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Learning the ropes

Peterborough: Emma Rogers has a high-flying career ahead of her as a circus performer

  • Emma Rogers, Circus Smirkus, Children and the Arts,

    Emma Rogers, Circus Smirkus, Children and the Arts,

  • Emma Rogers, Circus Smirkus, Children and the Arts,

Four years ago, Emma Rogers of Peterborough began a unique and rewarding journey, seeking to follow her interest in the performing art of circus. After a great amount of sacrifice and hard work, Rogers, now 18, will attend the National Circus School in Montreal this fall.

“Being accepted was the ultimate goal. That’s what every young person in circus sets out to do,” said Rogers in a recent interview.

Rogers will be attending the National Circus School for three years. “It is a collegiate program, an art school in Canada,” she said.

It will also be quite a culture change.

“My first order of business will be taking French immersion classes,” said Rogers.

Upon graduation, Rogers will receive a diploma from the National Circus School, allowing her to head directly into a professional circus career. She will not graduate with a college degree, something that she is willing to sacrifice for the time being.

“You can’t do the circus when you’re 65,” said Rogers.

Rogers auditioned in Montreal this February with 150 other applicants, 20 of whom – including Rogers – were accepted into her freshman class. The process was a bit intimidating.

“The jury watches you audition, it’s scary,” Rogers recalled. “The school cares about who they accept and let graduate every year.”

Training out of Brattleboro, Vt., at the New England Center For Circus Arts, Rogers has dedicated much of the last four years of her life to perfecting her circus skills and routines.

At age 13, Rogers first became interested in the circus, training on tissue. Tissue, also known as aerial silk, is a type of performance in which an artist performs acrobatics while hanging from special fabrics. “Every girl wants to look pretty up on the silks,” said Rogers.

One of Rogers’ coaches at NECCA suggested that she switch disciplines and begin to focus on partner acrobatics, also known as hand to hand. It’s a discipline where a male performer works as the base for the female while they perform dynamic postures and sequences.

“I did not want to work with a boy. I just wanted to do tissue,” recalled Rogers.

Despite her initial hesitation, Rogers eventually gave in to her coaches and created a “really cute act” with her partner, Bekk McGowan. The act led to Rogers and McGowan auditioning for Circus Smirkus in 2011.

Circus Smirkus is an award-winning international youth circus that was established in Vermont in 1987.

“When I first began being interested in circus, I never thought I would do Smirkus. I saw [Smirkus] as a program for the really good kids,” said Rogers.

Rogers and McGowan were accepted into Circus Smirkus and in the summer 2011 went on their first tour.

“That first Smirkus tour was super fun and eye opening,” recalled Rogers. “I came back from that tour knowing that I wanted to step it up and start training a lot.”

Unfortunately, following her first tour with Smirkus, Rogers and McGowan began outgrowing each other. “In the professional circus world, the bases [men] are really big and strong. I was really small when we started to work together, but as I grew, he was no longer big enough,” said Rogers.

With no partner, Rogers switched disciplines, beginning to train on straps. Straps, or aerial straps, are Kevlar ribbons that hang from the ceiling. A performer wraps the strap ends around their hands and wrists and performs holds, twists, rolls and maneuvers while suspended.

“I wanted to get really good at straps. Not a lot of girls do straps; I liked that,” said Rogers.

In the circus world, the majority of strap performers are men because of their superior upper body strength, according to Rogers.

“When I started training for straps, my upper body went through a huge transformation,” said Rogers.

For the past three years, Rogers has specialized and trained hard on her straps routine. Yet surprisingly, she was not accepted into National Circus School for straps, but for hand to hand.

“You don’t get to choose what you are accepted for,” she explained.

So even though she auditioned on straps, Rogers will shift her focus back to partner acrobatics this fall. Her major will be hand to hand and her minor will be straps.

Rogers will complete her fourth and final tour with Circus Smirkus this summer.

“The people that Smirkus has allowed me to meet are incredible. After Smirkus, people move on to awesome programs like the Ringling Brothers or Vegas shows,” said Rogers. “Smirkus has taught me discipline. If you want to get good at something, you can, but you have to be willing to work really hard.”

Troy Wunderly, artistic director for Circus Smirkus, believes that there is no limit to how far Rogers can go.

“Emma will absolutely be successful in future circus endeavors — every fiber of her body is circus,” Wunderly said. “Her passion has been evident from the beginning. I’ve seen her train year round. Circus is not something that you can dabble in and make it far. She has the necessary passion.”

Rogers has given up countless hours of social time with her friends in order to focus on her circus training. For now, Rogers attends ConVal High School for half days, taking two classes. Then it’s off to Performance Health and Fitness in Peterborough to workout for an hour.

“I have to keep my cardio and strength up,” said Rogers.

After her gym session, Rogers heads to Brattleboro, returning home late in the evening, “Sometimes 8 or 9.”

Although Rogers spends little time at home, her family is a vital part of her busy life.

“My parents support me in every way possible,” she said. Rogers’ 16-year-old sister, Kate, is “Circused out,” but continues to support her big sister in any way she can.

Rogers’ mother, Deb, believes the circus is the perfect avenue for her daughter’s driven personality.

“Emma thrives on living a full life,” Deb said. “Her experiences for someone her age are broad thanks to the circus. I consider it a gift that she found something she is passionate about at a young age.”

While Rogers’ friends take final exams during their freshman year of college, she will be in Canada giving her final presentation ­— an acrobatic balancing act just like the last four years of her life.

Rogers will be in action on her final Circus Smirkus tour when the troupe performs at the Cheshire Fairgrounds for the first time ever on July 15 and 16. For more information or to buy tickets, visit www.smirkus.org.

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