The Social Circus Connection:
Circus is truly a universal language. The passion for the art and the ability it has to bridge age, language, ability and location is what brings people to the circus and brings passionate instructors and artists together for a greater good. The social circus concept is a tool used around the world helping marginalized people unlock their talent, confidence, drive and spirit using circus arts as the key. Paul Miller and Amy Chen have been involved with social circus efforts together and separately for over a decade.
Amy Chen, trapeze artist, juggler, acrobat, and fire breather is currently Circus Coach and Coordinator with THE POINT Community Development Corporation which is dedicated to youth development and the cultural and economic revitalization of the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx. THE POINT brings the circus to the South Bronx through one-of-a-kind Cirque du Monde social circus workshops and live circus performances. Cirque du Monde is the outreach arm of Cirque du Soleil.
Social Circus at Work: Jean-Tae’s Story
In August, thirteen members of Circus Mojo had a three-week international exchange in Southwest Germany with Circus Pimparello, a German youth circus that has been a partner for nearly ten years. Our troupe learned, taught and performed alongside Circus Pimparello in a variety of venues from outside the Stuttgart Opera House to inside the CircArtive House at their headquarters. Jean-Tae Francis, a nineteen-year-old who studies circus arts in the Bronx, was part of our troupe. Here is his story:
I am originally from Antigua, a tiny country in the Caribbean. In 2009, I moved to Newark, NJ, and I now live in Brooklyn. I have been in the circus for four years at THE POINT in The Bronx under the coaching of Amy Chen. The first specific skill I focused on was juggling, and I recently took up the diabolo. Amy is not only an amazing coach but also an amazing person. We have become very close over the past year and I consider her to be one of my best friends. She pushes me to work hard and challenge myself. I admire her as a mentor, value her as a friend and feel blessed to have her in my life.
Amy was the reason I was able to connect with Circus Mojo and Paul Miller. Circus Mojo is definitely a cool place and I love working with the kids there. Paul is a highly energetic and crazy-funny guy, but, hey, he’s a clown!
Performing in Cirque Devou with Circus Mojo and the Northern KY Symphony Orchestra was a summer highlight. Until then, I hadn’t performed in front of more than 20 people; during that weekend, I went from a crowd of 20 to an audience of around 3,000.
After Cirque Devou, Circus Mojo invited me to tour Germany and Denmark. Being in Europe for the first time and training with Circus Pimparello’s talented coaches, Stefan and Tobias, elevated my skills and opened my eyes to a new world. The language barrier in Germany made things hard at first, but sleeping in a tent on cold nights was harder. I didn’t pack for the weather, but I survived.
During my final week in Germany, I was made a Teamer, a leader and instructor for the younger campers, and given many responsibilities. I grew a lot from this challenging experience and had a chance to perform in Stuttgart, a city way cleaner than the Bronx or Brooklyn. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that there are hardly any trashcans in Germany and no trash at all on the ground.
Sandwiched between my stay in Germany was my week-long adventure in Denmark at Circus Fabrikken, founded by Einar Trie. Einar was a pleasure to work with, and the Circus Fabrikken kids were spectacular at the silks, trapeze and contortion. Magne, my diabolo partner, manages to be the only boy in a circus of 14 girls. Kudos. We created an act in about 30 minutes and I was impressed with how good it was. I plan to hang out with Circus Fabrikken again when they visit Chicago and Circus Mojo in mid-October. Looking forward to our performance!
I loved it in Europe, but there’s no place like NYC. Everyone at The Point treats each other like family and I felt like family right away. I appreciate what they do for the community and hope to be with them for many more years. I want to watch them grow and be part of the change.
Paul Miller has been using the concepts of social circus in Ludlow, Kentucky and the surrounding areas since Circus Mojo’s inception in 2009.The Social Circus Foundation (SCF), the non-profit arm of Circus Mojo, has been chosen by Cirque du Soleil as a beneficiary of their social outreach program. Cirque du Soleil is dedicated to using social circus around the globe and Miller has had a relationship with Cirque du Soleil since 2003 . The SCF has been given 100 tickets to Cirque du Soleil’s upcoming Varekai at The Bank of Kentucky Center on October 17, 2014. Funds raised from ticket sales will directly support after-school programming in Ludlow and the Greater Cincin. Tickets are available at circusmojo.com.