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Monadnock Profiles: Wilton native creating next generation of circus performers

  • Jon Roitman, head coach and artistic director for Flying Gravity Circus, is teaching children all over the area the art of circus performance. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Jon Roitman, head coach and artistic director for Flying Gravity Circus, is teaching children all over the area the art of circus performance. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Jon Roitman, head coach and artistic director for Flying Gravity Circus, is teaching children all over the area the art of circus performance. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Jon Roitman, head coach and artistic director for Flying Gravity Circus, is teaching children all over the area the art of circus performance. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin

  • Jon Roitman, head coach and artistic director for Flying Gravity Circus, is teaching children all over the area the art of circus performance. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Jon Roitman Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Thursday, December 06, 2018 2:31PM

When Jon Roitman was first introduced to the circus arts program as a fifth grader at Pine Hill Waldorf School in Wilton, it was a cool thing to do.

By the time he was in seventh grade, Roitman was hooked.

“I saw that I had the capacity to be good at it,” he said. “Juggling was the first thing I cracked.”

The following year, members of his class and some students at High Mowing School helped start Flying Gravity Circus with Jackie Davis, who ran the Hilltop circus program at Pine Hill at the time.

There wasn’t a program at High Mowing, so Roitman trained with Flying Gravity and began thinking about circus as more than just something he did outside of school.

During college at McGill University in Montreal, Roitman trained 18 hours a week at Ecole nationale de cirque, the national circus school in Canada that is world-renowned for training a select group of professional circus artists.

“I don’t know how I got in,” Roitman admits. “I was a decent juggler.”

From there, Roitman was destined for a career in the circus. He specialized in club juggling and club passing, while also working as one of two balancers for the Russian Bar act. He spent two years with Cirque Éloize, performing in 17 countries, before the show came to an end. During the summers, he would come back and help Davis with the Silver Lining Circus Camp, an extension of Flying Gravity Circus.

“At that point, the summer program was still going strong,” he said.

Flying Gravity though had fallen off a bit, so in 2012, when on break from performing, Roitman offered to help get it back up and running. He soon found there was a lot of interest for it. But he was still traveling for months on end to places like Quebec, Australia and Germany with the Vague de Cirque troupe through 2016, and he found it tricky to fully invest in the restart.

“But more and more I was finding the value in it,” Roitman said. “I miss the performing a little bit now, but when I’m on the road, I miss the teaching a lot.”

In 2016, Flying Circus became a nonprofit, with Roitman filling the roles of executive director, artistic director and head coach.

“Basically I was doing everything,” he said. “And it started getting harder and harder to leave every time I’d have to go perform.”

So last year, Roitman committed to being around more for the program and put his circus career on the back burner. He began teaching circus arts and movement at High Mowing and working on all things Flying Gravity. And it worked, as there were 90 students involved with Flying Gravity last year.

Davis, who founded Flying Gravity with that group of students many years ago, is currently the circus’s executive director. Roitman is serving as Flying Gravity’s artistic director and head coach.

“The teaching is very rewarding, but very time consuming,” Roitman said.

As of now, Roitman isn’t about to say his performance career is over, just not a priority at the moment. But that’s not to say he won’t get the itch sometime in the future.

“There’s no reason I couldn’t train for a few months and get back into shape,” Roitman said. “Because I’m not comfortable saying my performance career is over, but at the same time it would be hard to leave these kids and this program.”

From Roitman’s eighth-grade class, five others went on become professional circus performers, and 20 Flying Gravity members have spent time with Circus Smirkus, which Roitman has worked at for the last two summers.

While he misses the performing side of things and the traveling component to a degree, he greatly enjoys the teaching aspect of circus. He finds its not just about the physical nature of the activity, but an opportunity to relay life and social skills. He’s even brought circus into local schools through the Circus After School program.

“Circus is a good way to teach life skills,” he said. “I’m looking to help build self confidence and team work.”

Right now, most of his students are learning a little bit of everything – juggling, tumbling, riding the unicycle, how to do back handsprings and aerial arts.Later on, if they chose to keep with circus arts, the students will start to hone in on certain skills to specialize in.

“When you start to think about specializing, you’re already pretty good at everything,” Roitman said.

There was no way Roitman could have envisioned a life in the circus when he took part in that circus class all those years ago. But he found a passion for it and it’s led him around the world and now back to the place he called home since the age of five.

If Roitman wasn’t teaching in Wilton, he’s 100 percent certain he’d be working for another circus studio somewhere. Lucky for the children in the area, he decided to come home.