfriendly.
Both the circus and the club are geared toward area youth as French tries to pass on her knowledge and skills. The circus is for children 8-12, but the club welcomes those who might be a little younger but still want to learn.
“The kids are having a lot of fun,” she said, “though it’s hard to teach some of the younger kids. They just don’t have the coordination yet.”
Showmanship runs in the French family. Hannah learned from her uncle, Steve Lechner, who performs a “Science Works” magic show that also includes juggling. She credits her cousins for getting her into the act at the age of 10. She’d already caught a bit of the bug, though, when she saw the Big Apple Circus at an even younger age.
Her favorite circus, though, is the Vermont-based Circus Smirkus, one that she wouldn’t mind joining one day. Her circus résumé, should that chance ever come, is already impressive. She has walked on stilts, ridden a unicycle, and performed death-defying stunts, all before getting her learner’s permit. She has even toured with a circus, during her time in the Silver Lining Circus Camp of Temple, N.H.
She practices juggling on a daily basis and can juggle just about anything, from the mundane, like clubs and balls, to the more exotic, such as tennis racquets.
“I can almost do it with my eyes closed,” French said. “It’s tremendously easy once you know how to do it.”
Her favorite trick, though, is something called Diabolo. Sometimes called a “Chinese yo-yo,” a Diabolo is a pair of thick plastic bowls connected by a small metal rod. A pair of wands connected by a length of sturdy twine is used to juggle the Diabolo.
“It’s really fun and you can do some really cool tricks,” French said.
She demonstrated several of these tricks at last year’s town talent show and has only added to her repertoire in the interim. She can jump rope with the string while juggling the Diabolo, spin completely around and catch it before it hits the ground, and even perform an elaborate version of cat’s cradle. It is one of the tricks she teaches in the Juggling Club.
The club’s last meeting of the season was held on Saturday, Nov. 3, but the response has been positive enough that French hopes to bring it back in the spring for a longer span. At that time, she might even orchestrate a performance at the end for her students to show off their newly-learned skills.
In the meantime, French urges her studemts to “practice, practice, practice — all the time.”
She is fully aware of how difficult a task that may be as the weather becomes more and more inclement and would-be jugglers are forced inside. The presence of a ceiling limits the space one has in which to practice, something she knows only too well from her own experience. Nevertheless, persistence is the key.
“If you don’t keep doing it, you’ll forget,” she warned.
Those who wish to learn how to juggle should find someone else who knows how and watch them, French said. Barring that sort of acquaintance, she recommends searching YouTube for juggling videos or even the Web site of juggler Todd Strong. Though French would love to incorporate her skills into a career down the road, she also has aspirations of becoming a nurse. However, should she pursue the circus life, one thing is perfectly clear — she’s a natural-born ringleader.
Those wishing to contact French about her circus camp, or any future Juggling Club activities, should e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.