Circus Arts gets audience in on the act

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— A nine-foot woman was standing on Lincoln Avenue at 10th Street Saturday morning flagging down passing automobiles in a shiny red and black dress.

It was early in the day at the Club, Fire and Dance Circus Arts Festival and people had just begun to gather in the parking lot next to City Hall and in the area between City Hall and Centennial Hall.

To Heidi Meshurel-Jolly, a six-foot dance teacher in three-foot stilts, the 70 or so people who had gathered to partake in the festivities looked "a little short."

Meanwhile, small children walked calmly through her metal legs and posed for pictures.

The Circus Arts Festival, organized by street performer Michael Moss, was scheduled to last all day Saturday until 11:30 p.m. The festival featured painters, jugglers from "We're Not Clowns," circus toys from Infinity Toys out of Minnesota, festival food and a drumming circle with African drums.

"It's a chance to learn the rhythm of a different culture," said Gina Schopp, 24, who was volunteering at the festival and trying out the drums.

The drumming circle soon became a dance space, where a dozen girls and women practiced African dance steps. As the day wore on, the space became more and more alive, children walking around with their faces painted in swirls and jugglers wandering around the parking lot. Saturday evening a concert was planned for the area between City Hall and Centennial Hall.

The point of the festival, said Moss, was to get the audience involved in the action. While some festivals are focused on the audience passively watching performers, the Circus Arts Festival is an attempt to let people learn new arts and ways to use their bodies, Moss said. He hopes it can be an annual event, showcasing the talents of local and visiting artists and bringing the community into the show. Moss himself is a street performer, and he says he was inspired by the local art community to start a festival in Steamboat.

"There's so much talent here," Moss said. "Without the local talent this couldn't have happened."

Moss hopes to make money from the entrance charges to the festival to start a circus arts club in Steamboat.

Another group of artists decorated a 24-foot mural on 10th Street, painting depictions of "Our Lady of Guadalupe", Howelsen Hill and a semi-abstract interpretation of humpty dumpty's fall. The top of the mural was painted by local and visiting artists, but the bottom was reserved for young people to try their hands.

At the end of the day, the mural was scheduled to be cut up and sold off in pieces to raise proceeds for next year's festival, said one of the painters.

Throughout the day, young and old learned new skills and honed old ones.

Ten-year-old Dominic Chillemi, who was spinning the flags around his head, agreed.

"It takes a lot of skill and it's hard to learn," he said, "but I like challenges."

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