Clowning around would be an understatement for Dharma Leon, of Sedalia, who created the character Esmeralda the clown years ago. Leon, a theater natural, enjoys being a professional clown who brings smiles and a message of hope to children.
A member of the World Clown Association, Leon is also the administrative assistant at Maplewood Church and the drama, theater and Spanish teacher at Applewood School.
As Esmeralda the clown she often visits local schools, and civic organizations. Her most recent outing as Esmeralda provided face painting to children at the Child Safe of Central Missouri, Inc. Color Dash.
Leon’s love for clowns came from spending time as a child at the Puerto Nuevo Baptist Church, in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, where her grandmother Elisa Rabassa and her mother Midiam Cardona wrote scripts and directed plays. Her father Angel Cardona often acted in the plays.
“One of the most memorable plays in my head is seeing my dad get shot, and bleeding” she said laughing. “It was a prop, it was so real. I knew it, I had seen the prop, I had seen them working on how to make this blood spurt when he would press it against his breast.
“All of that always fascinated me, when we would do musicals or cantatas or the ladies applying the makeup or the prosthetics and fake beards, moustaches and wigs,” she said. “I was always the kid around them helping them.”
While attending attended the University of Puerto Rico, in San Juan, Leon helped with a vacation Bible school for the Youth Baptist Organization. The pastor told them there would be a group of clowns who would come to entertain the children. Unfortunately, the performers called three days before the VBS began and said they couldn’t make it.
Not wanting to see the children of the rural church disappointed, Leon put a plan in action that spurred her into professional clown performing years later.
“I had always been in drama and loved it, so I said we’ll do it,” she said. “I had no knowledge, so I just went to a theatrical shop and bought some basic crayons to paint our faces.”
Leon and the VBS volunteers dressed up in mismatched clothes and pillow cases, painted their faces, developed a skit and made the children happy. She said by the end of the program the face paint began to come off.
“We didn’t have any powder, we didn’t know anything, but, I was hooked from then on,” she said smiling. “I just wanted to learn more about it.”
Leon bought books with her small student budget and began to learn how to be a proper clown. She also learn the business side of clowning.
“So I combined puppetering with clowning and started to do it for ministry,” she said.
She often performed for churches, but soon branched out to civic organizations, orphanages and for AIDS organizations for children.
“It just got way beyond churches and camps,” Leon noted. “I finally learned the right way to put on the makeup, you put powder to set it. I learned that, yes clowns do match and coordinate very well, and that there’s three types of clowns.”
Two types of clowns are European in nature the Auguste or comedy clown with the big nose, big eyes and big hair and the White Faced Clown who has small features. Auguste Clowns play the the clumsy, bubbling roles while White Faced Clowns play intelligent clowns. The American clown type is the Hobo or sad clown often portrayed by comedian Red Skelton.
Leon’s Esmeralda is a White Faced Clown. Esmeralda means emerald, Leon’s favorite color, so her clown has green hair to match her green eyes.
“To me green is growth and hope,” she said. “
She added that there are clown ethics as a professional performer. Clowns should show up on time, do their best and stay in character.
“I’m there to make the child smile and have fun,” she said. “That’s my priority first, to serve them. That’s my motto, smiles are free.
“I’m mostly a teaching clown, I love to teach, mostly God’s word,” Leon added. “But when I do birthdays, it’s just basic teaching and having fun with the kids. One of the things they hire me the most for is face painting.”
When performing at a party, she provides all things “clown” — balloons, games, magic acts and comedy tricks.
Over time her family, husband Carlos, son Raymond, 19, and daughters, Carla, 19, and Xiara, 15, have helped with her clown performances. Both daughters have helped with face painting while her husband has taken on the role of Bebo the tramp or hobo clown.
“He has finally acquiesced over the years,” she said laughing. “He’s the sad clown.”
Always the teacher, Leon has taught youth to perform as clowns for missions trips.
“It carries very well in Latin America, clowns are very well-known and accepted and beloved,”she said. “It’s just an art form that you can communicate without knowing the language.”
Leon added that there’s certain clown criteria when meeting another clown too, and it’s all about the nose.
“As a fellow clown when I see other clowns I want to get to know them, it’s networking” she said. “The way we salute another clown is to bump a nose.”
As Esmeralda the clown Leon has advice for children.
“God has made us all unique,” she said. “We are wonderfully made, so I just wish every child would be able to be safe, and feel loved, and enjoy their God-given gifts.”
For more information about Esmeralda the Clown call Leon at 473-2503.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.