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Circus group comes to Hofstra to build kids' self-esteem

Surrounded by children, Regina Contrino followed the crowd toward the big white tent. She wanted to learn how to juggle.

"I'm in competition with 6-year-olds," said the retired Hofstra University professor with a laugh. The 61-year-old from West Hempstead had come to the Hofstra campus Sunday to learn basic juggling from performers with the National Circus Project.

The organization, based in Westbury, holds circus workshops in hundreds of schools - both here and nationally.

Under instruction from Sergay Ignatov, a juggler from Russia, Contrino and others learned how to keep one tennis ball in the air while clutching one in each hand.

The first-time jugglers and devil-stick flippers admitted that it was harder than it looks.

Yang Xiao Di, a performer originally from mainland China, showed how to balance the devil-sticks, which on stage are lit on both ends, on another stick.

The group also learned how to roll a diabolo - a kind of yo-yo - on a string and spin plates on sticks.

"Mine stopped," complained Alexis Storch to "Little Lou," a clown performer from England, who was showing the 7-year-old how to spin a plate on a stick. Alexis was there with friend Jordyn Slominsky, 6, both of Plainview. Within a few minutes, the two girls were not only spinning the plates but moving them from stick to their index finger and back.

"This is fun," Jordyn said.

That's part of the National Circus Project's goal: to raise children's self-esteem by teaching them skills they can master.

"We hold programs with hundreds of students where they study circus skills and then put on a show," said executive director Greg Milstein. "It's individualized, self-motivated and noncompetitive, and it creates immediate success."

The workshop followed an hourlong circus revue, heavy on audience participation, and ended with a fun finale of five men from the crowd who danced to the Village People's "YMCA," headed by clown Little Lou.

Olivia Anderson, 10, of Plainview, who was there with her parents and younger brother, was called up to the stage twice, once to ride on the shoulders of performer Josh Edelman as he rode a unicycle.

"I thought I would be scared, but then I didn't think it was so scary," she said, adding that now she wants to go to the Big Apple Circus.

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