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Circus Juventas has local girl flying high

Sara Hoffman of Morris shows off some of the contortions that are part of her training with Circus Juventus, a St. Paul-based circus arts performance school.

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

For several years, audiences have been captivated by the performances of Cirque du Soleil and other groups which have brought the grace and athleticism of contemporary circus arts to mainstream stages.

A Morris youth is learning and performing those skills through Circus Juventas, a youth circus school in St. Paul.

Sara Hoffman, 8, has been practicing and performing with Circus Juventus for about half of her young life.

The daughter of Julia and Marshall Hoffman, Sara recently performed in the Circus Juventas' Spring Celebration Performances, "Around the World."

Circus Juventas presents two major public productions each year in May and late summer. The spring shows feature beginning and intermediate level students, and the summer shows consist of advanced students in a Cirque du Soleil-style production.

This year's summer show, "Sawdust," is July 29-Aug. 15. Morris Area Community Education is encouraging people to sign up for a bus trip to "Sawdust" at 1 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 7. For more information, contact Community Education at (320) 589-4394.

About 10 years ago, the Hoffmans were at Highland Fest in St. Paul and saw Circus Juventas performers. Julia Hoffman was captivated.

"I dreamed about bringing our kids to such an organization," Julia said. "It was an awesome feeling that what they were doing was so terrific and I wanted our family to be part of it."

The Hoffman's two older children were involved in Circus Juventas for a time, but it became difficult to keep it up with the family having to move as part of Julia's training as a physician. But even when living in Wausau, Wis., Julia continued to follow Circus Juventas' annual performances.

"I continued to be amazed by the hard work and artistry," she said.

Once the family was back in the Midwest, living in western Wisconsin in 2004, Sara was started in Circus' youth programs. The family moved to Morris in 2007, but except for a brief break, Sara and Julia have made the trip to St. Paul each week for practices. This is in addition to Sara's dance and gymnastics training.

"It helps me to do all of it," Sara said.

Circus Juventas works with youths ages 3 to 21 in a safe and noncompetitive environment. The goal is to bring every student, regardless of skill level, into the stage lights.

"No matter how good, bad or mediocre you are, you perform," Julia said. "They will find things for you to do."

The circus arts combine elements of music, theatre, strategy and dance to produce unique performances. From its humble beginnings in 1994, Circus Juventas now works with hundreds of students at its 21,000 square foot "Big Top" facility in St. Paul.

Very few Circus Juventas performers make a professional life of the circus arts, Julia said.

Even as much as Sara enjoys practicing, performing and advancing in skill levels, she's not yet dreaming of a career.

"I want to do it until I'm at least 17 or 18," Sara said.

What she gains over the next 10 years will make Circus Juventas an integral part of her life and development, Julia said.

"Circus Juventas takes all the competition out of it for them," Julia said. "That's what it's all about: Building confidence and building teamwork."