“Defy gravity”

When I went to State University of New York at Purchase, I was going to keep my job in New York City at Warner Brothers Record Co., working in the publicity department on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Through an odd series of events, I lost that job, which freed up my Tuesdays and Thursdays, which was when circus class was. So I just decided to take circus. Had I had my plan of working gone through, I would have never had circus classes, and you and I would not be having this conversation.

I started taking circus classes. You’re talking about a girl who grew up in New York and didn’t even climb a tree until I was 10. I started taking circus classes, and it was “Oh my gosh! I can juggle! I can do trapeze!” And this had never even occurred to me as an option of something I could ever do. I started reading everything I could about circus, and I fell in love with circus.

My first year, I wrote to 50 circuses looking for a summer job saying “I’ll do anything. I’ll water the elephants. I’ll clean up after them. Anything at all.” None of them wrote me back except one, which happened to be a Methodist youth circus (named Circus Kingdom). I am Jewish, and I didn’t answer them. The guy called me up and said, “Why didn’t you answer me?” I told him I am Jewish and you’re a Methodist youth circus. And he said, “I know, you’re Jewish, that’s great! This circus is about people from all backgrounds.” So I ended up going on that circus for the next two summers.

Jessica Hentoff: Circus lady, circus teacher

Circus Harmony

Though Nat Hentoff used to protest the aerial stunts that once put his daughter [Jessica] in the hospital, he always admired her determination and ingenuity. “Not many of us know what we’re here for until it’s too late,” he says.

A Performer at Heart, New Yorker-in-Exile Jessica Hentoff Ran Away With the Circus (1-page PDF)

Jessica Hentoff’s daughter is a human cannonball.

The flight of Elliana Grace the Human Cannonball closes the first act of The Greatest Show on Earth, and it lasts less than a minute, from the moment she slides into the mouth of the cannon to her final bounce into the safety of the oversize air mattress she uses in lieu of a net.

She Flies Through the Air with the Greatest of Ease: Meet St. Louis’ own Elliana Grace, Human Cannonball

Climbing ladders in white tights isn’t quite what [Jessica] Hentoff was raised to expect from a career. “As a teenager she couldn’t even climb a tree,” her father, journalist Nat Hentoff, wrote in a 1986 Wall Street Journal article. “Her main sport was reading books.”

But after growing up in an intellectual family, the exotic circus life attracted her. “I got addicted,” she says. “To suddenly have the opportunity to find out I have some physical skills was great.”

Hentoff’s introduction to her future profession was a class in circus skills she took as a freshman at the State University of New York at Purchase. Over the next few summers, she practiced what she had learned, first traveling as a clown and juggler with a show that performed at prisons, orphanages, and homes for the mentally disturbed and later juggling and fire-eating for street shows in New York and Quebec.

Chicago Fun Times: hanging around with Jessica Hentoff

Nat Hentoff

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