Elementary students bring a circus to Bristol

BRISTOL — Balancing acts, tumbles across the floor, jumping, hopping and juggling tricks galore — a performance of Cirque du Soleil?
No, the first performance of “Cirque du Bristol,” the Bristol Elementary School’s school-wide holiday performance, which was performed by 300 Bristol students Monday at Mount Abraham Union High School.
Each year, the school puts on a performance, said physical education teacher Carol Spaid. Last year saw a hip-hop performance. This year, Spaid’s son, circus artist and Bristol native Eric Denice, was artist in residence at Bristol Elementary. And he led the children in acts worthy of Ringling Brothers.
Denice is a circus arts performer who has worked at summer camps and led circus performances through the New York City-based Circus Minimus, Burlington City Arts, and the Bristol Recreation Department, among others.
“I’ve always been interested in a lot of sports and trying new things,” Denice said after running the Bristol students through a final rehearsal before Monday’s opening night.
His fascination with circus arts came from “living in the woods and (searching for new) activities to do.”
Denice and his wife, Laura, live on the Appalachian Gap at the end of a dead end road. His interest in circus performance offered plenty of diversion.
“I love trying new things, and I was into gymnastics and trampolines and jumping. I started crossing over to unicycles and juggling, as well as headstands,” he said.
Denice’s collaborator, Trish Denton, was also on hand at Bristol Elementary to assist with the performance. Denice and Denton met while working at a circus camp, and developed a curriculum to use while working with children, which they first did at the Shelburne Farms Museum Circus Palooza.
Circus arts are a great activity for kids of any age, but that is especially true for elementary school students, Denice said.
“It’s a great fit because it breaks up their day with something totally different and exciting,” he said.
Circus tricks are not just fun and games, either — partner acrobatics, for example, help students learn collaboration.
“They start to see what their part is, and what they need to do to make the trick work as a whole,” Denice said. “That’s a fun moment for me.”
The Cirque du Bristol was a one-time-only event, but Denice hopes the circus will continue at Bristol Elementary. Spaid has done circus work in the past as part of the physical education curriculum.
This holiday season, though, Spaid was glad that the school’s annual performance had been a family effort.
“It’s been very special to work with my son,” she said.

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