Joining the circus to learn new skills

A Fern Street Circus program has City Heights youths learning how to do everything from juggle to sit on invisible chairs.

A Fern Street Circus program has City Heights youths learning how to do everything from juggle to sit on invisible chairs.

A new program in City Heights has local youths juggling, flipping and sitting on invisible chairs.

Fern Street Circus started in 1990 around the Golden Hill neighborhood of San Diego. The professional circus performed in local parks and taught clowning and acrobatics at the Golden Hill Recreation Center for many years.

The program shut down in 2010, but just this year, the founders re-established the circus in City Heights.

Co-founder John Highkin said San Diego has excellent options for training in the circus arts, but participants pay a premium for it. Fern Street Circus works with the San Diego Park and Recreation Department to serve low-income communities.

“What we really want to do is provide a really unusual, high-quality, interesting experience for students, children, teenagers, and families in City Heights that they wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to have,” Highkin said.

The free program at the Mid-City Gym is open to youths ages 3 through 18. Participants learn new skills while getting plenty of exercise.

“It gets you healthier and you get to have fun with other kids,” 11-year-old Pebbles said.

“Kids are moving around and active, so it’s good about exercise, but it’s also art, so it’s not competitive,” Highkin said. “Circus is really about magic. We do the preparations so they can find the magic, so they can find the intangibles that happen when kids and artists work together and suddenly find things coming out that they didn’t know they could do.”

Florence, 11, has been taking part in the program since the spring.

“I’ve been really good at the tight wire,” Florence said. “It was kind of hard for me, but I got (the) hang of it. Knowing that I was able to do it, it felt very good. I felt very strong. I’m surrounded by people who care about me, so I can feel more confident in what I do.”

It’s that kind of enthusiasm that Highkin hopes to instill in more local youths. Fern Street Circus is planning a 25th-anniversary neighborhood tour this fall and wants to give youth from the after-school program an opportunity to perform with their professional coaches.

The classes are held every Tuesday through the end of August. Further information is available at fernstreetcircus.com/learning.html.