BLACKSBURG — After eight years of threatening it, Hannah Grove is finally set to run off and join the circus.
Hannah, fresh off finishing eighth grade at Blacksburg Middle School, is scheduled to depart Thursday to Greensboro, Vt., where she will join the 29 other 18-and-under performers who make up the 2016 Circus Smirkus Big Top Tour.
“I was like, ‘Is this real? Is this actually happening?’ ” Hannah said.
She said she is looking forward to showing off a combination of her balancing, aerial and juggling skills, including her tight wire act, during the troupe’s 16-stop, 66-show tour through New England this summer.
“I like performing in front of people because I like seeing them like ooh and aah and like laugh and stuff,” Hannah said.
Being in the circus has been her dream for most of her life. Hannah said she was 6 when she was first hooked by seeing contortionists during a birthday trip to Cirque du Soleil.
“I was like, ‘I really want to try that’ and I kind of tried some of it on my own at the house, and it just kind of went from there,” Hannah said.
She also made it clear to her parents that she knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life.
Her father, Bob Grove, said his reaction was: “Oh, how cute.”
“We didn’t think she was serious,” he said.
But a few years later, a television special on Circus Smirkus opened her parents’ eyes to real possibilities Hannah might have as a performer.
Founded in a Vermont farmhouse in 1987, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit’s website boasts of annual summer camps, resident artists and the Big Top Tour, which consists of 30 performers from across the country ages 10 to 18.
Circus Smirkus communications manager Angelia Rorison said the tour receives about 100 videos from potential performers each year and trims that number to 40 applicants who are given live auditions. Along with performing, each troupe member is required to work setting up and tearing down their tent and to help with concession sales, she said.
“Hannah in particular gave an amazing performance, but she was also kind and sweet and really got along with the other kids,” Rorison said.
“I was speechless,” Hannah said of being picked. This year was Hannah’s third attempt to make the Big Top Tour.
Each performer is required to raise $6,500 for their summer travels. Hannah said she has been selling custom jewelry through the website Origami Owl and has started a GoFundMe account to help with the expenses.
Along with her auditions with Circus Smirkus, Hannah has also twice taken part in its two-week camp and once attended a similar program at the National Cirque School in Montreal.
But she said the largest part of her training has come from watching videos on the Internet and working on her skills at home.
In place of vehicles, the Grove driveway is often filled with Hannah’s homemade handstand canes, the balancing platform she ordered on the Internet and a roughly 4-foot-high tight wire, which was donated by a family friend. Hannah, who also trains as a gymnast five days a week, said learning how to use the latter device helped her turn a corner as a performer.
“It’s a lot different walking on a 4-inch beam that’s stable verses a tightrope that’s all wobbly,” she said.
It’s such times when a touch of nervousness sets in, Hannah said. Bob Grove said his wife, Kimberly Grove, typically offers their daughter some advice.
“Her mom tells her to suck it up, buttercup,” Bob Grove said.
Kimberly Grove said she never wanted any of her three children to let fear limit their dreams.
“The thing I see that stops people from dreaming or conquering the world is fear. Sometimes you have to believe in the possibilities and just go for it,” she said.