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Temple woman spreads the word about the positive power of circus

By MEGHAN PIERCE
Sunday News Correspondent

December 01. 2017 7:03PM
Jackie Leigh Davis says circus performance opens doors for children through the development of physical and social skills. (SCOTT LANGDON/LONGHILLPHOTO.COM)



TEMPLE -- Jackie Leigh Davis, founder of the Silver Lining Circus Camp and the Flying Gravity Circus youth troupe, has launched a campaign to fund a series of online videos to complement her new book - "DIY Circus Lab" - coming out early next year. 

The online library of 29 videos will be a companion resource to the do-it-yourself book that teaches how to make circus props, learn circus skills and make circus shows.

The book is really a culmination of her lifelong work with children in the circus arts, which she says opens the door to self-discovery and self-confidence for many children.

"My job is to break down barriers for participation," Davis said.

Davis began her career as a professional mime at Walt Disney World's Epcot Center. In 1995, she began developing a circus arts curriculum at the Pine Hill Waldorf School in Wilton where she created the first Hilltop Circus in 1996. This led to her founding Silver Lining Circus Camp and the Flying Gravity Circus youth troupe.

Her husband, Rick Davis, who was a teacher at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, became the resident director at youth circus arts education for Circus Smirkus in Vermont.

Together they became founding members of the American Youth Circus Organization, which hosts biennial national festivals in the U.S.

Teaching circus led Davis to take a yearlong sabbatical, which she spent at Harvard in 2008 earning a master's degree in human development and psychology.

Jackie Leigh Davis of Temple, founder of Silver Lining Circus Camp and the Flying Gravity Circus youth troupe, has launched an online campaign to fund a series of videos to complement her new book - "DIY Circus Lab" - coming out early next year. (SCOTT LANGDON/LONGHILLPHOTO.COM)

"When I was teaching circus I realized really cool things were happening with the kids who were learning circus," she said. "It wasn't just 'learn to juggle and put on a show.' They were learning persistence, try and try again. It takes a while."

Many children become physically fit through circus, but the positive social impact is what fascinated her.

"The physical thing is the start, but it becomes a social thing where kids learn to work together toward a common goal. They have to plan things and remember sequences and think of ways to agree and disagree about process," she said. 

Then in 2012 she went to the University of British Colombia, where, working under a developmental neuroscientist, Davis was writing a thesis to obtain her doctorate in human development and psychology based on her experience as a circus teacher. 

But she had to return home before completing her thesis. Her husband had been diagnosed with brain cancer. He passed away in 2015.

When Quarry Book Publishing approached Circus Smirkus about a do-it-yourself circus book for children, the circus recommended Davis, who had already done all the work as part of her graduate studies.

Davis said she is sure this book, geared toward young people, is much more interesting than her dissertation would have been had she completed it. 

While writing the book, she realized that it needed videos to best explain the circus arts and how to make props. 

"I was thinking, 'Dang, this is really hard to do for a former mime,'" Davis said. "Movement is my thing; to try to put that in words is challenging."

While the publishing company thought the video series was a good idea, they told Davis she would have to fund the project, which she is doing through the crowd-funding website Indiegogo. 

Davis said the campaign will help pay the videographer, Joseph Laszlo, who was a circus student of hers at Hilltop and is now a film student at Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts.

You can find the campaign page online at https://igg.me/at/DIYCircusLab.


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