Circus Arts Today: Something for Everyone

From our friends at the Circus Project

What is “circus,” anyway?

If the idea of a “circus” conjures up images of lion-tamers, freak shows and red-and-white Big Tops traveling by railroad, then you’re in for a treat – circus is so much more than that archetype! Circus today is a vibrant field of the performing arts, and one that is thriving here in Portland. Get involved at the Circus Project, Portland’s center for the contemporary circus arts. This non-profit offers classes for all levels and ages 2-adult.

A brief history

What we now call “traditional circus” took off in the 19th century, aided by the railways expanding across the country. Visionaries and impresarios like P.T. Barnum wanted to create an all-encompassing spectacle that included menageries (few people had access to zoos!), sideshow acts and acrobatic performers from around the world. In the mid-20th century, perhaps in conjunction with the popularity of movie theaters, spectator sports and more city-living, the popularity of the traveling American circus declined.

The first revival happened around the 1970s with the establishment of “contemporary circus” companies like the now-well-known Cirque du Soleil. Around this time, circus artists started exploring animal-free circuses that incorporated more elements of theater and dance.

It’s not just Ringling Bros. vs Cirque du Soleil

These days, Cirque du Soleil is most people’s first introduction to what contemporary circus means, but it shouldn’t be the last. Other circus companies that have passed through Portland include the Acrobatic Conundrum (through residencies with the Circus Project), Circa and 7 Doigts (thank you, White Bird!). Circus has become a performing art on par with ballet, one that can tenderly bring the audience on an emotional journey that goes deeper and further than just spectacle.

Circus Is for Everyone

Another delightful evolution of the circus arts is the rise of recreational circus!  Schools such as the Circus Project offer beginner-level introduction to the circus world through trapeze classes, handbalancing, the dizzying Cyr wheel, and more. Circus arts are an accessible and engaging way to stay active!

Why Take Circus Classes?

As a highly physical activity, circus training provides all of the benefits of sports, but in a cooperative, non-competitive environment. Circus arts are inherently creative. Students consider expression, movement quality and act creation within classes, with many opportunities to build towards performances.

There’s something for everyone. “Circus” includes trapeze, juggling, partner acrobatics, in addition to dance and theater and more.  Each student can find their own path and explore their own voice.

Circus training develops grit.  The process of growth in circus is very visible and tangible.  Students learn a skill and go from “No way can I do that” to “I can’t believe I did that!”  This visceral, lived experience of resilience transfers to other activities in their lives.

It’s fun! As parents, we know how important it is that our kid is enjoying the process! Circus is at its heart engaging and playful.

How to Get Involved

Check out the Circus Project’s upcoming summer camp offerings!  You may find yourself climbing to the top of the Chinese pole, swinging and spinning on the aerial trapeze, and creating dance and comedy sequences with your friends.   

  • Week-long camps run June 17 – August 23rd with options for ages 5 through teens.
  • Early drop-off is available, as well as aftercare in partnership with their neighbor, Playdate PDX.
  • Check out their specialty camps for students with experience, like Aerial (Only!) and Circus Performance.  
  • Looking for something more focused? Auditions are coming up for the Summer Performance Intensive and the 9-month Brio Youth Training Company.

Don’t want to wait?  Registration is open for their Late Spring term. They have lots of fun classes for adults, too!

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