Jessica Hentoff, founding member of both Big Apple Circus and Circus Flora, is still working in the biz. She is “The Circus Lady” of Circus Harmony and the artistic director of Circus Harmony, a social circus/education program that (as their mission statement says) teaches the art of life through circus education.
In addition to classes and performances in the St. Louis area, other projects have included Circus Salaam Shalom, a project that brought together Jewish and Muslim children. This developed into the Patchwork Circus troupe, which consists of Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Caucasian, Hispanic, African-American and Chinese children from urban and suburban areas. Another project was titled Far East Meets Midwest I and II. These shows combined Asian and Midwestern arts and artists. Asian artists wanted to include Middle Eastern musicians. Circus Harmony became the logical confluence of all these projects, combining diverse children and multicultural music into one expansive project.
An interview with her appeared in the St. Louis Jewish Light recently.
Q & A | JESSICA HENTOFF
A life in circus
Jessica Hentoff, artistic/executive director of Circus Harmony, talks with (left to right) Glenn Callanan, Keaton Hentoff-Killian and Max Pepose before a performance at the City Museum on Saturday afternoon. Photos: Dennis Caldwell
BY ELLEN FUTTERMAN, EDITOR
Jessica Hentoff, 53, is the artistic/executive director of Circus Harmony, St. Louis’ only year-round circus school and social circus program based in the City Museum. She also co-founded the Big Apple Circus in New York in 1977 and Circus Flora in St. Louis in 1986. Recently, Hentoff sat down with the Jewish Light and discussed her obsession with the circus, its place in Jewish history and how it’s never too late to join (and you don’t even have to run away).
This is one of those questions I just have to ask: What’s a nice Jewish girl like you doing in the circus?
I took circus classes in college (at the State University of New York at Purchase) because I thought they would be fun. That was over 30 years ago and it is still fun.
What intrigued you?
A big part was that it never occurred to me that I could do any of the things circus performers do. I grew up on the Upper West Side of New York City attending private school. I couldn’t even climb a tree until I was 10-years-old.
Don’t you have to grow up in the circus and be from a circus family to be any good at it?
That’s a myth. I work with all ages, from 5 to an 82-year-old aerialist. I’ve taught children of all labels — autistic, ADD, LDD, BDD, deaf, Down syndrome, physically handicapped. Circus arts doesn’t require one skill set. Maybe you can’t juggle but you can flip, or you can’t flip but you have great balance and can walk the wire. We have kids with severe and obvious disabilities and they find something they can do in the circus. We had one girl who did not have any legs. She was great on the trapeze because she had phenomenal upper body strength. Another performer is missing most of her fingers on one hand. She does aerial work and contortion. The audience sees her ability rather than her disability.
What brought you to St. Louis?
My trapeze partner was from here. She convinced me it would be easier to tour logistically if we lived in the middle of the country.
To find out more about her work, please visit her websites listed below: