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Bellevue girl finds success in circus skills
By Gabrielle Nomura
Special to the Bellevue Reporter
For the majority of 12-year olds, extracurricular activities are all about self-improvement: mastering the art of shooting a ball through a basket, speaking a new language or mastering a dance move.
Saffi Watson, a Tillicum Middle School sixth grader and Bellevue resident, knows all about practice.
The talented contortionist and gymnast can hold her limbs in an ever-moving sculpture, like a living work of origami art. Saffi’s hands know the floor well; she’s used to resting her entire body weight on them in a variety of poses. In these handstands, her ballerina-like feet hover high above her head. With a smile on her face, she radiates warmth and poise during her performances.
Saffi has performed on a hoop suspended from the ceiling and been shot out of a cannon, just to name a few acts.
She’s also extremely practiced in the art of making audience members “ooh and ahh,” having taken this talent to the stages of Teatro ZinZanni, Moisture Festival and Cirque Dreams Illumination.
During a run of a ZinZanni family show, “In Tents” two years ago, Watson, only 10 at the time, left audience members waiting with baited breath.
As childlike music plucked like the metal heart of a jewelry box, Watson moved slowly and deliberately. Smiling serenely, she blew kisses, clutching a teddy bear.
Suddenly, her head began to fall backward. As if a magnet was connected to her pigtails and her tailbone, she arched backward, discovering the space behind her ankles. Planting her palms to the floor, the girl’s supple torso bent generously. With her entire body in an “O” shape for just a moment, Watson suddenly released her legs, which gracefully launched out behind her onto the ground, like “the worm” dance move.
Circus arts are a healthy and positive activity for all young people, even if they aren’t born with exceptional flexibility like Watson.
Unlike gymnastics or ballet, there’s less of an emphasis on competition or being the best. Here, it’s about affirmation and teaching kids a wide variety of skills. They can use these as performing artists, or simply to increase their self-esteem said Erica Rubinstein, a coach of Watson’s who teaches at Seattle’s School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts (SANCA).
“Every skill, every body type has a place and is valued,” Rubinstein said.
This appealed to Saffi’s parents, a singer and pianist who are both performers themselves.
Clifford Watson just hopes his daughter grows up to be healthy and happy.
“We signed her up for gymnastics because we noticed she would jump off the sofa and do crazy things,” he said. “With a kid like that, you can either get them to stop, or you can help them harness and use that talent.”
To learn more about classes in the circus arts for all ages, go to sancaseattle.org.
Gabrielle Nomura is a former staff writer with the Bellevue Reporter. She lives in Seattle.