Running Away With The Circus: Lessons Learned Under The Big Top

May 5, 2015
Those are my girls...30' up without a net

Those are my girls…30′ up without a net

The phrases stage mom and soccer mom are staples within our lexicon, but circus mom, albeit a less known moniker, was my title last week.

My daughters have been taking classes at Circus Juventas since they were five years old. Children as young as three and as old as 21 can participate in Circus Juventas, and the Spring Show is when the beginning and intermediate students take to the stage to show off what they have learned over the course of the year. If you’re unfamiliar with the CJ spring show, imagine a youth dance recital that occupies more vertical space.

There are roughly 25 acts in a three-plus-hour-long Spring Show. Act teams range in size from two to 50 students, and each student averages 2.5 acts. In order to give every student their moment in the spotlight, the 800 performing students are split into three different show groups (based upon act team, not student), and each show group performs three shows. By luck of the draw, my daughters’ two acts were spread across two different show sets, which performed on alternating nights last week (and twice on Saturday). Needless to say, it was a fun, but very long, week for two 8-year olds and this mom.

In addition to the confidence and numerous physical benefits the performers develop throughout their training, they must also adhere to some house “rules.” One hour before curtain call, all of that show’s performers gather in the stands for a pep talk and are reminded of these “rules.” Not only are these things important under the big top, but they are things that we should all remember in our day-to-day lives:

Mini Hammock team

Mini Hammock team

By most definitions, being safe could save your life (check your harness, look both ways when you cross the street, wear a helmet, wear a seatbelt, don’t text and drive) but it could also save your job or just a lot of embarrassment (double-check that “To” line in your email, don’t “overindulge” at the company holiday party).

Contortion Team

Contortion Team

Drop a club while juggling? Smile, pick it up, and resume juggling. Fall off your unicycle? Flash a big smile and get right back on. What a powerful message for kids (and adults) to remember: It’s okay to make mistakes. And once it happens, acknowledge it. Own it and pick back up right where you left off.

Triple Trapeze Team

Triple Trapeze Team

As every coach I ever had said, “there’s no ‘I’ in team”, and the same holds true under the big top and in life. Most of us don’t do it all, all by ourselves. We have our network of family, friends, neighbors, colleagues. Share a kind word. Cheer them on. Most of us could all use a little more encouragement in our day-to-day than we let on.


I had often joked that by sending my kids to circus school I was helping them develop their Plan B: if all else failed, they could run away with the circus. It’s clear to me now, however, that their circus training and the lessons learned under the big top is what will help them succeed on whatever path they take in life.

My daughters - on top of the world

My daughters – on top of the world

Circus Juventas needs your help.

CJ is currently in negotiations with the City of Saint Paul for the expansion of their Big Top to add much needed training space and other important amenities. They also have funding applications pending with two City of St. Paul programs: Neighborhood STAR and the Capital Improvement Budget (CIB). Grants from these programs would provide the cornerstone for the capital campaign to raise the money for the expansion. If you are interested in finding out how you can help, please contact