Balancing high in the air on a rope, Campbell Hewitt beamed a wide smile. Though this was her first time attending the FSU Flying High Circus Camp, she took to it like a natural. “I love the cloud swing, the hoop, the small trampoline, the big trampoline. They’re all fun,” the 7-year-old exclaimed. The cloud swing is her favorite and this aerial apparatus is enough to strike fear in the hearts of most grownups.
It consists of not much more than a length of rope suspended in a “V” shape. The seated acrobat performs tricks from this precarious perch. Campbell explained that once you’re positioned on the rope swing “you fall backwards while it’s swinging;” wearing a safety harness, of course. She admits, “sometimes I feel very scared, but I do it anyway. This camp makes me brave.”
The summer camp program has been cultivating courage for nearly a decade though the circus’ roots go back more than 70 years. One of only two collegiate circuses in the United States, it has gained international acclaim.
The troupe consists of FSU students who perform, rig equipment, sew costumes, serve as lighting and sound technicians, and set up the Big Top tent on campus. These FSU students and circus alumni then become the camp counselors, passing along their knowledge to the next generation.
Harrison Carter, 13, has attended the camp three times and he recognizes his camp experiences have allowed for more freedom in the rest of his life. He said that “when I was younger, I used to stay inside my comfort zone but now that I’ve gone here, I’ve learned to grow out of my shell. I’ve tried new things and I feel like I should try more and more.”
With each passing year, Harrison finds confidence to attempt more complicated tricks. This year he focused on the trapeze, one of the most iconic components of any circus. The trapeze frame hangs a dizzying 32 feet from the ground but Harrison isn’t fazed and he’s tackled a new trick called the straddle whip. After swinging back and forth to build momentum, “I go upside down into a straddle while holding onto the trapeze bar. I let go at the last second and somebody catches me in the air.”
He’s quick to point out that while this trick looks dangerous, there are several safety precautions built in. “There’s somebody with a line that’s attached to your harness and they can stop you in not even a second. If they don’t, there’s a net below and below the net, there’s a mat. You’ve got a lot of layers of protection so if anything goes wrong there’s always a failsafe.”
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