Cirque du Scituate

Inly School’s summer camp programs were recently featured in an article in South Shore Living magazine by Jennifer H. McInerney. The article is transcribed below:

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It’s not every day that teachers encourage their students to swing from the rafters. And while it’s common practice for schoolchildren to juggle multiple subjects, the kids at one South Shore school actually learn how to juggle. Perhaps best of all: everyone gets to be the class clown.

For the fifth consecutive summer, Inly School in Scituate brings the circus back to town for a select group of adventurous students, ages 6 to 12. The Circus Arts Program, a perennial favorite, offers the only big-top curriculum in the area. Every summer, it’s a sell-out.

Other popular activities offered by Inly’s Summer Program this year include: Nature’s Art Box, for artistic nature-lovers; Beaks, Feet, and Feathers, featuring daily visitors from New England Wildlife Center; Robotics Mind Storms, for young robot-builders; Trail Blazers, offering nature treks and the exploration of local animal habitats; Soccer Training for summertime soccer enthusiasts; and Musical Theater, culminating in a production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

To provide a true-to-life experience, the Circus Arts Program enlists the expertise of experienced instructors from schools that specialize in acrobatics, trapeze, trampoline, and related skills. This summer, Fearless Flyers Academy, which is based in New Hampshire, is scheduled to lead the week-long program.

Last summer, as the Inly students learned to walk on stilts and balance on the trapeze, they were in the capable hands of instructors Ally and Don Dinh.

“We strive to make sure everyone has fun,” Ally Dinh pointed out. “We divide the various activities into 20-minute periods of instruction so that they’re exposed to all sorts of fun stuff and can learn a lot, without being overwhelmed. The activities are adjusted to accommodate the kids’ abilities and ages.”

In the cathedral-ceilinged Artsbarn at Inly, 24 kids of assorted sizes took turns climbing up instructor Ally Dinh’s legs and onto her shoulders, with the assistance of Don Dinh. It’s a feat that requires coordination, balance, strength, and — above all– trust.

“The Circus Arts program is not competitive,” noted Donna Milani Luther, Inly’s Head of School for more than 16 years. “It’s more focused on goals and doing something better than you did it the days before. It’s also about trusting others and being trustworthy.”

The course involves developmentally appropriate, creative, yet safe risk-taking, and focuses on goal-building and individual growth, while building self-confidence. All of these elements, Luther added, are the hallmarks of Inly School.

“The Circus Arts program supports Inly’s mission very well because it focuses on building a healthy body while allowing the children to exercise their imaginations,” she explained.

Once atop Dinh’s shoulders, each child stood more than five feet off the ground with their arms spread wide, airplane-style. Other kids waited patiently on the mats, some practicing cartwheels and handsprings, while others lined up to attempt their next challenge forming the foundation of a human pyramid.

Next up, the whole class played Snake– a game of chase in which players link themselves together until everyone becomes part of the “snake.”

“This type of activity is great for building teamwork,” Dinh remarked. “It’s also a fun and a good way to segue from one activity to the next.”

With such a plentiful and appealing array of skills to learn, the children clearly delighted in each new lesson.

As the week progressed, the circus performers-in-training achieved ever greater heights– both literally and figuratively.

“The kids really love the aerial acts– the silks– a pair of vibrant blue silk ropes–cascaded like drapes all the way to the mats on the floor. The silks play an essential supporting role to the fearless acrobats in performances by internationally acclaimed circus arts troupe Cirque du Soleil. This aerial apparatus enables performers to climb, swing, twist, and contort their bodies in mid-air, creating an effect that hovers between acrobatics and ballet.

At Inly, the students sat riveted as Ally Dinh demonstrated how they should grab the silks high above their heads to lift themselves into the air. To stabilize herself, she slipped a practiced foot on top of an oversized knot binding the two ropes beneath her. Then she proceeded to show them a series of acrobatic poses while always maintaining her grasp on the ropes– whether by hand or by wrapping the fabric around her arms or legs.

Though they’re beginners, many of the kids embraced the silks with the deftness and grace of professionals. Coached and guided by Dinh, one young girl stepped right up and confidently balanced in a flamingo-like pose, her arms outstretched. Next, she leaned her body forward, dipping at the knees and folding her legs like a ballerina leaping. Then, she worked her way carefully into a backward bend until she was upside down, her dark hair tumbling toward the floor.

Later on, the kids tried their hands– and feet– at the static triple trapeze, one that doesn’t swing but is suspended size feet above the mat. With the greatest of ease (and care), a trio of boys stood three abreast on the bar, holding onto the ropes as their classmates watched from below. Another group of three hung upside-down, gripping the trapeze with both hands but with only one knee hooked onto the bar and the other leg extended toward the rafters.

By the end of the week, the Circus Arts participants have also added several more remarkable skills to their resume, including: the tricky business of walking on stilts and balancing on giant balls, the complicated science of juggling; and the serious art of clowning around.

And while they’ve clearly enjoyed learning the tricks of the trade, it’s not all just for fun. It’s also for show. On the final day of the session, the students performed their gravity-defying feats and awe-inspiring acts for their families and faculty members during their own circus production under the Inly big-top.

“Their performance at the end of the week is such a thrill to watch,” Luther raved. “Because of the age range, there are different goals for every student to help them feel accomplished. But because of the subject matter, it’s appealing to all of them across the board.”

To see the original article, click here.

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