Charley Leonard finishes helping a slew of first- and second-graders across a low-wire balance beam, finds another counselor to watch her group of campers and sits down in one of the Pal Sailor Circus’ plastic audience seats to talk.
“I wake up at 5:45 so that I can catch the bus … my day ends anywhere between 6:30 or 9 p.m. after my hand-balancing rehearsal for the circus,” says Leonard, who has been involved with Sailor Circus since she was in the third grade.
In between those hours, the eighth-grader takes academic, as well as dance classes, at Booker Middle School, and does homework.
“I really have to multitask,” Leonard says. “Instead of talking to my friends during breaks, I have to be doing my homework.”
Leonard explains this all over the roar of elementary-school children at the Sailor Circus summer camp where she is a counselor. Besides the winter- and spring-break shows that the circus puts on, Leonard often participates in road shows.
“My grandma lives around here, and so I have been coming to see this circus since I was a few months old,” Leonard says. “I always used to say, ‘I want to be in the circus!’”
And she made it happen. Leonard became involved in the circus through a connection of the wife of her sister’s swim coach.
“I fell in love,” Leonard says of her first performance.
And Leonard has no intention of stopping anytime soon.
“I want to go to Florida State University and get a major in business and a minor in performing arts,” she says. “Then, I want to perform in the Flying High Circus. I also want to have my own circus, and I want to be able to run all parts of it.”
The campers are beginning their lunch break, and the noise in the Big Top picks up. Leonard looks right at home in the hot, roomy arena.
“It’s enough just to say that I am in the circus and that I can come here everyday,” she says. “You have teamwork and trust. There’s so much adrenaline and you get all excited right before a show. Just looking out there from backstage you have a big smile on your face — you can’t control it.”
The balancing act
“We do handstands, trio balancing and tumbling. We also do a hoops act. Sometimes, we do acts with two people, sometimes with three.”
On the road
“We have gotten to perform at a Rays game, and we will be performing in the Pocono (Mountains), in Pennsylvania, in the next couple of weeks. We were also in the Thanksgiving Day parade in Houston one year. The hand-balancing routine doesn’t require any equipment, so we are usually the ones who get to travel and do the road shows.”
“On Saturday mornings we normally have a work call for the circus from 9 to 11 a.m. where we clean and do some rigging — whatever needs to be done. Then, my circus friends sleep over on Saturday night, and, on Sunday, I go to church and then finish up any homework.”
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