When William Borges flies mid-air from one trapeze to another, juggles pins or blocks, or balances on teetering objects in front of a crowd, a number of thoughts rush through his head: Are my toes pointed? Am I doing a good job on this trick? Does it look OK? Smile!
But while the trapeze artist and juggler makes time to train for his acts, he also manages to study trigonometry and chemistry and attend track practice as a sophomore at Riverhead High School. The Baiting Hollow 15-year-old has been chosen to spend seven weeks this summer with Circus Smirkus, performing 66 shows in 16 cities around the Northeast.
It’s a rigorous schedule, but William has been preparing, practicing his skills and working to keep his strength up before he heads to Greensboro, Vt., for three weeks of training with 29 other youth performers from around the country, as well as two from Canada and Zambia. It’s not something too many of his peers know about just yet, he said in a recent interview, just after completing a trigonometry test.
“I think they’re just surprised because they don’t really know what it is or didn’t really know that I did what I did,” William said. “Sometimes it’s just random. Like today, I was at extra help and one of my friends was just like ‘Wait, you’re going to the circus?’”
William had auditioned for Circus Smirkus once before and, although he didn’t make it then, he did qualify for its month-long training camp last year. He said it feels “amazing” to have been chosen to join the traveling youth circus troupe this year.
“We were very surprised but excited for him to be able to experience this adventure and learn so much from it,” said his mom, Dawn.
William grew up in gymnastics. Ms. Borges joked that he got into the sport “out of the womb.” She and William’s dad, Bill, are both gymnasts and own a school, Gym-Nest, in Medford, where they’ve set up a static trapeze so he can train, often after track practice.
“I try to juggle as much as I can because that’s the easiest to do at home,” William said. “At my parents’ gym we put up a trapeze and I just try to figure stuff out because I don’t have a coach.”
He often looks up trapeze skills to try online. “He YouTube’s everything,” Ms. Borges said.
While gymnastics is part of his DNA, William did not get involved in circus activities until he, his mom and his sister, Brielle, tried out the trapeze at I.Fly Trapeze school in East Meadow. That experience hooked all three of them and led to William’s involvement in a week-long circus camp there. The instructor encouraged him to send an audition tape to Circus Smirkus.
Brielle, a senior at Riverhead High School, works as a camp counselor at the facility in Eisenhower Park over the summer and has observed what it takes to make it in the circus.
“They definitely look for strength, pain tolerance — just people that can work with others well and not just perform well and interact with the crowd, smile and have good personalities with the crowd,” she said. “I think he has all those things.”
For William, performing gives a more fulfilling feeling than competing as a gymnast.
“The difference I feel between the circus and any sport really, it’s more about performing than competing and that’s why I fell in love with it after gymnastics,” he said. “I was competing, but it’s just more rewarding to perform.”
He noticed this especially when performing at nursing homes and parks over the summer with the training camp, and felt that the crowd was more excited watching his skills for entertainment than for competition. That work will continue during off days on the Circus Smirkus tour, when the troupe will visit hospitals and nursing homes.
“It feels great, especially hearing the audience and their feedback to what I’m doing,” William said.
Even so, he admitted he gets nervous during his acts, although that has nothing to do with hanging some 25 feet above the ground. “The height? No. The crowd? Yes,” he said.
For mom, his performances are a different experience.
“It’s exciting, but I also get nervous,” she said. “Usually I videotape and kind of look over the camera.”
“It’s really fun to watch him,” Brielle said. “I watch him train a lot so it’s like, ‘Oh he missed it, he missed it.’ But when he performs, he’ll make it and I’m like, ‘Yes!’”
William will miss the tail end of classes this spring when he heads to Vermont for training, but Ms. Borges said his teachers and guidance counselor have been supportive of his achievement.
“I take a lot of the lead from mom and dad,” said William’s guidance counselor, Anastasia Cobis. “This is my first, but I think it’s so interesting and so wonderful and he’s just a really great all-around person. He doesn’t just have the circus. He’s smart and witty and athletic and has his feet on the ground, not literally.”
Top photo: Riverhead High School sophomore William Borges juggles in the school’s atrium last Thursday. He’ll spend seven weeks this summer showcasing his skills on tour with a traveling youth circus. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)