BRATTLEBORO — A local juggling coach went to Mexico and all he got was a prestigious award.
"The circus community in the world is big and it's also really small," said Thom Wall, who teaches workshops worldwide but considers his home base the New England Center for Circus Arts in Brattleboro. "There's festivals that happen all over the world. It's sort of a way of recognizing acts that are particularly noteworthy."
Wall was invited to represent the United States at the third annual Festival Universitario de Circo at the Mexican National Circus School in Puebla, Mexico. He served as a judge at the Nov. 23 and 24 event where approximately 30 competitors performed a mix of circus disciplines.
After exhibiting his work for a second time for a crowd of 200 Puebla residents, Wall was presented with a "Crotalus Scholaris" medal from Don Salvador Calva Morales, chancellor of the university. It was to "indelibly recognize my work as a juggler," Wall said.
"The Crotalus Scholaris is the highest honor awarded by the university. Not bad for a Brattleboroian," he continued. "I think they were impressed by my personality on stage, the content and the technical level. That was the way it was explained to me by the chancellor."
Wall mainly specializes in "reviving old juggling traditions" in a "gentleman parlor style." He uses items found around the house rather than balls, rings and clubs popular with other performers.
"It makes it a lot more relatable," he said. "Everyone's dropped a wine glass or glass bottle so they recognize the risks that are inherent."
The style wasn't so unique back in the 1920s but it wasn't so commonplace either, Wall told the Reformer.
The festival was "incredibly exceptional," he noted.
"The head coach there is a Cuban guy named Hector so they have a lot of Soviet influence," said Wall, explaining that Mexican circus arts have ties with Cuban circus arts. "There's a lot of things going on you don't see represented in America."
Wall said the grand prize went to a duo specializing in a suspended hair hang which requires special braids. Iron jaw acts were also on display.
"That's something you really don't see in the U.S. at all," he said. "Aerial acrobats are suspended by their teeth. They bite into this leather bit and you work through all your formations that way. It's amazing. It's really phenomenal."
Wall's last award came at the Riga International Circus in Latvia, where he won the "People's Choice" special prize. He also won bronze and silver medals at the International Jugglers' Association Senior Stage Championships.
Some of his performances can be viewed on YouTube by searching Thom Wall. In one video, several tricks are completed while he balances glasses in different formations using his mouth. One trick sees Wall balancing a candelabra on a balloon. He then pops the balloon yet keeps the candelabra balanced holding the end of it in his mouth.