Juggling can be a gateway skill. Just ask Flyin’ Bob. It’s how he ended up living a life of circus.
“I taught myself. It was a million years ago,” he says over the phone from Mayo, where he’s setting up a circus class. “I found a book at the library. I’d seen somebody juggling on TV and thought, ‘hey that looks fun to try.’ I had no idea that it would turn into what it did.”
Bob was only 20. Soon, he was juggling all the time. He’d do it at home. He’d do it during his lunch break at work. Eventually, he discovered jugglers ride unicycles. They walk tightropes.
“So I started trying all those things,” he says. “From the very first time I started to juggle, it took seven years and I quit my job and I was doing it full-time. And never looked back.”
It worked out for Flyin’ Bob. He went on the road as a circus performer and instructor. Now that he’s 67 (and a bit creakier than he was at 27, he says), he tends to focus on the instructing. That’s why he was in Mayo on Oct. 17, preparing to teach a room full of kids how to do the thing that got him hooked—juggling.
It’s one of the easier tricks to take on the road. Sometimes Flyin’ Bob, who lives in Alberta, will bring a two-week long circus school into a community. He comes with a little caravan, filled with apparatuses, and teaches kids enough skills that they can put on a performance at the end of the two weeks.
In the Yukon, he’s touring as part of Every Student Every Day, a program of the Victoria Gold Yukon Student Encouragement Society, in partnership with the Yukon Arts Centre and Northwestel Hanging Sky Tour. He’s visiting nine communities across the Yukon, including Dawson City, Pelly Crossing, Mayo and Carcross.
Michele Emslie is the director of programming at the Yukon Arts Centre (YAC). She says YAC is proud to be co-presenting Flyin’ Bob.
“Circus is a wonderful non-verbal performance experience for youth of all ages,” says Emslie. “Where skills can be learned quite quickly, exciting the imagination and proving that with practice you can achieve anything.”
Emslie says Flyin’ Bob brings that message to everything he does.
To do that, he says he starts with the basics. On this tour, he’s limited to an hour with each class, so he focuses on juggling, feather-balancing, plate-spinning, stilt-walking, and slackline and tightwire-walking. Flyin’ Bob says he has different approaches depending on the age group he’s teaching. Those from Grade 2 to 7 seem most consistently into the lessons. Still, he says circus skills are a pretty great equalizer. Even when he’s teaching the older kids, the high-schoolers who want to look cool in front of their friends, it doesn’t take long for them to get into the lesson.
“Usually within about 10 minutes, I’ve got these Grade 12 kids who are taller than I am jumping around and bouncing feathers and saying, ‘Bob, look at this, look at this!’” he says. “I like seeing the change in the attitude. The defenses just come down.”
In fact, two Dawson City teens in Grade 11 were so into Flyin’ Bob’s three-ball juggling lesson this month, he says they came to find him again at lunch for more tips. He showed them as many tricks as he could. They ate it up. They spent the whole lunch hour practicing.
“So of course, I encourage that because, of course, I see myself in that,” says Flyin’ Bob. “I was one of those obsessive people who, as soon as I found a new skill to learn, well, then nothing else matters. The whole rest of the world dropped away. And all I wanted to do was get good at juggling.”
He calls himself an enabler and laughs. It feels like a breakthrough when that kind of thing happens. When he sees kids get turned on to something they never thought they could do, or get good at.
He says the key is teaching them they’ll make mistakes. That’s the first lesson. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re doing something wrong. You can’t learn to juggle without dropping a ball, or walk a tightrope without falling. Once they understand that, it’s easier for them to have fun, he says.
His tour ends this week, but Flyin’ Bob says the goal is to get kids so excited about circus skills, they ask him to come back. A number of schools have already expressed an interest in booking him for future dates. Ultimately, he’d like to come back for two-or-three day stretches. Long enough for the kids like him to really indulge their obsession.
By Amy Kenny, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Oct 18, 2023 at 14:31