Sam Kann revives the lost art of circus

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Katie Settos, Creative Director

A male aerialist sporting a pink fluffy dress and sparkly makeup works the silks, while a girl carrying rubber chickens clowns around as a group of Dayglo-haired acrobats assemble for a human pyramid.

“I love it all,” Sam Kann ’16 said. “They’re the quirkiest, friendliest, most awesome people you’ll ever meet.”

While most teenagers juggle homework, SAT prep and extracurriculars, Kann does all that, and an actual juggling act as a circus performer.

Kann’s interest in the circus was inspired by her older brother Sebastian, a professional circus artist who performs for the prestigious Ecole Nationale de Cirque based in Montreal, Canada. Fearing that, at 15, she was too old to start training, especially since many people begin as young as eight. Yet on a plane ride home from Puerto Rico last year, she was spontaneously struck with a revelation.

“I said to my mom, I gotta try circus. I’ll forever regret it if I don’t,” Kann said.

Finding her footholds at Westchester Circus Arts and, later, at Circus Smirkus in Vermont, Kann pushed herself to make up for lost time. She found she excelled at juggling cigar boxes, or, as she refers to it, “one of the lost arts of the circus.”

Though there are four sections of circus (juggling, acrobatics, aerials and clowning), Kann was drawn to female jugglers breaking circus norms. Typically, in circus culture, Kann explained, girls stick to flexibility intensive skillsets, such as aerials and silks, whereas boys either do juggling or acrobatics.

However, Kann stands out from the conventional circus juggler not only because she is a girl, but also because of her use of movement in routines.

“I have a bit of an edge,” Kann, a ballet and contemporary dancer, said. “A lot of performers just do their tricks and smile and say goodbye, but I try to make it into a dance… I can bring a quality to juggling that audiences aren’t really used to.”

With a knack for experimentation, Kann is excited by the play-environment of circus, and is constantly attempting new tricks to produce the best act possible.

“You’re with your aerial apparatus or your juggling equipment or with your clown partner just thinking, ‘Wow, what would happen if I put the boxes under my chin or wrapped my legs this way or fell down and just didn’t get up,’” Kann said. “Circus uses so much creativity and innovation. The more original an act is, the better the circus is.”

Recently landing her back handspring, Kann has also played with basic ball and club tricks, partner acrobatics and some aerials. As part of the Bindlestiff Family Circus Cavalcade of Youth, Kann took her talents to Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York, on Nov. 9, 2014 where she juggled cigar boxes for an audience of over 50 people. Although this was her first official performance ever, it appears that Kann already has a handle on catering to her audience.

“I was pretty nervous. When you juggle, you drop a lot. It’s quite a skill to be able to deal with drops on stage and not freak out,” Kann said. “But if you look like you’re not happy, no one’s gonna watch you.”

Circus, she explains, is a misunderstood and unexplored art form. Kann’s boyfriend, Nicolas Amato ’16, can attest to this conception, as he initially did not take her training seriously.

“No one can deny it was a funny scene: Sam prancing around her living room, arms, legs, and hair flying everywhere,” Amato said. “But now that I have witnessed the amount of blood, sweat and tears required to perform even the easiest tricks, I certainly don’t laugh anymore. It takes a great deal of self-belief and commitment to train by yourself.”

Extremely dedicated to her discipline, practicing every other day, Kann has big dreams ahead of her. Next up is scoring a spot on the Circus Smirkus Big Top Tour, a highly selective youth circus of 30 kids, ages 10-18, of which her brother was a part for three years.

However, this is no easy feat. For the 200 performers who apply every year, the process usually entails a live audition, a live performance, an interview and a strength and flexibility assessment. In fact, the Big Top Tour is so prestigious in the circus community that many of the performers get recruited for Barnum & Bailey.

Kann’s intense passion for the circus has proven to be inspirational to those around her. Emma Broadbent ’16, a former Staples student, now plans to take classes with Kann’s brother when he returns home for Christmas break.

“Having a close friend be so passionate about something makes it hard not to be a least a little bit involved,” Broadbent said. “Sam loves circus so much, and has met so many interesting people through it, so I want to give it a try.”

Kann hopes that more people will join in on all it offers. The beauty of the circus, she said, is that it is an extremely inclusive culture with so much variety.

“Almost anyone at Staples could do something in the circus. But not everyone at Staples could be a football player,” Kann said. “There are so many different things to try that there’s room for everyone.”