Circus play!

The performers keeping circus arts alive in Winnipeg

Mateo Lopez uses a wide variety of props for fire spinning. “I myself have many, such as poi, whip, staff, sword and my favourite, rope dart.”

Photo by Keeley Braunstein-Black

Charles Lauder (Sleepy the Clown)

Winnipeg Circus Club – president

Charles Lauder, who performs as Sleepy the Clown, hard at work with a giant balloon

Charles Lauder (Sleepy) is the current president of the Winnipeg Circus Club (WCC). This is the third time Lauder has been elected to the position.

One of the reasons Sleepy loves being a clown is “because you can dabble your giant tippy-toe in pretty much anything,” including juggling, balloons, comedy, stage shows and birthday parties.

Clowning is a “whole thing in itself. It encompasses a whole gamut of disciplines depending on what you want to focus on.” Sleepy enjoyed acting as a child and as a teenager met “a clown minister.”

“He would travel across Canada doing clowning workshops and presentations and summer camps. Meeting him and learning from him in his workshops over the course of four to five months hooked me on the whole clowning thing,” Sleepy says.

“There is an essential truth to being a clown in front of people. That kind of negates it being a mask. There is truth of character between you and the audience that you need to let go of yourself and become one with what you are doing.

“People, as adults, we wear what we present to the world. It's not necessarily our own proper true selves. There is the version of ourselves that we show to the people at work, there is the version we show to our parents, there is the version we show to our friends, and, as a clown, what I like to say about clowning is it is an exaggeration of the human spirit.

“As a clown, it is all about the emotional connection with the audience, whether that audience is one person or 500. As a clown, you do the simple things that everybody does, just more exaggerated or more ridiculous.”

Sleepy says “being a clown is awesome!”

Ezra Lazar - treasurer of the Circus Club – juggler

Ezra Lazar is a juggler and member of the International Jugglers’ Association (IJA) and is currently the treasurer of the Winnipeg Circus Club.

Lazar started juggling while in high school. The biology teacher, who was also a juggler, took it upon himself to teach everyone. While Lazar started performing with a prop called a Diabolo, he switched to juggling because his friends were doing it.

He recently started learning stilt-walking and bounce-juggling, where the balls are bounced off the ground. Lazar’s favourite thing to juggle is bouncy balls, because they “let you do more tricks.”

He is a member of IJA Continue, a program where kids can learn to juggle and get a button when they learn a new trick. “We want to encourage kids to learn,” he says.

Lazar will perform on March 8 as part of the annual showcase while juggling apples. “(I’ll) hopefully not get too much apple juice everywhere!” Lazar says.

Karrie Blackburn - professional hula hooper

Karrie Blackburn is a professional hula hooper who has been performing for 10 years. She started out for fitness, and then it became about travel and learning around the globe. She then came home to “share my passion for the hula hoop with others.”

Blackburn started hooping when she met a woman on a camping trip who had “four hoops, rocked out and did all of these amazing things.” She vowed to learn to hula hoop and “lost 75 pounds in two years and traveled to 18 different countries with my hoops after that, because what’s next when you are given a whole new lease on life?”

“It really does bridge the gap of play between all generations. When we think of hula hooping, we think of it spun around our waist. But that is very narrow-minded and singular. There are so many things you can do with a hoop. By design, it’s infinite.

“Even just having a young child, they can spin the hoop like a top, with older kids they can spin it on the arms. It gets rid of that playground shaming and invites everyone to play. The only wrong way to do it is if you are not smiling. It’s a hula hoop. You can’t do it wrong if you're smiling,” Blackburn says.

Blackburn has been an instructor for six years. “If people give me a minute of their time, I can have them hula hooping around the waist.”

Blackburn performs with some fire hoops, ambient animation with LED hoops, single, multi and double hoops. “There is so much variation within it,” she says.

Gabriel Wendt - amateur - rope dart – first performance coming up!

Gabriel Wendt is a member of the Winnipeg Circus Club and practices rope dart, an adaption taken from martial arts.

Wendt joined the club because of an interest in juggling and says “I came with the understanding that I would learn juggling. I had no idea about the rope dart until I got here.”

Wendt was looking for something that provided more exercise. “With juggling, I found it was a lot of upper-body work (not like lifting weights or anything), but with rope dart, you have to move your whole body.

“I think the circus arts are very valuable for children and for adults. It’s good exercise. It’s fun. It’s something entirely new and different that you wouldn’t be able to get from the internet.”

While “just a learner,” Wendt has volunteered to be in the annual showcase on March 8.

Atom Dzaman - professional juggler – has juggled a kitten

As a professional juggler, Atom Dzaman’s favourite thing to juggle is balls, even though one time he juggled a kitten. Yes, it is still alive!

He works mostly with his mother’s company, where “she makes juggling balls by hand.”

Dzaman started juggling at the age of eight and was raised in a family circus of sorts. “I saw my dad juggling and fell in love with it,” he says.

Dzaman has travelled with juggling and more. Today, he is doing mostly online videos and is a “farming artist,” Dzaman does juggling and art, and in the summer farms organic produce in Ethelbert, Man.

April - amateur – stilts, slackline, juggling, hoops, etc. – Here for fun!

April is just getting comfortable on stilts after attending a workshop about a year ago where participants made stilts. “I didn’t practice very much until a few months ago.”

April does slackline, juggling, poi and hoops. “I don’t do any of them expertly. I am here for fun,” April says.

“The first showcase I went to was about five years ago. The kids on stage were so articulate, and everybody had something to offer, and everybody was having a good time and in a good mood. So I decided to check out the club.

“Part of it is where they have it. They let the neighbourhood kids in and let them use props,” April says. “It’s a whole lot of fun.”

Tiauni Starr - performer and teacher

Tiauni Starr has a background in dance (jazz, ballet, tap) and “it just felt like a natural progression. I went to my first festival, which was Summer of Sound, and a couple of mutual friends had a hoop, and I was like ‘WOW! That's so cool!’ And I thought to myself, ‘I could probably do that,’ so six months later, I bought myself my first hoop.”

Starr is a self-taught hooper who learned a lot of her skills by watching YouTube videos (by creators like Deanne Love) and on websites like

Starr teaches three different technique levels and a flow class and says “coming from a dance background, I find that many different hoop and flow artists lack the fluidity of dance. They know all of the tricks really well. They just lack the dance.

“Everyone has a different flow, but with my classes, I really want to incorporate technique and flow.”

The flow classes consist of 30 to 60 second dance routines that participants build. According to Starr, “one of the most common questions that I get is ‘why can’t I flow? I know all of these tricks, but I can’t put them together.’ The flow classes help you combine them.”

Performing regularly, Starr does single, double and circus-style hooping (with four to six hoops). Eventually, Starr would like to incorporate aerial hooping into her performance.

Starr performs at weddings, corporate events, raves, birthday parties, fundraisers and festivals. “I love sharing what I can do with other people, and hopefully I can inspire others.”

According to Starr, the community is welcoming, friendly, helpful and supportive, even worldwide. “You can go anywhere in the world, and there are tons of hoopers,” she says.

Mateo Lopez - fire performer

Mateo Lopez uses a wide variety of props for fire spinning. “I myself have many, such as poi, whip, staff, sword and my favourite, rope dart.”

Lopez further demystifies fire performance by saying “we set fire to wicks made of a fiberglass/Kevlar blend material that is soaked in a flammable fuel, such as naptha, kerosene or lamp. Depending on the performer or performance, fuels may be mixed to add duration to the burn time of the prop.”

Lopez started six years ago in Tofino, B.C. “I was telling a friend I made (who spun fire), how I wanted to learn, as I was inspired by seeing my friends spin fire in the park here in Winnipeg. She then told me she was going to pop my fire cherry, and the next night, I spun a fire staff for the first time. From there, I soon made my own staff and rope dart to practice with.”

While he loves fire spinning, “the sound the fire makes as it moves through space, there's something almost therapeutic about it; the feeling of being connected and comfortable with something that instinctively we as humans fear”, Lopez cautions that fire spinning requires knowledge of safety. “The danger in fire spinning is very real, and there is a high risk of injury when fire spinning. People should only learn if they are very serious about performing and should look to learn from someone experienced and knowledgeable in understanding the bylaws and the safety requirements involving any fire
arts practice.

“In the summertime I hold weekly meet-ups in the park to teach those seriously interested about the city bylaws regarding fire safety and performance, as well about the use of different fuels and the hazards regarding fire spinning and the gear required to spin fire safely. I can be reached either through the Winnipeg Circus Club Facebook page or the Winnipeg Fire & Flow Arts Facebook page or on Instagram @freespiritfire.”

He also comments on the community in Winnipeg. “I feel blessed to be a part of the fire community here in Winnipeg and to be able to collaborate with the many talented people in this city. It’s like a dream come true, and I continue to look forward to my career as a fire performer!”

Published in Volume 74, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 27, 2020)

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