Steve Langley discovered his passion in his early 20s, shortly after witnessing a man juggle torches at a Grateful Dead concert.
Actually, his passion discovered him.
"I always felt juggling as a career found me," he said. "Like serendipity nudged my life in that direction."
For the last 20 years, the 47-year-old has traveled the world as a variety entertainer. Known in his solo act as The Great Fettucini, he also is a founding member of The Fettucini Brothers, a two- to five-man comedy, juggling and variety act that can be tailored to audiences of all ages.
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In January, he was a juggler in "La Boheme," Opera Carolina's season opener at the Belk Theater. The former chef also manages about 50 other internationally touring acts and for years has made a living teaching his craft to thousands of people locally and abroad. He lives in Huntersville with his wife and two daughters.
Sharing circus skills
Langley has presented his arts and education program at schools nationwide for the last 10 years, and he's developing a science-based program called "Spin, Balance and Throw: The Science Circus Show."
He is a member of the Lake Norman Juggling Club (formerly the Charlotte Juggling Association), which offers free lessons from 3 to 5 p.m. every Sunday at Davidson College. (Details: 704-892-1296.)
And word about his newest class, "Circus Skills for Homeschool," is spreading. Offered through Davidson Parks and Recreation, this is the second year Langley has taught the class to home-schooled students, ages 6-16.
They meet for three one-hour sessions and, aside from juggling, students learn how to spin plates, balance peacock feathers on their chins and twirl a lasso.
The first class was pretty full, but this session sold out and even had repeat students, Langley said. Participants and parents have already asked Langley to offer more classes.
"It's awesome," said Evan "X" Barber, 12, of Charlotte, while working on his plate-spinning skills. "You get to learn all the tricks.'' Dylan Fugitt, 12 of Mooresville, said he has dreams of becoming a clown and performing in the circus. He has taken the class twice and would like to attend others.
"You get to do a lot of stuff that you would do in clown college," he said. "I just wanted to learn more about juggling and now it's a hobby."
Rebecca Esque is new to homeschooling. She enrolled her daughter, Kendall, 6, in the class because it sounded fun. They also develop eye-hand coordination, build confidence and learn team work.
"It's great for coordination and these classes in general are great for self-confidence," she said. "And the older kids help the younger kids - it's a great group."
Langley said students enjoy the class because it's fun, but also because of juggling's systematic approach, which allows them to learn at their own pace.
It's also a form of exercise that can be meditative and, perhaps, even boost your IQ.
"It forces them to use both sides of the brain," Langley said. "Juggling makes you smarter. There are studies that show kids who do these kinds of activities develop better reading skills, but it has multifaceted benefits."
Drew Nowlin, 31, has been a performer for more than 15 years and is a puppeteer at the ImaginOn in Charlotte. He has worked with Langley as one of The Fettucini Brothers for about eight years and helps with the home-schooled class.
"He's a tremendous professional on a lot of levels - and incredibly patient when it comes to teaching kids."
Langley learned about more than just patience during his decades of show business experience.
"A veteran performer once told me, 'Show business is two words. If you don't learn the business side, it'll eat you alive,'" he said. "All the behind-the-scenes stuff is the work, and the show part is a gift."