Sidney ‘Iking’ Bateman is not only an extraordinary circus artist but also an extraordinary human being. Sidney was born in North St. Louis, an area he describes as worse than Ferguson – the neighborhood brought to national attention by the protests that followed shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer. Sidney is one of eight siblings who grew up doing flips in their back yard – a family tradition he shared with his brothers and uncles.
Sidney’s first exposure to the circus was at age of eleven in an after-school program called ‘Harmony to Handsprings’ run by a Circus Harmony. Circus Harmony is a non-profit based out of the City Museum in St. Louis with the stated mission of ‘teaching the art of life through circus education.’ Sidney showed promise and was invited to join Circus Harmony’s pre-professional troupe, the St. Louis Arches.
He loved sports and alternated between football and basketball with circus as an extra hobby. However, when the sports season was over, he’d fall into ‘bad stuff,’ as he described it. At 16, he joined a gang, the Crips from the 50 Hundred GST (Geraldine Street Thugs). He stopped performing with the St. Louis Arches. During his junior year in high school, Sidney had a wake-up call. He lost a good friend, shot by a member of a rival gang. It was on that day that Sidney remembers thinking, “One day I’m going to escape all this.”
“Circus Harmony was there for me,” Sidney said. “They let me make mistakes and took me back in every time.” When Sidney ran into problems his Senior year, Jessica Hentoff, Circus Harmony’s Artistic/Executive Director went so far as to take him into her home for a few weeks, making the 30-minute drive each morning to get Sidney to school. “Jessica was like a second mother to me,” Sidney explained.
Sidney had never considered the possibility of the circus as a career until 2009 when Renaldo Williams, a fellow St. Louis Arches member, was accepted into the prestigious École Nationale de Cirque in Montreal. A year later, Sidney’s current acrobatic partner, Melvin Diggs followed in Renaldo’s footsteps. In 2011, Sidney’s life would change forever when he was accepted into the school, “It seems to have become a tradition now to have someone from the Arches go to the National Circus School every year.”
“At 16 when I quit the circus, I thought I’d be nothing but a gang member limited to the few streets I was allowed to go to,” Sidney said shaking his head, “And then, there I was in Montreal.” His world had expanded from a few streets to a new city, in a new country, surrounded by people speaking French.
In July 2013, Sidney set a Guinness World Record with forty-two consecutive back handsprings.
Upon graduation in 2014, Sidney’s world expanded even further. He and his fellow Arches alum, Melvin Diggs were selected to join the 7 Fingers, a ground-breaking, internationally recognized collective that has been at the forefront of defining contemporary circus. The show, Cuisine & Confessions, was a huge success and toured the world for the next 3 years. So, this kid from Saint Louis found himself touring South America, Europe and even Russia.
Though his life has changed considerably, Sidney has remained anchored and committed to his home-town of St. Louis. Just before starting school, he met his fiancé, Jessica Wilkins and they were engaged in 2015 during a Circus Harmony alumni show.
Today, he, Jessica, his one-year-old daughter, Madilyn and his 7-year-old step son Zachary live in South County. “Whenever my schedule allows it, I go back to Circus Harmony to coach and talk to other kids who are growing up in my old neighborhood. I owe it to Jessica Hentoff, and I owe it to my community. I want the kids there to know how big and wonderful the world is, and I think they can hear it better from me…I’ve been where they are.”
Midnight Circus first crossed Sidney’s radar in school when he saw the troupe perform at the Montrèal Complètement Cirque. He loved it, “Midnight is right up my alley — intimate rings, an intimate space and tons of energy!” Coincidentally Sidney and Melvin had been on Midnight Circus Artistic Director Julie Greenberg’s radar for a few years as well, “I saw those young men grow up in the circus ring in Saint Louis and I knew they had something special. We reconnected in Montreal at the festival, and then I saw Cuisine & Confessions in Vancouver… WOW…I knew that I wanted to bring them into the Midnight Circus family.”
Sidney and his partner Melvin will be joining Midnight Circus in the Parks 2017 mid tour starting in McKinley Park on September 9th & 10th through the closing weekend in Welles Park. Audiences across Chicago are certainly in for a treat when Sidney and Melvin make their debut under the Midnight Circus’ (little) Big Top!