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Youths tumble toward success

Staying out of trouble can be a difficult feat for a child. Temptation seems to
always lie in wait for a kid with time on his hands.

To Richard Small this sounds familiar. But Small has found a way to tumble away
from trouble as a member of the St. Louis Arches.

This group of advanced youth circus performers appear to have no trouble
juggling objects in the circus ring at the City Museum, 701 N. 15th St. The
12-member troupe is part of the Circus Day Foundation, a nonprofit corporation
that teaches the art of life through circus education.

"I like it and it keeps me out of trouble," said Small, 11, of the St. Louis
Hills neighborhood. "I like performing in front of people and at school it
makes me special."

"This is a way to get "high" that's healthy. This gang is all the good things
about a gang — good people that take care of you. This is part of something
really wonderful," said Jessica Hentoff, the founder and artistic executive
director of the Circus Day Foundation. "These are the best circus performers in
St. Louis."

Hentoff, a former circus performer and circus educator with 29 year of
experience, started the St. Louis Arches in 1989 as part of everydaycircus,
inc., which was formed to entertain audiences with circus performances. Today,
her duties include teaching classes, preparing acts for shows and fundraising.
Besides performing at the City Museum on Saturdays, the Arches have performed
at the St. Louis Art Museum, Fair St. Louis, Circus Flora and at other events
in the area and across the country.

To be a member of the St. Louis Arches, children must have a high skill level
and commit three days a week to practice and performances. Small, who has been
a member for four years, attends mandatory practices on Mondays and Wednesdays,
as well as the optional Friday practice. Saturday includes two performances and
practice in between.

Small learned about the troupe through his aunt, Tiffany Harris, he said.

"She saw me do some back flips and she was like do you want to be in a group
called the St. Louis Arches. I was like "yeah,"' said Small, a fifth-grader at
Mason Elementary School, 6031 Southwest Ave.

The talented youngster learned to do the back flips at the age of 5 from his
brother, Larry Small, 17.

"He flipped beautifully and he came hugely recommended by his aunt, who knew
what we were looking for," Hentoff said. "She was one of my earlier students."

Though Small only trained for two weeks before starring in his first show at
the age of 8, most students train for a longer time before performing with the
St. Louis Arches.

In the various classes offered by the Circus Day Foundation and through
practice, the St. Louis Arches performers learn tumbling, juggling, acrobatics
and aerial skills, before selecting their specialty acts to perform live.

For the Saturday performances at 1 and 3 p.m., Small tumbles, juggles, and
performs acrobatics with a partner and on the mini-trampoline. His favorite
routines involve the mini-trampoline because he can tumble and do flips, he

Elliana Hentoff-Killian likes to dazzle audiences and see their reactions to
the sudden moves she does while performing an acrobatic routine in the air.

"I like all the attention," said Hentoff-Killian, 13, of Dogtown. "It's as much
fun to us as the audience. If people watch it they want to be part of it."

Hentoff-Killian, who has been a member of the St. Louis Arches for 11 years,
specializes in aerial work. One of her favorite routines involves using a metal
hoop suspended from the ceiling that spins while Hentoff-Killian performs
acrobatics on it.

"My mom is the troupe leader," said Hentoff-Killian, a home-schooled eighth
grader. "I've been doing it since I was a baby."

Each member of the St. Louis Arches is paid for each show, which ranges from $5
to $15. The amount is based on a performer's time with the troupe, their
ability, their attitude and their job reviews.

"It's modeled after real life in America," Hentoff said. "You're shown you're
valuable by getting paid."