Circus camp!

A girl who looks no more than 9 years old spins gracefully — 25 feet in the air — her small hands gripping strips of bright blue silk, hanging from the ceiling.

A young boy leaps on a large trampoline, flying ever higher with each bounce.

Another girl whizzes past on a unicycle, leaning into a turn with an arm out for balance. 

Nearby, six kids rise from a padded floor mat to create a human pyramid reaching 6 feet tall, despite fits of giggles coming from the participants. 

If it all sounds a bit like a circus, well, it actually is.

This is summer camp at Circus Juventas, the largest performing arts youth circus school in North America, located in the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul.

Founded in 1994 by real-life circus performers, the popular school offers year-round programming for ages 2 to 22 as well as summer camps for ages 6 to 15.

Samplers, shows

Kids have two camp options to choose from: Five-day performance camps for $405 end with a show in the final day of camp. Attendance is required all five days.

Sampler camps, which don’t include a performance, can be taken a la cart for $85 a day or $405 for all five days.

Both options include instruction in aerial skills (such as silks and trapeze), acrobatics (trampolines and tumbling), balance (think tight ropes and unicycles), juggling and theater.

Circus Juventas draws more than 500 circus-minded kids each summer. That’s about 70 campers a week, divided into small groups based on age and ability.

Photos by Lauren Cutshall 

Beginners welcome

So what if your kid is completely new to circus?

Not a problem — in fact, most of Circus Juventas’ summer campers are beginners.

 “[Coaches] go into it assuming everyone is new,” said Rachel Butler, one of the camp’s co-directors.

Though some kids may feel timid at first, the coaches and kids develop strong relationships early on — with roughly one coach to every seven kids.

Coaches help kids gradually build their circus skills.

“We do start slowly,” said Marissa Dorschner, the camp’s other co-director. “Everything is pretty low to the ground.”

Circus Juventas’ coaches — who boast real circus backgrounds with groups such as Cirque du Soleil, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey — come from around the world, including countries such as China, Mongolia, Morocco, Poland and Russia.

Beyond camp

Circus camp may inspire a new long-term hobby for your child.

It’s quite possible that at the end of a day at camp, your child will want to linger in the gym, watching in awe when the school’s regular students arrive and begin to fly confidently through the air on the trapeze.

In regular classes, kids focus more closely on specific skills and for longer periods of time.

“Taking the summer camp is a good way for them to get acquainted with the acts, before they sign up for a whole class,” Butler said. “It’s a good way to be introduced to circus.”

For Rachel Dickinson, age 11, one of the best parts of camp was trying so many different activities.

Though she’s taken classes at Circus Juventas for years, she said camp helped her work on other skills.

“I was more scared of acrobatics,” said Rachel, whose classes focus mostly on aerial work.

Kids at camp don’t just learn to perform circus arts with confidence, Butler said. They also discover the power of working together.

“So much of what they’re doing, and so much of what circus is about, is trust and teamwork,” Butler said. “It takes everybody to make an act work.”

Lauren Cutshall is a Minneapolis-based photographer and freelance writer and a student at the University of Minnesota.