“Changing the World” Inspired by…

Circus Mojo was recently honored by being included in a Buzzfeed article entitled, “17 Circuses that are Changing the World.” I am thrilled that our local and global efforts are being recognized. However, all of the circuses mentioned in this article are based in the United States. There are plenty of international circuses who are deserving of acknowledgement because they are more advanced at using circus to build their communities. I, Paul Miller, the founder of the Social Circus Foundation and owner of Circus Mojo, would like to take a few moments to recognize the circuses from around the world who have guided my work. Without their contributions and inspiration, my circus would not be the organization it is today.

I am a businessman who aims to earn a living by producing quality programming and adapting concepts from around the world to the marketplace of the USA.  The announcing of a Social Circus Initiative took place in Montreal before Cirque du Soleil was purchased by American and Chinese investors.  It’s not easy making a living and a difference. I am working to make the economic case for consumers in the USA to purchase circus and I wouldn’t be in business without the licensing and adapting of many of these ideas from the circuses on this list.  If you want to learn vocational skills from these leading circuses please join us at the Institute of Social Circus & Vocational Training Center Low Profit Limited Liability Company that has licensed the ideas/concepts in exchange for equity in our center.

  1. CircArtive Pimparello , Germany 

I met Sven Alb, the founder of CircArtive Pimparello, in 2005.  Sven’s extraordinary leadership is the foundation that Circus Mojo and the Institute of Social Circus & Vocational Training Center L3C is built upon.  Over the past 1o years, over 100 young people from the USA have been able to take their first flights thanks to Sven & Pimparello.  We’re fond of saying, “Join the circus see the world!”  For many, the hope of one day attending college was envisioned only by enlisting in the military. Thanks to Sven, the young people who have gone to Pimparello have earned over $1M in college scholarships. Thanks for changing the world, Pimparello!


Circus Tent at Pimparello


2.  Debub Nigat (Southern Dawn) Circus-One Love TheatreAwassa Children’s Project , Ethiopia

I had the great fortune to meet Meshu Tamrat, one of the founders of the Awassa Children’s Project, a circus in Awassa, Ethiopia, when David Schien called one day.


Debub Nigat Circus – One Love Theatre – Awassa Children’s Project in Ethiopia

I had sent circus equipment to Awassa many years before to honor Khalid, a refugee from the Sudan, one of my students who was killed in Chicago. Meshu’s work, training and connecting young people to productive lives is hard to imagine.  He taught youth at the Chicago Waldorf School and eventually the Nairobi Waldorf School and founded the Kibera Social Circus in the largest slum in Africa, located outside Nairobi.


Top and bottom: Meshu and his work in Nairobi, Kenya. Middle: Meshu jumps over a line of people at Cirque De-Stress at the University of Minnesota.


3. Benposta: Spain, Mozambique, Belgium, Venezuela & More

El circo de los muchachos. Escuela internacional de circo de Benposta fundada por el Padre Jesús Silva utilizo el circo para conectarse con niños huérfanos a través de orfanatos en España, Mozambique, Bélgica, Venezuela y más. En los últimos meses hemos tenido el placer de agregar a Roberto A. Arego Bedevia, un ex director de una sucursal de la escuela de circo de Benposta a nuestro equipo. Junto con su esposa, Alina Domínguez- una exitosa coreógrafa y artista de equilibrio. Roberto ha contribuido a nuestro trabajo en el orfanato del norte de Kentucky.

El Circo de los Muchachos / International Circus School at Benposta, founded by Padre Jesús Silva Padre de Silva, used the circus to connect with orphans via boys homes in Spain, Mozambique, Belgium, Venezuela and more. Within the past few months, we have had the pleasure of adding Roberto A. Arego Bedevia, a former Director of the Venezuelan chapter of the Circus School of Benposta, to our staff. Along with his wife, Alina Dominguez- an accomplished choreographer and balance artist- Roberto has added to our existing work with the Children’s Home of Northern Kentucky.


Top: Roberto working on a pyramid with artists at Benposta. Bottom: image from one of Padre Silva’s original Benposta circuses.


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Letter of support for Roberto’s visa from the Children’s Home of Northern Kentucky



4. Hidung Merah  Red Nose Foundation, Indonesia 

Dan Roberts is the founder of Hidung Merah. We met when I co-directed his collegiate circus production at Roosevelt University.  Upon graduation Dan joined the staff at CircEsteem and served many roles as mentor and eventually Associate Director.


Dan Roberts as mentor beneath the stage at a Cirque do Soliel performance 2006 Chicago

Dan worked with Circus Smirkus and Clowns without Borders and then created an amazing circus in Jakarta, Indonesia.  He’s opened doors for thousands of youth in Indonesia and is building an incredible audience and network.  Dan is also the founder of the Asian Social Circus Association. He joined us on our first adventure with youth to CircArtive Pimparello  (Germany) in 2006, and he’s sent youth and staff to the USA to help launch the 1st International College Circus Festival. He has also sent youth to train and perform in Canada, Myanmar, and Poland.


5. Circo Volador, Mexico City-Mexico

Sharon Alvarez Miller ha trabajado con Circus Mojo por los últimos 5 años. Ella aprendió habilidades de circo como parte del programa Injuve financiado por el gobierno de la Ciudad de México para mantener a los jóvenes ocupados y fuera de las calles. Injuve financia proyectos y la formación profesional de los adolescentes. Entre los programas que Injuve ofrece se encuentran el desarrollo de habilidades en las artes gráficas, circo callejero, artes aéreas, hip-hop, etc. Circo Volador utiliza un teatro para las clases de circo además de conciertos y otros eventos.

Sharon Alvarez Miller has been working with Circus Mojo for the past five years.  She learned circus skills  at Circo Volador  where Injuve, a government-funded program, keeps young people busy and off the streets.  Injuve funds projects and vocational training for teens; if they show up on a regular basis for skills development in graphic arts, street circus, aerial arts, hip-hop, etc., participants earn a stipend. Circo Volador uses a theatre for circus classes around concerts and other events.


Top: Sharon Miller performa aerial silks. Bottom: El Centro de Arte y Ventura Theatre


6. Casa de Artes y Circo ContemporaneoMexico City-Mexico

Un circo pre-profesional en la Ciudad de México, la Casa de Artes y Circo Contemporáneo nos ha ayudado a producir el 3er Festival Internacional de Circo Universitario en la Ciudad de México, ofreciendo una serie de talleres en el Desarrollo del Personaje y Clowning. Esta escuela cuenta con una trayectoria de lanzamiento de artistas jóvenes a un nivel superior; Casa es el Circus Smirkus de la Ciudad de México.

A pre-professional circus in Mexico City, Casa de Artes y Circo Contemporaneo has helped me produce the 3rd International College Circus Festival in Mexico City by offering a series of workshops in performance and in Clowning/Character Development. This school has a track record of launching young artists to the next level; Casa is the Circus Smirkus of Mexico City.


Visiting with artists at Casa de Artes y Circo Contemporaneo


7. Palestine Circus School, Palestine 

In 2006 Khalid Mohammed was gunned down in Chicago. He was my student at CircEsteem and to honor him we sent circus equipment to New Orleans (the circus lost equipment due to Katrina earlier that year) Awassa and to honor my Muslim student we sent equipment to Palestine Circus School.   The work building skills in the face of adversity is amazing.   I have signed the petition to free #FREEABUSAKHA  Mohammad Faisal Abu Sak PalestinianCircusPropsHonoringKhalid


8. Cirkus Magenta, Finland 

Cirkus Magenta helps youth in refugees in Jordan funded by FinnChurchAid (a Finnish NGO that works to provide humanitarian aid around the world), this circus teaches circus skills to refugees in Jordan. Connecting with these kids allows them to focus their pent-up energy and unleash positive development.  I had the great honor of leading a discussion and workshop at a U.S. Embassy about the use of circus as an antithesis of war. My friends from Finland have a long history of using circus as a tool for peace, and it was a privilege to work together to educate my government about this unconventional method for peacemaking.


An image from the Cirkus Magenta website


9.- 12. Internationale Jugendgemeinschaftsdienste , Germany via  Pimparello /  Bikonelli  / Variatastic / Maroni  

Six years ago Ludlow Kentucky was considered a food-desert; we had no restaurants or grocery stores.  We hosted our first volunteer from Germany IJGD (essentially the German Peace Corp) at this time.  Over the past five years the youth circus system in Germany has helped us develop the economy and circus as an industry in the USA.


IJGD’s website


13. Circus at the POINT, Bronx-USA

Funded by Cirque du Monde, Circus at the Point allows for young people from all over NYC to attend circus classes.  Circus artists from all over town would offer input and skills development for this dynamic program helping plant the seeds of circus in the next generation of courageous circus performers.

14. Circusplaneet, Belgium

My friend Sven invited me to the Network of International Circus Educators (NICE) conference in Berlin in 2010.  There I met Matthias Vermael of Circusplaneet.  Matthias brews a beer called BIRCUS to fund his circus.  He doesn’t accept government funding and instead uses the purchasing power of beer as his concession to fuel his circus.   I have licensed the BIRCUS concept and will be brewing beer in 2016 to further our social circus initiatives.

Circus Planeet.jpg

BIRCUS Brewing and its inspiration

15. Cirkusfabrikken, Denmark

I met Einar Trie in Berlin at the NICE Conference in 2010.  He brought 19 youth to train and perform in Chicago and Kentucky.  He also hosted three artists from Circus Mojo from Antigua, Mexico and Germany in 2014.  We hope to host many more youth circus groups in Kentucky to help develop circus in the United States.  The economic impact in Ludlow can not be ignored by local state and federal government officials.


Left and Right: Danish artists come perform in Ludlow


16. Gamma Phi Circus ,  Illinois-USA

I wanted to create a college Circus Festival to connect students with circus opportunities.  I reached out to The Gamma Phi Circus the oldest college circus in the USA and they joined in. Lucky for me Cornell Freeney was one of my students at CircEsteem and his senior year and future America’s Got Talent Superstar Christian Stoinev joined us in creating the International College Circus Festival.

Gamma Phi has been giving the young people of Illinois State University a chance to finish college while running away with the circus.  I hope that the young people who work with me now can follow in Cornell’s Footsteps.


17. Mobile Mini Circus for Children, Afghanistan  

I met the legendary David Mason at the Effective Circus Conference at the University of Tampere in 2013.  David has done amazing work in war torn Afghanistan  giving joy to countless children.  I have been fortunate to get the support of many in the USA  former soldiers who now work in government development.  When I am working to explain the power of circus I simply show a video of MMCC and then follow-up with the concept that the US Government via USAID has funded work in Awassa, and the Hidung Merah Circus in Indonesia.  These officials minds are opened when I show them the work of MMCC.


Performance at Mobile Mini Circus for Children


18. & 19. Circus Zambia, Zambia / Van Lodostov Family Circus, Vermont-USA

Ted Lawrence was a clown with Ringling Bros in 1986 who has been planting circuses all over the world.  I was a Clown with Ringling in 1996-97 and he’s 10 years my elder and continues to inspire and “Change the World” with circus.

zambia auditorium

Circus Zambia performing and building future circus audience


20. Circus Minimus, Manhattan-USA 

This project is the brainchild of Kevin O’Keefe… the guy who had an idea and implemented it to create the American Youth Circus Organization.  I had the opportunity to work for Kevin and Circus Minimus at the Dwight School and Riverdale Country Day, in New York City.  A limo would come an pick me up with my rolling globe at 108th and Columbus to teach circus to kids at private schools that cost $25,000+/year.  In a way, these kids need social circus more than anyone.  They live in a world without consequences and many times get frustrated and give up on things if they are not perfect.  But the circus can offer guidance as well as consequences (there is only one way to juggle)   I am grateful to Kevin both for hiring and training me, but also for mentoring me when I founded CircEsteem (number 3 on the original Buzzfeed Article!) in 2001. We at Circus Mojo continue to offer circus program for kids at expensive private schools and I believe this is some of the most difficult “social circus,” demonstrating both to parents and administrators that the circus can be a tool of development and a worthy program.CircusMinimus


21. Comunidades Educativas Por La Paz A.C ,  Teotihuacan Mexico                                              When we (El Salvadoran/Canadian, a few Germans and Americans) wanted to bring  some circus to the community in Mexico Gus and Miriam welcomed us.

We hope to  host graduates of Comunidades Educativas Por La Paz at the Institute of Social Circus & Vocational Training Center one day and to send our students to train with them. 


22. Cirque du KKalamazoo-USA  I have been fortunate to have worked with a half dozen intelligent young people who discovered the circus in college and have used their new found passion in circus to move forward social circus / circus in community / circus for development in Ludlow / Cincinnati.

Cirque du K student artists/Alum have joined u for all 3 of our International College Circus Festivals . It takes young people to help build these systems and deploy their ideas and energy to help develop circus as a partner within education and healthcare systems.


Respect from Afar….

23. Belfast Community Circus, Ireland

I have never been to this circus but it’s the one that hold the deepest respect. 3/4 of my family hails from the emerald isle.  The legend I have heard is that the one rule is kids can’t wear their football jerseys as this is the one way to tell who is Protestant and who is Catholic.  I once took on an intern simply because the referral came from Salida Circus‘ Jennifer Dempsey, who spent some time at the Belfast Community Circus.  I hope to make it there one day, but regardless, they have inspired me to do my best and to build bridges with simple rules via circus.

24. Circus Stars, Australia 

Circus Stars “is the only circus school solely dedicated to children on the Autism Spectrum. Founded by well respected Youth Circus trainer Kristy Seymour, who developed the school after completing her Masters thesis.” How Circus training can enhance the well being of children with autism and their families”. The founder Kristy Seymour is bringing science to make the case for circus as a tool of intervention and connection. Circus Stars is changing the world for all of us. 


I am grateful to the above circuses for inspiring our work.  Our non-profit Social Circus Foundation supports this work, the Institute of Social Circus & Vocational Training Center will build upon these concepts; Circus Mojo hopes to be in a position to leverage ideas and partnerships to continue to develop circus as a tool of individual and community development. I encourage you to list a circus in the comments below that has shaped or influenced you and please share this far an wide so we can share in changing the world together.


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