While some kids might daydream about running away to join the circus, 11 young Key Westers spent their recent Spring Break learning the skills to succeed in a circus environment.
At the five-day Spring Break Circus Camp, presented by The Studios of Key West, kids age 6 through 12 learned to juggle balls and pins, spin plastic plates on long poles, twirl colorful hula-hoops seemingly forever, perform balancing acts and more.
The unique curriculum was taught by Key West residents Bounce Margil and Karen Grant Margil — also known as Ooo La La — who have spent more than three decades as professional jugglers, entertainers and teachers.
Both are lively and full of fun, happy to demonstrate intricate feats like juggling while balancing effortlessly on a rolling board, and clearly focused on mentoring the kids in their camp sessions.
“We always tell the children that, if you can learn how to juggle, it will improve your abilities as a baseball player, softball player, soccer player, tennis player, golfer, basketball player — because it’s all hand-eye coordination, focus and concentration,” Ooo La La explained.
And she should know. As well as performing around the U.S., Europe and Japan, Bounce and Ooo La La have taught juggling, unicycling, acrobatics, mime and movement at hundreds of schools, camps and colleges throughout the country. Bounce even spent a stint teaching at the prestigious Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey’s Clown College.
And for nearly 20 years, they have instructed lucky Florida Keys students in circus arts at public and private schools. For nearly a decade, their work in the schools has been supported by a Special Project Grant funded by private donations through the Florida Keys Council of the Arts.
It’s particularly fitting that the talented duo held their circus camp in Key West. That’s because the island is known worldwide for its Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square, a nightly waterfront “circus” featuring jugglers, acrobats and other performers — including, in past years, Bounce and Ooo La La.
Their energetic circus arts curriculum is enormous fun. Bounce stressed the importance of practice and repetition for successful learning, and the kids threw themselves into it — and were endearingly surprised and proud when they learned a new skill.
Yet there’s far more to the camp than fun. Practicing juggling and other circus arts can increase not only kids’ hand-eye coordination but also their balance, teamwork skills, creative problem-solving, self-esteem and enjoyment of physical activity.
For example, kids in the Spring Break Circus camp begin by juggling one ball, getting comfortable with the throw-and-catch routine and then adding a second ball and a third.
“When a child can figure it out, and can actually throw three balls and keep it going, for them it’s the most uplifting, fabulously exciting moment in their lives when they go ‘I can do it — I can do it!’ And for us, as their teachers, it’s even more exciting,” Ooo La La enthused.
In fact, the camp session was alive with excitement. The Key West kids performed amazingly, juggling multiple balls and pins, twirling two hula-hoops simultaneously around slender hips and balancing on a barrel-and-board contraption called a rola-bola.
And with each skill they mastered, their smiles got bigger, their laughter more exuberant and their possibilities of success (in case that daydream of joining the circus ever becomes a reality) got brighter.