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Cancer survivor not clowning around

KARINA ABADIA
Last updated 05:00 23/01/2013
Clown
JASON OXENHAM
DOUBLE GAIN: French clown Jean-Philippe Janin says juggling is not only fun but has mental and physical benefits for children and adults alike.

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Jean-Philippe Janin dreamed of being a circus performer when he was a child.

Later, as a teenager with cancer confined to a hospital bed, he promised himself he would go for it once he was discharged.

He started studying circus performance in his hometown of Nancy, in north-east France at 16. He learned general skills and specialised in juggling, which is still his main love.

After his studies he got a job as a flying trapeze instructor at Club Med, Nice. He went on to work in circuses, cabarets, films and festivals in both France and Italy. He also returned as an entertainer to the hospital where he had been treated.

The Kohimarama resident moved to Auckland three years ago and was surprised to find that clowning is relatively uncommon here. There is a strong circus tradition in France with more than 500 specialist organisations around the country.

Mr Janin, who goes by the nickname JP, performs for corporate events, birthday parties and street entertainment.

He is often accompanied by his pet rabbit Spaghetti and each show differs depending on the audience, the place and how he improvises. He also enjoys creating shows "a la carte" for individuals.

Performing for children is very rewarding because they are tougher critics.

"If they don't like your show, they will leave. You can't trick them as easily as you can adults, who will stay to be polite."

JP is passionate about teaching circus tricks and juggling to children.

He taught at after-school and holiday programmes in Western Springs, Royal Oak, Three Kings and Kohimarama last year.

"There is nothing more beautiful than seeing a child go ‘JP look, look I can do it!' I really like seeing a child at the beginning not being able to do something and then after a few days succeeding."

The 33-year-old loves making people smile but it's not all just clowning around.

"Juggling is not just simply entertainment, it's a form of therapy. It increases confidence and helps with things like concentration, stress relief, hand-eye co-ordination and joint mechanisms."

It provides a good alternative for children who don't like sports, and promotes inclusiveness, he says.

"Circus values are about respect and being part of a family. There is no sense of competition."

This year he plans to continue working with after-school care programmes and performing at private events.

Eventually he would like to create his own community circus school for children and adults.

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For now he has his first independent classes starting on February 15. The seven-week course will cater for 7 to 12-year-olds and will take place on Friday afternoons at the Girl Guide Hall on Patteson Ave in Mission Bay.

The focus will be on learning how to juggle as well as practising circus arts, including acrobatics and magic tricks.

Even when he has time off JP sometimes stays in character, and has been known to frequent Kohimarama beach in costume. So if you see a clown walking a rabbit down the beach this summer, don't be alarmed, it's just JP and Spaghetti.

Go to lecirquedejp.com for more information.

- East And Bays Courier

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