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  • From the Backyard to the Big Top: Emma Clarke of Sailor Circus

    Production: Laura Zhang, Shelley Davis
    Camera: Shelley Davis, Hae-Yang Chang, Colin Stucki, Alexis Ligon, Josh Davis

    Peek into a family’s backyard on a weekend and you might find a kid shooting hoops or jumping on a trampoline. Look into Emma Clarke’s and you’ll probably find her performing professional-grade circus routines for a neighborhood crowd. She’s already learned a number of them. In her main act, called acrobatic adagio, Emma transforms herself into a human jump rope. At eleven years old, Emma was the youngest Sailor Circus Academy performer to participate in the Folklife Festival’s Circus Arts program.

    Located in Sarasota, Florida, Sailor Circus is the oldest operating youth circus in America. About to celebrate their seventieth anniversary, Sailor Circus is under the umbrella of Circus Arts Conservatory, a nonprofit organization cofounded by the wife-and-husband duo of legendary aerialist Dolly Jacobs and flying trapeze star Pedro Reis. With more than 10,000 alumni who have passed through its doors, Sailor Circus trains young people like Emma in athleticism, creativity, and the performing arts.

    In between performances in the Big Top and the Circus School, Emma spoke of her desire to make the circus her career and what it’s like to perform on a national stage.

    Laura Zhang is a student at the University of Texas at Austin studying neuroscience and Plan II Honors. Shelley Davis is pursuing a bachelor’s in fine arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, using film and animation as her primary mediums. Both are media production interns at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

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