A Month with the Circus

My name is Katie Anne Headley, and I spent a good part of the month of May with Circus Mojo as an intern on my Senior Search project.  I have recently graduated from The Summit Country Day School, in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Every Summit senior class, for years, has had the opportunity to leave the classroom and explore an interest outside of the classroom for the last month of their senior year.  I wanted to do something unexpected, unique, and fun with my time…  

 The first encounter I had with Circus Mojo was in 2010 at an event called CirqueDevou.  I am a violinist of 13 years, and was at Devou Park to see an orchestra concert, but was captivated by the circus performances that were going on in front of the orchestra players.  My family and I began to follow Circus Mojo – I learned how to spin a plate at a Florence Freedom game about a year later.  The fun experiences I had observing the circus are what led me to choose Circus Mojo and Paul Miller as the focus for my Senior Search.

I met with Paul and I told him that I knew nothing and that I was open to anything.  I simply wanted to learn new things, see the “behind-the-scenes circus,” and test myself.  My expectations were exceeded in every aspect.  The saying “time flies when you’re having fun” definitely applies to my time with Circus Mojo.

I never knew what was in store for me each day I arrived in Ludlow.  This was an adjustment for me.  I am a planner.  Working with Paul was not what I was used to, but I think it was very good for me.  I learned that with a small business and a mission such as Circus Mojo’s, sometimes you just have to go with the flow.  And, I loved the adventure that was a part of circus.  My month was an adventure that took place all over Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati.

The people I met while working at Circus Mojo were my favorite part of my experience.  I met people from Ludlow, but also from around the world.  I met Renee Harris, who told me about the history of Circus Mojo and about the character of its founder, Paul Miller.  I met Penny Flaven who showed me how hard work and dedication get the job done.   I met Ginny Gibben, who taught me about all of the applications circus could have.  I met Amber, Bradley, and Bear – 3 fellow high schoolers from Ludlow – who showed me how circus can bring people together and offer up experiences of a lifetime.

I met Evelyn and Damian who were two examples of positivity and humility as well as two friendly and loving people.  I met Renee, Hope, and Lucas Miller who showed me how to live a fun, but purposeful life.  I met Donald Keme, from the country of Togo, who showed me how to stay focused and follow your dreams.  I met so many more people that taught me much more.  I am very grateful for everyone I was exposed to – they were an inspiration.  Whenever I met someone at Circus Mojo, I felt as if I was already friends with them.

I learned skills at Circus Mojo beyond how to juggle and spin a plate.  I was a part of many projects – some administrative, somecreative, and some simply out of necessity (such as learning how to jump a car).  One of my favorite projects made me feel like I was a part of history.  Towards the beginning of my time with Circus Mojo, Paul and I pulled several cardboard boxes from a closet, each filled with hundreds of White Tops circus magazines.  My task was to use a large flatbed scanner to scan the magazines so that they could be digitized (published online).  This was, at first, a daunting task; I was on my own and I had never used a scanner before.  However, I sat down at a desk, and I problem-solved.  I organized the magazines and learned how to scan them all on my own.  I felt a great sense of satisfaction when Paul posted the first magazine (originally published in 1934) to Facebook.

I took note every day of the skills Circus taught me that I could take with me beyond Ludlow.  I learned that in the circus, you must work as a team.  Paul told me as I worked with his son Lucas that there was an element of “forced cooperation” when you’re being taught circus skills by someone who is half your age.  However, I loved the small interactions I had with both of his extremely talented, bright, and energetic children.

Everything – especially juggling – takes practice.  You must work hard for what you want.  I learned to deal with frustration and use this frustration to instead further motivate myself.  I learned to perform.  “Don’t bite your lips, Smile,” Paul would say to me while I practiced my juggling.  It’s important as a circus performer to perform to the audience and make what you are doing seem effortless.  I learned to step out of my comfort zone.  While doing school gigs or company workshops, I had to find the self-confidence to not only perform to people, but also teach them.  I learned from watching the excellent and very confident performers I was around each day.  I was taught to be fearless, and to just put myself out there.

Some fearless performers I spent some time shadowing were Paul, and his friend Diane who both work at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, as a part of a wellness program.  I was so intrigued by all of the good that circus can bring to the Hospital.  I saw, first hand, how the simple act of balancing a peacock feather on your hand brings so much joy to an ill or injured child.  

I read part of a book that I found in the office titled Behavioral Health Protocols and Treatment Plans for Recreational Therapy.  Circus was considered a type of medicine; a type of therapy.KA 16

I also learned the significance of teaching others while I was at Circus Mojo.  Amber, Bear, & Bradley – three circus performers who are more skilled than me and younger than me as well – were my teachers most days.  It was eye-opening to me to have my own peers teaching me skills.  I was amazed at their talent, humbled by how willing they were to teach, and blown away at how effective their teaching was.  We had a lot of fun and even managed to make me into a beginning juggler.  I hope that all of my teachers and mentors know that while they are working to teach others circus skills, they are also empowering their students, like me.

It was exciting to see progress at the Circus.  I surprised myself by learning how to juggle, walk on stilts, and spin the diablo in under a month.  I also saw the progress made in different projects I worked on around the office and the progress of others!  It was very encouraging.  I realized that if you put your mind to something, you can achieve it.  I loved seeing how mostly everything eventually ended up okay in the end.

Renee Harris joked with me at the beginning of my internship that Paul knew everyone in any circus ever.  But as a started to get to know him, I found that this statement was pretty accurate.  As I watched from the large office windows, I could see the people of Ludlow walking by.  Almost every single one of them knew Paul, or knew about the work Circus Mojo was doing.  The same could be said of when we walked the halls of Children’s hospital, or visited a local school.  I could see the impact that circus had on the community.  Paul was also the one who introduced me to people from around the world.  Paul always looked for reasons to defend his work and prove to the world that circus is much more than what it is sometimes stereotyped to be.  He helped me set up a LinkedIn profile to further the connections I made during my time with the circus.  Before I left, Paul told me that I was family.  I am so grateful to now be a part of the circus community/family.  Thank you, Circus Mojo!


THANK YOU KATIE ANNE and to your parents and school for helping us expand our reach and mission!


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