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Center Stage

Sunday Funday upside-down

5/28/2014

Iowa Circus Academy instructor Laura Ernst explains to a student the red ribbon-hammock technique.

Iowa Circus Academy instructor Laura Ernst explains to a student the red ribbon-hammock technique.

That’s quite a box of toys. Rings and dishes in neon plastic, batons of varying length and heft, balls of all sizes, weights and colors — the stuff is a riot of color, in fact. These goodies and more fill the bin carried by Laura Ernst, which she brings to her “Everything Circus” class every Wednesday night at the Des Moines Social Club (DMSC). And some of her playthings don’t fit in the box, such as a unicycle.

Down the hall, Leah Barber teaches a hooping class (you know, with hula-hoops). After class dismissed, Barber and her students joined Ernst’s Everything Circus. The space had plenty of room for both groups, and everybody seemed to want to take a crack at those interesting and alluring toys in Ernst’s box.

Some nights, Ernst breaks out the aerial equipment — trapezes and hammocks. For that, everyone crosses the Club courtyard to the larger Kum ‘N’ Go Theater. The Sunday Jam, as it develops in the coming months, will probably spill over in the same way.

“Oh, Sunday afternoon, that’s your chance to try everything,” gushed a Circus student named Lynne Sundberg.

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Both the instructors, Ernst and Barber, feel it’s high time Des Moines got its own community circus. They mention similar free-form performance arrangements elsewhere around the Midwest. Locally, Ernst has now founded the Iowa Circus Academy, which includes children as well as adults, and in this, she’s achieved a longtime dream.

“You could say I ran off and joined the circus,” she admitted.

Naturally this wasn’t as dramatic as it sounds. Ernst had made it to college (University of Northern Iowa) but dropped out. The “circus” took her east to the District of Columbia and the Big Apple, but like many others from Iowa, she came home to settle. Now she’s seven months pregnant, which is why her husband was pitching in last Wednesday evening.

Lessons started with stretching — Ernst remains remarkably limber despite her “delicate” condition — then moved to the “poi” (rubber balls inside elastic socks). A skilled juggler can make two balls fly in six directions at once. As for my own attempt, I just kept hitting my own head. I could only look on with envy as, 10 minutes into practice, the tattooed woman found the rhythm. She set her poi whirling.

And that was only the beginning. Next came the unicycle and the hamster wheel, challenges to gravity’s principles. Yet, for Ernst and her flock, the whole point was upending the status quo.

“That’s just what is so great about the circus,” Ernst smiled. “There are always new tricks.” CV             

John Domini is Cityview’s “Play Mate” theater critic who pens our weekly Center Stage column. He is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.

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