Youth circus celebrates teamwork, diversity


Building self-esteem is all part of the fun


The circus is coming and the performers, kids between the ages of 8 and 12, will do more than just clown around. They’ve spent nearly eight months learning to juggle, spin plates and walk on stilts as part of CircEsteem, an after-school program designed to help kids build confidence while they learn circus tricks in a fun, noncompetitive environment.

The show, “CircEsteem: The Greatest Kids on Earth,” will bring together 25 circus students from Alternatives Youth Network, a nonprofit community organization in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood; Anshe Emet Day School; the Francis Parker School; Lycee Francais de Chicago, and Baker Demonstration School in Evanston.

Most of the performers participate in an extracurricular CircEsteem session during the week at their school or at Alternatives, then meet on Saturday mornings to practice clowning routines, group juggling acts and trapeze tricks for the show.

Leah Koch, a fifth grader at Francis Parker, says coming to circus practice is like stepping into another world. “Even if you’ve had a bad day, you forget about it and work on improving your tricks,” she says. “I was scared to try to walk on stilts, but once I got the hang of it, it was really fun. Everyone always tries things, even if they don’t think they can do it.”

“These kids are as diverse as you can get and it’s neat to see their mutual respect for the skills they’ve developed,” says CircEsteem’s creator Paul Miller, a former Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey clown, who created the program after moving to Chicago almost two years ago.

“Everyone is good at something and the kids really do teach each other skills. It’s pretty cool to see everyone cooperating,” he says.

The show is scheduled for 3 p.m. April 12 at Alternatives, 4730 N. Sheridan Rd., Chicago. There is no charge, but donations are welcome. To make sure there’s enough room under the big top, please e-mail Paul at [email protected] or call him at (312) 593-HAHA if you’d like to attend.

-- Monica Ginsburg


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