"Lift and flick, lift and flick, Eleana," he tells 10-year-old Eleana Downs-Perez, who's struggling a bit with her scarf juggling "That's right. Does that feel better than yesterday?" (It's only Tuesday, and he knows almost every camper's name.)

As Cameron Orner, 12, of Arnold, manages to keep three balls aloft, Rosman tells him to breathe more often and make his throws upward from below, as though bringing the balls up through his nose.

"Ninety percent of juggling is the throw," he says. "The other 30 is the catch." Ba-da-bump.

Some of his thoughts have the ring of larger truth.

You're going to goof up, he tells the class, no matter how good you get. When that happens, a good clown owns up to his or her error. If you move to center stage, take a big bow and say "ta-daa!" You'll always bring down the house.

But clowning is also for keeps. "Are you the kind of person who tries spinning plates three times, then quits? If so, this isn't the camp for you. It might take 80 tries," he says. "It might take 200. Anything worth doing is worth working at."

Sleight of hand

Is that unfriendly, coming from a clown? Scary? The kids don't seem think so. They crowd around Rosman when they can, showing him what they've learned.

"I'm doing the diablos," says Noah Schulman, 9, of Annapolis, rolling the traditional Chinese tops across a string he's holding between two sticks. He wanders off, continuing the game on his own.

"I love the show-off stuff," Rosman says. "That's how I know they're getting better."

This is the second year he has offered his camp during Kids in College, an Anne Arundel Community College program aimed at children through the age of 18.

A few of this year's students took the 2010 version of Clown Camp, but most didn't, and very few had tried any kind of circus gag.

During a break Tuesday, four friends set aside their lunchboxes to share what they've learned in a day and a half. What they say would make a good instructional video.

Taryn Crone of Millersville, 9, hasn't had much success with juggling yet, but she's an emerging expert on spinning plates. She grabs a thin stick, balances one of the specialized plates on top, and with a jerk of the wrist, starts it twirling.

It's easy to keep it spinning as long as the stick is on the outer edge, she says, but to get it to the center, you must flick your wrist to snap the plate into position, a move she hasn't mastered.

"But look, I can balance [the stick] on one hand, and I can move it around behind my back," she says, demonstrating just that. "And I'm working on balancing it on my chin."

Allison Downs-Perez, 7, says a key to walking the tightrope is keeping your arms out, and Sydney Feurer, 10, of Pasadena, has no trouble getting to the heart of circus clowning — which, as Rosman often explains, differs sharply from the slightly more gimmicky stuff you're likely to see in a Fourth of July parade, where clowns often entertain by handing out cornball buttons or balloon animals.

"This is comedy — like miming, but with words," Sydney says. "Someone does something to you, and you react. We've learned all these clown emotions — happy, sad, confused, scared, surprised. People think it's hilarious."

But it wouldn't be a demo without some old-fashioned slapstick.

"Clowning is the art of beating people up without actually hurting them," says Heather Casto, 8, of Pasadena, quoting Rosman. Taryn and Sydney get up to show what she means.