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Thursday, June 26, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Daring kids fly in air with greatest ease

Seattle Times staff reporter

Performance


The Deaf Youth Circus Camp will hold a free half-hour performance at 3:30 p.m. tomorrow at Sand Point Magnuson Park in Seattle, Building 67. The performance is open to the public.

Mesmerized by the tightrope walkers at the circus two years ago, Ashleigh Cook now practices her aerial act, swinging from the hoop that hangs from the high ceiling.

Amanda Rose Smith, a determined 13-year-old with Pippi Longstockinglike red pigtails, throws a Chinese yo-yo into the air and runs after it as it falls to the ground.

The two are among a group of Seattle-area kids, ages 10 to 14, who are spending the week at the Deaf Youth Circus Camp at Sand Point Magnuson Park, where they are learning how to clown around, juggle, perform aerial tricks and make props.

The camp's creator, Lara Paxton, received a grant from the Cultural Development Authority of King County in 2001 and created something based on her two passions — the circus and deaf culture.

"I thought it would be fun to bring deaf kids together from all the schools," Paxton said. "They're usually surrounded by hearing kids, which is great, but it also means they don't necessarily hang out with other deaf kids. I thought it would be good to have this fun week and not have language be an issue."

Paxton, 30, studied American Sign Language at Seattle Central Community College and, after meeting a trapeze artist, fell in love with the circus. Paxton has studied trapeze and other circus arts in various schools around the world over the past several years and now teaches aerial classes at Circus Contraption, also in Magnuson Park.

After two years of sorting through the paperwork, Paxton and fellow circus teacher Jenny Iachobucci started spreading the word about the camp. Paxton went to various schools in costume and they passed out fliers to parents and the neighborhood.

"(The camp) helps me become freer than when I'm in school," Smith, who attends Seattle's Eckstein Middle School, said through an interpreter between rounds of juggling practice.

Tyler DeShaw, 15, says the aerial stunts are the best part of the camp. "You can play around, you can swing in the air," the Roosevelt High School junior said through an interpreter. "It's hard, but I like the practice and the results at the end."

The camp runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in a large garage. The door is kept open, letting in sunlight and fresh air that dissipates the smell of paint and markers used for making props. Aside from lunch provided by parents, the camp is free, thanks to the $6,925 grant. The grant pays for the space rental, salaries, supplies and permits, Iachobucci said.

Paxton would like to see the Deaf Youth Circus Camp continue and also hopes to create ongoing camps for at-risk youth, she says.

Five teachers and 11 interpreters help the students learn the tricks needed for tomorrow's 3:30 p.m. show, which is open to anyone who'd like to attend.

The show's content, however, is really up to the kids, Iachobucci said.

That includes choosing a title. Some ideas were Accidental Circus, Army of the Clowns and Silent Clowns. But DeShaw objected to the latter.

"We're not silent," he said. Instead, they settled on "Circus Dilemma."

Regine Labossiere: 206-464-2216 or rlabossiere@seattletimes.com

Copyright 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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