Touching toes to nose

Jeremiah Calderon

Photo By Larry Dalton

Jeremiah Calderon , a 7-year-old contortionist and the youngest member of the Alfartaj Troupe , peered shyly over the table at his interviewer. Only his spiky dark hair and sparkling brown eyes were visible.

For two years, Calderon has studied the arts of contortionism and tumbling with his step-father, Said Alfartaj. Said began his career in acrobatics in his home country of Morocco at the age of 16. After performing internationally for years, Said finally settled in Sacramento and founded the Alfartaj Troupe, a four-member group that performs traditional Moroccan acrobatics and classic circus-style tumbling acts. As the youngest member of the troupe, Calderon is the fearless face at the top of the troupe’s human pyramids.

But on the morning of this interview, he had the jitters. “He never gets nervous when he’s performing,” his mother, Angie Alfartaj, reported, “only when he has to do interviews.”

“You want some hot coffee?” Said asked him. The boy smiled and warmed his hands on Said’s coffee cup, and the questions began.

What grade are you in?

[He holds up two fingers.] Second.

What do you do during the shows?

We just do tumbling. Handstands, bend-backs, front flips and body pyramids.

Where are you in the pyramid?

At the top!

Do you get nervous being up that high?

No. Never. If we’re at a park, I can see my house from there.

What’s your favorite trick?

It’s a front flip. You just do a handstand and then do one leg and then one leg. My dad taught me.

How often do you practice?

Two days. [Said interjects, “Two times a day."] Before school and after school.

For how long?

Five minutes. [Said laughs and says, “45 minutes!"]

What do you like to do when you’re not performing?

I just like to go to school and play at recess. I go on the monkey bars and play tag. I hang upside down [on the monkey bars]. I can skip two bars. I like running and riding bikes.

Your Web site says you like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Which of his movies do you like?

The Terminator 1, Terminator 2 and Terminator 3.

Do you like him better when he’s a good guy or a bad guy?

Bad guy!

What advice do you have for kids who want to try being contortionists?

My friend wants to. His name is Alex, and he does some handstands. I help him at school. I teach him. I tell him, “No, man, kick your feet over.” Then he’s like, “OK.”

Where’s the farthest you’ve ever been for a show?

Um, Oakland.

Did you see the ocean?

Yeah. There were sharks.

You saw sharks?

No, but there was. And I saw some eels—no, seals.

Were you hoping to see a shark?

No, I’m glad I didn’t see one. They would have gone, “Crunch!” [He makes a jaw-crunching motion with his arms.]

Do you have any pets?

Yeah, five birds and a lizard and 11 goldfish. When I’m asleep, the birds go, “Caw coo coo coo!” That’s why I don’t get any sleep. I go, “Grrr.”

What kind of lizard?

A bearded dragon. We feed it crickets and lettuce. If we touched the crickets, he wouldn’t eat them.

What do you like to eat?

Pizza, hamburgers and baby back ribs. Those are my favorites. And I eat cereal once a day. Honeycomb. When I eat it, it always sinks. Then when I drink all the milk, I see it all in the bottom, and I go, “Oh my gosh!”

Do you have to go to school now?

Yes. I missed two recesses, but when I go back, I get two more.

What’s your favorite subject in school?

Food and doing recess. That’s all my favorites.