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Integrating Circus Arts into the Lives of Younger


Nicollette Amico
Muhlenberg College
December 12, 2017

Through my research, I will be conduction studies and gathering information in regards

to integrating circus arts into the lives of younger generations. This idea was sparked for me in

my further involvement with the Office of Community Engagement at Muhlenberg College and

The Muhlenberg Circus. I have been a member of the Muhlenberg Circus for three and a half

years now and have done many performances, community engagement programs, and events

with the ensemble. Jefferson Elementary School, a local Allentown elementary school, has a

strong partnership with Muhlenberg College in many ways. Jefferson Elementary holds weekly

programs and special events for students that Muhlenberg students run and host throughout the


For my research, I am interested in gathering information about each of the different

programs that incorporate and include art in them whether it be physical or performance, studio,

or media art forms. I want to explore the various results of how kids react to these different art

forms that are integrated into their everyday lives as they are beginning to develop more creative,

collaborative, and team-building skills.

Community Engagement is so important in the developmental growth of our society.

Especially in our world today, people need to be reminded of the reasons why helping and

supporting each other and educating our younger generations is so important. In taking the time

and necessary means of creating programs that incorporate artistic elements such as circus,

younger generations will benefit from the skills acquired because of the parallels established

between our everyday lives and circus. I am going to us the two community engagement circus

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programs that I helped to organize with Jefferson Elementary school as a starting point for

making inferences and connections using the teachers and their feedback on these events.

Statement of Purpose

My purpose statement is to prove that circus arts can help younger generations develop and
enhance skills in creativity, collaboration, and leadership. This study will also compile research
in a way that shows how and why the arts are so important to our developing and ever changing

Statement of the Problem

Our current education system is not providing enough alternative learning opportunities for

developing skills in creativity, collaboration, and leadership skills for children K-5. The few

opportunities that are available are not easily accessible to everyone and live in exclusivity which

is not what circus is about.

Review of Literature

Bouissacs main focus in his book, Semiotics at the Circus is what it means to actually go

to the circus. Through his book he unveils the various layers of the circus, beginning with the

audience stepping through the doorway to enter the circus to the symbolic usage of tricks passed

down through the many generations of circus. Semiotics in the circus are interwoven and

prominently used to interpret the paralleling of the circus and human societies. Bouissacs

research is relevant to my study on how circus art should and can be effectively integrated into

the lives of younger generations because of his focus on the semiotics and what circus means in

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our society as a whole in regards to everyone. This research, of circus in society as a whole, is

important in supporting how and why circus can help in the development of younger generations.

In another area of circus research, in The Contemporary Circus: The Art of the

Spectacular, Ernest Albrecht discusses how the ideas of all the moving parts of the circus work

together in mechanism. There are many different facets of a circus which is why people keep

coming back. He focuses on the collaboration aspect and compares how the group as well as the

individual aspect keeps the circus moving forward in creative ways. He also states that the

artistry amongst individuals in collaboration with a group will lead to a sustainable future for the

circus. He believes that circus schools will remain as long as artists continue to enliven their

creative minds. Albrechts research is important, similarly to Bouissacs research in

understanding why and how circus fits into our everyday lives. However, Albrecht focuses on

the ideas of collaboration and the ideas of utilizing techniques and tools found within working in

a group or individually to enhance and vitalize peoples minds as artists. This information can be

displaced and applied to many different age groups and sculpted in such a way that makes sense

to that particular group.

In a different focus of the study of circus, Maglio and McKinstry discuss the benefits of

using circus arts and skills partnered with occupational therapy to enhance the development of

primary and secondary school students. Their main focus is to promote how the effectiveness of

using circus arts as a tool for developing collaboration, self-awareness, creativity, education, and

social development can be highly influential. This research, while focused on occupational

therapy, is relevant in highlighting the effectiveness of circus in developing generations.

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From a broader standpoint, the National Endowment for the Arts explains that the

participation in the arts is so important and helps to develop human potential. The studies of

arts education and engagement can further the growth of young, developing minds in terms of

supporting thinking and expressing themselves in creative ways. These skills can also promote

growth and positive development in other areas of study such as math and recommends that non

art classes have a more integrated curriculum surround the arts. The author offers explanations

on how the arts have affected individuals, ranging from adolescents to adults and concluded that

those individuals who were involved in the arts had higher self esteem and a better quality of life

than those who were not.

After reading all of these scholarly articles and chapters of books discussing how and

why circus is beneficial to society as a whole I am further perpetuated to understand and discover

more ways of establishing these values earlier on in childhood and adolescent development.

These sources focused a lot on circus in general which is important in understanding where and

what societal values are because to establish something new, I have to go back and look at what

came before. I am going to make further connections with these sources and my focused research

next semester.


My assumptions of this study are that students in grades K-fifth do not have enough

opportunities to learn team building, collaboration, participation, and trust skills. I am assuming

that this is a result of people not having the means or knowledge to inquire further than what is

readily available for them. I am can assume that people do not have the exposure to fully

understand the significance of circus arts in a historical context.

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Through integrating and developing a more tactile and visceral experience for students

through circus arts, students will be able to experience growth in leadership, skills, ability to

collaborate, and creativity through physical participation. This participation will allow them to

establish and make apparent certain skills that they might not otherwise be able to acquire or



The delimitations I am anticipating in this study are that there are already a lot of

community centers in Allentown, which that have a large variety of activities for people to be

involved in. However at some of the community center, the only artistic physical activity offered

is line dancing classes. There is no age specification on the brochure, however this is not

something that younger generations will benefit from in terms of building team-building,

collaborative, and create skills. I am going to explore and dig deeper to gain a fuller

understanding of the programs offered at these community centers and what kind of people are

enrolled and attending.

I am also going to research further, various circus schools that offer community outreach

programs and compare their results in attendance, retention, and feedback to the programs

offered by recreational community centers. I am also interested in compiling a grouping of circus

schools and companies, within the tristate area, that actually offer community classes that are


Muhlenberg is also a good resource in exploring the large variety of art programs with

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the elementary schools in Allentown that are either weekly, monthly, and or annually. These

programs are mostly focused on grades K through fifth. Every year Muhlenberg College hosts

Art Day for Cleveland Elementary to further their exposure to fine art. This program has been

developed and manipulated to operate in a weekly structure to further enhance the relevance and

consistency of the incorporating art into our everyday lives.


In regards to limitations, I am anticipating that I might find some push back from some of

the community center in Allentown and throughout the Lehigh Valley in that they might not

want to expand their programs through circus arts. This is something that I think can be resolved

on its own and that will also help shape the study in understanding where elements of circus and

arts programs are lacking and where and what people deem important in terms of expansion.

I also am anticipating possibly having to widen my age range in gathering data or

possibly incorporating into the study people who are currently doing circus that did not have the

opportunity to do it when they were younger. This information can be helpful and influential in

further understand how to go about integrating circus into elementary schools. Often times you

find that young adults have done either gymnastic or some kind of tumbling when they were

younger but stopped once they got too old to keep doing it recreationally and would have had to

move onto more intense training or stop completely. I am interested to find a way to allow

people to develop these skills earlier on in life without choosing between such extremes so that

these skills can continue to enhance and enliven their lived experiences. I am going to look into

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Parkettes Gymnastics Training Center in the Lehigh Valley, which is the local olympic

gymnastics training center and inquire about their training program.


Community engagement

What is community engagement? Community describes the people and organizations

that are related to a community arts education providers mission: students, parents,
families, artists, partner organizations, schools, government agencies, and so on.
Engagement describes an active, two-way process in which one party motivates
another to get involved or take actionand both parties experience change. Mutual
activity and involvement are the keys to community engagement. Sometimes
organizations interpret community engagement as collaboration, marketing to diverse
audiences, or developing programs for underserved groups. While those are all worthy
and necessary activities, an engaged community arts education provider does more. It
promotes consistent community interaction that is a step beyond conventional
programmatic partnerships. Consistent community engagement is not program based; it
is part of organizational culture (2013). National Guild for the Arts

Social Circus

Using circus as a medium for building trust, changing perspectives, increasing confidence and
other life skills


When the value at stake in a transaction is high or when this transaction has a critical role in the
security or the safety of a system. (Analysing the Relationship between Risk and Trust)


Trust is the extent to which one party is willing to depend on somebody, or something, in a given
situation with a feeling of relative security, even though negative consequences are possible.
(Analysing the Relationship between Risk and Trust)

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To work jointly with other or together especially in an intellectual endeavour (Merriam Webster)

Modes, Methodology, and Procedures

This research will be conducted by utilizing various modes of networking throughout the

Muhlenberg community and Allentown and the Lehigh Valley community. I will be contacting

local schools and community centers to gain a more narrow understanding of what the programs

are that they offer and what variety those programs encompass in regards to a greater

understanding of what a community might need specifically.

I am also going to utilize the Office of Community Engagement at Muhlenberg College

because of their strong connections and network with the surrounding Allentown community.

They have art programs in a variety of their partnership elementary school such as Jefferson

Elementary, Cleveland Elementary, and Roosevelt Elementary. Muhlenberg prides itself on the

strong connections it holds with these schools because of the positive feedback Muhlenberg

receives from the schools. I am going to conduct interviews with Eveily Freeman and Beth

Halpern, the coordinators of the Office of Community Engagement because I have worked

closely with them on a variety of circus and other community engagement events, such as the

Jefferson Circus Extravaganza, The Muhlenberg Circus Incentive Performance, and the Winter


As I further my research next semester, I am going to reach out to the coordinators of

these schools to learn more about their programs and what the effect of incorporating the arts

into their school day has had on their students. I am also going to interview people within the

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Muhlenberg community such as Teresa VanDenend Sorge about her work in community

engagement and what her process is in establishing relationships within the communities. I hope

to learn more about how DanceMax, the Muhlenberg College Moving Company, which Teresa is

the advisor and coordinator of, is a helpful learning tool in teaching kids about specific topics.

Along with Teresa, I hope to also gain information through conducting interviews with

the Muhlenberg College Education Department to gain knowledge of how the student teacher

field work program allows student teachers to incorporate their own methodology into state

education standards required for each school and classroom. I am going to do more research on

how the state standards are affecting how teachers add and omit certain elements and lessons into

their curriculums.

Annotated Bibliography

Carmeli, Y. (1994). Text, Traces, and the Reification of Totality: The Case of Popular
Circus Literature. New Literary History, 25(1), 175-205. doi:10.2307/469447

In the article, Carmeli focuses on how circus literature has been documented throughout
history and gives the reader information in ways to keep this form of literature alive. She
discusses how circus phenomena has developed and changed over generations and that audiences
are constantly looking for something new. However, people do not necessarily know what they
want because often times they do not know what has preceded what they desire. Carmeli deals
with the ideas that people looking to learn about circus are not digging deep enough and that they
are only finding the traces left behind. She is trying to give people somewhere to begin in which
telling and retelling, constantly tracing the circus back to its roots will keep it alive.

Tait, Peta. Circus Bodies : Cultural Identity in Aerial Performance. Abingdon, Oxon:
Taylor and Francis, 2005. Accessed September 19, 2017. ProQuest Ebook Central.

In Taits chapter on Risk, Danger, and other Paradoxes in circus and in Circus Oz
Parody, she discusses the ways in which circus audiences perceive risk. She also uses the ideas

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of risk that is linked with social identities and that in contemporary circus, there is less of the
effect of the spectacular stuntsman getting shot out of a cannon but rather a lone female aerialist,
performing center stage an ethereal, strong aerial piece. Tait further develops her ideas on how
circus identities are directly linked to societal implications and opinions that create parallels
between humanic society and circus ideologies.

Bouissac, P. (2010). Semiotics at the Circus. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

Bouissacs main focus in his book is discussing what it means to actually go to the circus.
Through his book he unveils the various layers of the circus, beginning with the audience
stepping through the doorway to enter the circus to the symbolic usage of tricks passed down
through the many generations of circus. Semiotics in the circus are interwoven and prominently
used to interpret the paralleling of the circus and human societies.

Albrecht, E. (2006). The Contemporary Circus : Art of the Spectacular. Lanham: Scarecrow

Albrecht discusses ideas of all the moving parts of the circus working together. There are
many different facets of a circus which is why people keep coming back. There is a focus on the
collaboration and with the group and individual that keeps the circus moving forward creatively.
The artistry amongst individuals in collaboration with a group will lead to a sustainable future
for the circus. He also believes that circus schools will remain as long as artists continue to
enliven their creative minds.

Leroux, Louis. "Contemporary Circus Research in Quebec: Building and Negotiating and
emerging Interdisciplinary Field." Theatre Research in Canada / Recherches thtrales au
Canada [Online], 35.2 (2014): n. pag. Web. 2 Oct. 2017

Leroux draws on the main ideas of why the circus field is so under researched. He uses circus in
Quebec as a to explain how it has grown and developed as a performance art. One of the main
groups working to build up circus research is the Montreal Working Group. Leroux talks about
how they have gathered information in regards to aesthetic, economics, ethics of Cirque du Soleil
and how it is reinventing circus but still remaining grounded in circus history. He also says that
circus requires an interdisciplinary type of research and fields such as the aesthetic, dramaturgy,
creative process, politics, training, pedagogy, ethics, social implications.

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Maglio, J. and McKinstry, C. (2008), Occupational therapy and circus: Potential partners
in enhancing the health and well-being of today's youth. Australian Occupational Therapy
Journal, 55: 287290. doi:10.1111/j.1440-1630.2007.00713.x

Maglio and McKinstry discuss the benefits of using circus arts and skills partnered with
occupational therapy to enhance the development of primary and secondary school students. The
authors main focus is to promote the effectiveness of using circus arts as a tool for development
in collaboration, self-awareness, creativity, education, and social development.

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Works Cited

Collaborate. Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster,

Bolton, Reginald. Why Circus Works. Murdoch University, Perth, in 2004.

Hurelly , Ryan. Reframing the Relationship: Community, Arts, and Engagement. ARTS
Blog, Americans for the Arts, 29 June 2015.

Jsang, Audun, and Lo Presti Ste phane. Analysing the Relationship between Risk and

McCloskey, Donna Jo, et al. Community Engagement: De Nitions and Organizing

Concepts from the Literature. Community Engagement . Agency for Toxic Substances and
Disease Registry .

Molm, Linda D, et al. American Journal of Sociology. University of Chicago Press

Journals, University of Arizona, Mar. 2000.

National Guild For Community Arts Education. National Guild - Home - National
Guild for Community Arts Education,.

The Arts and Human Development. Art Works:

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