The unassuming sport of circus
Thousands of people drive down Montreal Avenue in St. Paul every single day, completely unaware that one of the biggest spectacles in the entire Twin Cities lies just a few hundred feet away. Tucked away behind woods and parking lots lies a massive white dome, home to Circus Juventas.
“The first act I got into was vault mini,” says senior Sam Karkabi who started in Circus Juventas’ toddler program in 2008 as a 4-year-old, “which is a bunch of little trampolines that we run onto and do acrobatics off of.”
Karkabi has done this act now for over a decade, which he noted is rare for someone who started on vault mini.
“People who start on that act tend to just leave and are kind of notorious around here [Circus Juventas],” says Karkabi.
However, Karkabi has developed close relationships within the Circus Juventas community and is thankful for the athletic opportunities they have given him.
“Circus Juventas was a place where I could get my energy out starting at a young age. It became my sport,” says Karkabi.
Established in 1994, Circus Juventas is a performing arts circus school that is “dedicated to inspiring artistry and self-confidence through a multicultural circus arts experience.” A total of 819 students and 37 coaches make up Circus Juventas, contributing to the non-profit’s Holiday, Spring, and Summer shows. Their elaborate shows incorporate impressive aerial acts such as trapeze and trampoline, as well as theater and dance. However, while circus often gets overlooked in comparison to large market sports such as football and basketball, there’s no doubt that it’s one of the most difficult sports on the planet.
“I think it’s the hardest sport in the world,” says Jason Hilton, a teacher at Circus Juventus and former member of the U.S. National Tumbling Team. “I got into teaching circus because I was a gymnast and a lot of circus arts is acrobatic skill. There’s juggling, balancing, flipping, stunt parkour, and so much more. Literally anything can be circus if you want it to be.”
Circus is an extremely fluid and inventive sport that allows for a great amount of creativity, paired alongside elite athletic ability.
“People come to Circus Juventas to be amazed. They come here to see things they’ve never seen before,” says Karkabi.
Still, the captivating productions and stunning shows put on by Circus Juventas are the result of countless hours practicing and honing skills.
“It’s just like basketball or football,” remarks Karkabi, “you get out if it what you put in. If you want to be great at circus you have to put in 100%.”
Karkabi certainly lives out this idea in regards to circus and his career at Circus Juventas.
“I’m at Circus Juventas five days a week, at least two hours a day. It’s kind of like school after school.” says Karkabi.
However, this level of commitment largely flies under the radar in comparison to other sports. Circus doesn’t get anywhere near the spotlight that sports like basketball, football, and soccer do, but it induces a sense of wonder that more relevant sports don’t offer.
“Circus has 35, 40, even 50 disciplines,” says Hilton, “and you have to be able to perform them at the same time. It’s not like circus performers are only really good at one thing. They train really hard to become good at a lot of different things.”
One of the many activities that falls under the umbrella of circus is juggling. Issac Anderson, a first-year, has been juggling for 5 years at a club called JUGHEADS.
“The community at JUGHEADS got me hooked on juggling,” says Anderson, “it’s one of a kind.”
Anderson practices juggling every Tuesday for three hours and is part of the elite club at JUGHEADS, a rank that changes based on the juggler’s experience and skill.
“There’s a standards list that determines which club you’re in. For instance, it could be based on the number of right hand throws and the mark to hit could be 20.”
Juggling not only encourages competition and allows for each juggler to challenge themselves in new ways, it also requires endurance.
“Juggling is a sport that requires a surprising amount of physical exertion,” notes Anderson, “because once you get past a certain stage, it takes a considerable amount of strength to keep going.”
The JUGHEADS club participates in Youth Juggling Academy (YJA) competitions and gets judged for the skills demonstrated in the performance. Furthermore, just like other sports, juggling can cause injuries because of the physical ability involved.
“Juggling can be painful sometimes. I regularly get calluses from juggling rings and have chipped my thumb pretty badly while juggling clubs.” says Anderson.
Ophelia Klimmek, a junior who is a part of Circus Juventas, deals with pain on a daily basis.
“I am in triple trap 400 and I think I’m really good at that. Not because I’m flexible, but because I have a really high pain tolerance.” says Kilimmek.
Klimmek joined Circus Juventas at a young age in the kinders program.
“They just have you do simple things like bounce on the trampoline and swing around in a hammock,” says Klimmek.
Now, Klimmek takes three classes at Circus Juventas and practices for about one hour a week.
“Triple trap 400 is three trapezes, but the bar extends out so you have four people on three trapezes. You also have two bases and two fliers. I’m a base, so that means I get stepped on. I’m a doormat.” says Kilmmek.
Klimmek not only enjoys the physical exertion and effort that circus requires, she also greatly appreciates the community.
“With circus, you learn how to work as a team. You have this really good environment without the toxicity of competition. The people at Circus Juventas have inspired me to appreciate this opportunity and helped me rethink how I can excel everyday,” says Klimmek.
Circus is a sport that inherently defies the boundaries of sport itself. It covers a bounty of disciplines and requires peak athletic ability, all while providing a tight-knit community that encourages creativity. So next time you go down Montreal Avenue, remember Jason Hilton’s words that, “Anything can be circus,” and check out the massive white dome of Circus Juventas.