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Give Peace a Backflip 

Acrobats bend over backward to foster global understanding

Can ethnic and cultural understanding be fostered by acrobats jumping through hoops, walking on tightropes or riding eight at a time on a single bicycle? The Circus Day Foundation thinks so, and its members aim to prove it during their upcoming show, "Far East Meets Midwest."

The foundation's artistic director, Jessica Hentoff, says that the goal of her organization is to use the teaching of circus skills to bring people of different social, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds together. Such talents as tumbling and juggling are part of a shared history, she says: "Circus is a boundary-crossing art form."

In August, the foundation invited Chinese master acrobat Xiao Hong Weng to St. Louis to teach basic lessons in such traditional Chinese circus arts as hoop-diving to the St. Louis Arches, the foundation's high-flying ten-member youth circus troupe. It wasn't always easy for the students to understand Weng, whose English was not perfect, reports Hentoff, but in a testament to the foundation's credo that circus is something we can all understand, the students, ages four to 24, were able to learn new tricks by example.

This weekend's performances will include some of these new tricks, as well as some of the Arches' old favorites. In addition to circus antics, there will be performances by the St. Louis Osuwa Taiko Drummers, lion-dancing and wrist-drumming by students from the St. Louis Modern Chinese School, a karate demonstration by Team Respect from Amanat's Karate Center and koma-mawashi (top-spinning) by Hiroshi Tada, who has performed many times at the Missouri Botanical Garden's Japanese Festival. Saturday night's show will be followed by a Circus Day Foundation benefit at which you can mingle with the performers, bid on items in a silent auction and chow down on Asian cuisine.

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