You Could Always Join the Circus

UnCommon Ground - You Could Always Join the Circus

When I met with Edith Keme ’17 to talk about her experiences working with a youth circus, I didn’t expect to pick up any new skills myself. Photography intern Jenny Kim ’16 asked if she could snap some pictures to go along with this article, but Keme hesitated. “Will it just be me?”

Kim and I exchanged glances—that had been the plan.

“It’s just—no offense—but I don’t think it will mean very much if it’s just me,” she said. “I love to teach. Would it be all right if we got some photos of me teaching you how to juggle?”

I’m not particularly coordinated (and I was dressed like a lumberjack). Still, I’ve always dreaded the strangely common icebreaker question, “What’s your secret talent?” because, well, I don’t have one. How cool would it be if next time I could answer by grabbing whatever happened to be on hand —balls, books, chainsaws—and started juggling?

We stood side by side and started off with two balls: each of us was tossing one ball into the air and catching the other. This isn’t so bad, I thought. For a brief moment, I saw flying flaming torches in my future, but then we added the third ball, which proved disastrous for my limited hand-eye coordination, and suddenly brightly colored balls began hitting the snow one by one. “It’s okay,” Keme said with a laugh. “It took me about four months to juggle three balls, but my older brother got it in five minutes, so it depends on the person. My maximum is four balls, and I’ve been working on five for the past five years.” Her older brother juggles seven.

Although she has come to prefer clowning and walking tightwire, juggling was what first got Keme interested in the circus. Keme moved to the U.S. from Togo in 2001. Two years later, she and her brothers were outside riding their bikes when they met a man in full clown costume who stopped to perform for them. He turned out to be the founder of a youth circus, CircEsteem, and invited her older brother to join. Before long, it was a family affair.

As she became more involved, Keme discovered that she naturally wanted to help newcomers learn the ropes. From firsthand experience, I can vouch for her teaching abilities— and her dogged patience.

Unfortunately, Keme hasn’t had many circus opportunities in Granville, but she isn’t going to let that stop her. Early this year, while getting to know some of her fellow Curtis East residents, she discovered that another student had attended the same circus camp she had, although their paths had never crossed. Together, they’re trying to start a circus club at Denison.

In the meantime, she believes that tightwire and juggling have helped her maintain balance in other areas of life at Denison. “What I was able to take from circus is a sense of confidence and certainty that comes from practice, training, performances, and teaching. I think that shows in everything I do. I tend to persevere.”

As for me, I’ve got some work to do.

Published March 2014