As the Artistic/Executive Director of Circus Harmony, Jessica Hentoff (Class of '77) has an eloquent and profound motto: "Defy gravity!" And defy gravity she does! Jessica has performed as an aerialist, clown, juggler, bareback-rider, small animal trainer and fire-eater. She is a founding member of both the Big Apple Circus in New York and Circus Flora in St. Louis. In 2001 she created the Circus Day Foundation/Circus Harmony. Along the way, she has won numerous awards (St. Louis Arts & Education Council's Arts Innovator, Grand Centers Visoinary Award for Outstanding Arts Educator, "St. Louis Extraordinary/Ordinary Person of the Year for Deeds of Love Beyond Race"; and more) while also balancing her role as Mom to three child performers: a 14 year-old knife and chicken juggler, a 16 year-old wire-walker and a 19 year-old aerialist.
In 1973, as a Sociology major, Jessica took the first circus class Purchase offered, taught by Warren Bacon, and her life was forever altered. By 1974 she was teaching circus skills to children and performing in her own right. After graduation, she was a founding member of New York's Big Apple Circus and traveled as an aerialist and cyclist with various circuses. In 1989 she settled into her permanent home in St. Louis, running everydaycircus, a family entertainment business based in the City Museum.
When, in 2001, Jessica started the Circus Day Foundation/Circus Harmony, it was already clear to her that circus skills teach life skills. "At the Circus Day Foundation, we teach the art of life through circus education. While children learn to flip, fly and juggle, they also learn important life skills like focus, persistence and teamwork." These are skills Jessica has taught to hundreds of children from socioeconomically diverse St. Louis neighborhoods. Offering classes on a "pay by means" basis, Circus Harmony has successfully built a bridge between "well-off" and "at risk" neighborhoods. In fact, building bridges is one of Circus Harmony's main goals and they have done it many times.
In 2002, Jessica created Circus Salaam Shalom, which teamed Muslim and Jewish performers, and eventually lead to the Patchwork Circus troupe, consisting of Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Caucasian, Hispanic, African-American and Chinese children from urban and suburban areas. In 2002 and 2004, Circus Harmony held two shows, Far East Meets Midwest I & II, combining Asian and Midwestern arts and artists. In 2007 Circus Harmony's youth troupe, the St. Louis Arches, traveled to Israel and started their ongong collaboration with the Jewish/Arab Galilee Circus, creating a new troupe, Galilee Arches. A film was made of this collaboration, Circus Kids, and it is touring the world in 2011.
Jessica and Circus Harmony have done more than we can possible share here, so we strongly encourage you visit the links in this page to find out more.
And what makes Jessica's success all the more "Purchase" is that her former teacher, Warren Bacon, is coaching advanced kids at Circus Harmony.