Dogwood festival kicks off with Starfish Circus performances

DOWAGIAC — Friday evening, just before 7 p.m., the hallways of Dowagiac Middle School were filled with lines of people waiting for the doors to the performing arts center to open. Just inside those doors, dozens of Dowagiac students, of all ages, swung around the stage on colored ribbons, hanging bars and suspended hoops, as they prepared for their upcoming performance.

“I’m not really nervous,” said ninth-grader Lynia Edge, one of the performers, as she dangled from a yellow ribbon. “I think it will go well. It did last night.”

Once 7:30 p.m. hit and all the audience members took their seats, they were treated by the student performing elaborate circus routines, ones many wouldn’t realize the students had learned in only two weeks.

The Dowagiac Middle School hosted the Starfish Circus Thursday and Friday as the kickoff to the Dogwood Fine Arts Festival. For the event, Dowagiac Union Schools students trained for two weeks with professionals to learn circus performances. This year is the second time that the Dogwood Festival has brought the Starfish Circus to Dowagiac, as it was crowd-pleaser the last time it was hosted in 2016, according to Dogwood board members.

“This is something that is both really fun and really good for the kids,” said Allison Williams, the head coach of the Starfish Circus.

Williams, who has traveled all over the world as a circus performer and all over the country teaching the Starfish Circus, said that she has enjoyed working with the Dowagiac students, calling them “a great group of kids.” She added that everywhere she goes, she finds that the Starfish Circus makes a difference in the lives of the students.

“Some people say that its is just teaching a kid to do a cartwheel, but it matters to the kids,” Williams said. “It matters to the girl who doesn’t think she has any upper body strength. It matters to the guys who are not necessarily sporty, but like to be up and running and playing and jumping. It also matters to the kids who don’t usually get the chance to perform, because we not singing. We are not dancing, and you don’t have to be skilled to start. Ninety percent of the students we work with have never done anything like this. … We teach them everything.”

The students that participated in this year’s Starfish Circus agreed the experience had a positive impact on their lives. Edge, herself said that she be so impacted by the experience that she will be getting her own personal aerial work set and a trapeze net to continue learning.

“While we did this, it makes people forget all their problems,” she said. “If they offer the Starfish Circus again, I will definitely do it again.”

Other students said that while they may not continue to pursue circus performing, they did enjoy the experience of being in the Starfish Circus.

“It is really all about the friendships and people I got to meet that was really cool,” said seventh grader John Phillips.

“That is definitely the best part and getting to see everyone do their thing is honestly just really fun,” agreed senior Brandon Martin. “That and the experience. I mean, how often do you get to hang off of the ceiling?”

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