A circus is coming to Barrow next week, and the community’s children will be the performers.Every summer in Barrow – the northernmost community in Alaska – circus artists fly in to provide a two-week camp for almost 100 Barrow children. Kids from 5 and up can attend every day at no cost to them.
The camp has been running for the past eight summers in Barrow and for five years in the surrounding villages, said Sandy Solenberger, who has helped organize the yearly North Slope circus camps. Children can attend circus camp for free because it is fully funded by a federal diabetes grant and Ilisagvik College, and it receives in-kind support from the City of Barrow and the North Slope Borough School District, Solenberger said.
This year’s Barrow camp will run May 23 through June 3. During that time, the campers will get to learn unique physical activities – including walking on stilts and a tightwire, balancing on a board atop a rolling cylinder, hanging on a trapeze, and tumbling. These circus skills help Barrow children get closer to 60 minutes of physical activity each day – the national recommendation for good health.
“What we are trying to do is help kids develop the habit of physical activity,” Solenberger said. “We are looking for unusual activities that make joyful memories.”
Some of these activities seem novel, but they have a history in Alaska Native culture, Solenberger said. For some regions of Alaska, juggling is an Alaska Native skill that was done with rocks instead of balls. The Barrow circus camp staff are hoping to leave behind more juggling balls in North Slope villages to promote this physical activity after the camp concludes, Solenberger said.
The camp promotes health beyond increased activity. Solenberger said the only drink available to the kids during camp is water. At the beginning of camp, kids decorate their own water bottles so they can drink water throughout the day. Camp coordinators also talk to kids about the health concerns linked with sugary drinks.
If you’re in Barrow on June 3, be sure to stop by for the grand finale of Circus Camp. The children will put on an evening circus show for the whole community. Families will be entertained, and the children get to show off their new physical activity skills.