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US circus squad aims to keep inner city teens off the streets

China Daily | Updated: 2017-05-05 06:42

US circus squad aims to keep inner city teens off the streets

Teenagers work on acrobatic acts like balancing and juggling during a workshop at the Trenton Circus Squad. Photos By Associated Press

TRENTON, New Jersey - A group of would-be circus performers in New Jersey's capital city are using unicycles, acrobatics and spinning plates to bridge the divide between poverty and privilege.

The Trenton Circus Squad brings children from ages 12 to 17 from both the struggling city and its wealthier suburbs together, using circus skills to give them a sense of belonging and a belief in their own abilities.

While teaching young people to be the ring masters of their own lives, the children also work on balancing on large balls and wooden planks, stilt-walking, trapeze skills, juggling and slapstick clown routines.

"Because of the high crime, the high unemployment going on here, hope's hard to find in this city," says program director Tom von Oehsen, who trained as a clown with Ringling Bros in the 1980s. "And these kids bring a lot of hope, and a lot of positive energy to all the different communities in this city."

Von Oehsen and Zoe Brookes, the group's executive director, created the circus squad two years ago to try to change perceptions and stereotypes that lead to negative assumptions about teens in inner cities.

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