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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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One Year, Two Months, and Eighteen Days; or, How I Learned to Juggle

I graduated from Kalamazoo College in June 2015. 11144449_10153398359308758_7566187496585851969_n.jpgMy plan was to hitch a ride with a friend to Ludlow, Kentucky two days later to begin my work with Circus Mojo. The night before we were scheduled to make the drive, though, my friend’s car broke down and wouldn’t be available for a day and a half. I was panicked. This was my first job out of college and I was going to be late. I sent an email to Paul Miller, a man whom I had never met, and had only spoken to over the phone once, and explained my situation. “How can we help?” was his simple reply. I was surprised by Paul’s nonchalant response, but as I began to work with Mojo, it became clear that the staff was trained to work with situations like these as a daily occurrence.12565425_10153813098513758_3588419603410571353_n.jpg
Change of plans at the last minute? No problem.
The client has a particular request? We’ll take care of it.
Teach a class in the day and perform five shows that night? Bring it on.
Job titles are tricky because nobody at Mojo performs just one role. For instance, I am a
counselor at summer camp, a “Circus Wellness Specialist” at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, the girl holding the camera and making various promotional videos, and a playmate to the various kids who hang out in our parking lot.
Often all in one day.

“Everyone at Mojo has to juggle,” Paul had told me when I was first applying. At the time I took that to mean that I needed to master a three ball cascade- and that was true, it needed quite a bit of work. But that was only part of it.

I needed to juggle Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Keeping up with events, contacts, and pictures could have been a position all on its own.

I needed to juggle hospital shows, birthday party shows, and school shows. Each performance has its own feel, and knowing the stage and the audience was something that took time to grasp.
I needed to juggle shows, workshops, and strolling gigs. And within each gig was juggling the performance, music, and pictures.
As a staff, we got very good at juggling our responsibilities and working through unexpected challenges. At various events, the clients and other performers would acknowledge how willing we are to shift our own plans around to better suit their needs, from postponing our event half an hour to changing the entire format of our show at a moment’s notice, all without compromising the quality of the performance.
My time in Ludlow is coming to a close. I’m saying a lot of goodbyes, and leaving a lot of people behind. But I’m taking a lot with me as well. Now, in addition to being able to juggle three balls (sometimes four!), rings, and clubs, catch ten hula hoops around my waist, and keep any number of plates spinning, I have a sizable skillset of non-traditional circus abilities, as well.
My sister is coming to pick me up in a few days and we’ll be driving up to Minnesota together, where I’ll begin my next adventure. And while I certainly hope her car doesn’t break down during the trip, I know I’ll be able to handle it if it does.

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George’s Story: Germany 2016

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George is a freshman at Thomas B. Doherty High School in Colorado Springs and a fifteen-year-old acrobat whose dynamic  flips wowed the crowds in Germany. He traveled with us as a guest artist from Salida Circus. Billed as “Colorado’s most unique circus troupe,” Salida Circus has a professional troupe along with social circus outreach development, which makes them a perfect partner for both Circus Mojo and Circus Pimparello.

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When my boss, Jennifer, from Salida Circus got the text from Paul about Germany, I wasn’t sure how to feel. I was hesitant to join a Kentucky circus that was a three-hour flight from my home and then take another flight to Europe. Getting the chance to go to Germany was amazing, though, even if I was nervous.

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It was a pain in the butt getting to Germany, yet it all paid off in the end. I improved my ball juggling and tumbling and matured quite a bit. A few of my funniest stories have come from this trip, ranging from getting a bad haircut to slipping in the mud and accidentally eating some. The point is that not only does the trip here benefit my skills, my trade,and my maturity but it also has taught me important values and life lessons, all while having fun.

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What I’ve noticed about Circus Mojo and Circus Pimparello members is that all of them are young people who are getting the opportunities they need to work and learn in an expressive outlet–CIRCUS! This is a rarity in today’s world. I’m glad to be a part of such an important project and hope to participate again.    

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Shay’s and Liam’s Story: Germany 2016

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The Sweeney brothers, Shay and Liam, each tell about their second adventure to Germany with Circus Mojo.

Shay is a senior at St. Henry’s High School who earned a perfect score on his ACT, an obvious result of his brain’s increased gray matter from juggling. Bound for the Ivy League, he decided to run away with us to Circus Pimparello for one more summer.

I’m thrilled to be back at Pimparello again after two years. Germany is very much like I remember it, but this trip feels like a fresh new experience. When I arrived here on the first day, I was overjoyed to see the beautiful Circus Haus, the stunning performance tents, and even the now hairless alpacas. The forests surrounding Pimparello are gorgeous and the stars at night are crystal clear, but I was most excited to catch up with all the friends I left behind two years ago and forge new friendships that span oceans and continents.

 

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Being here makes me realize the power that art has to bring people with different languages, different cultures, and different ideas together as a team. These people and this art truly demonstrate the meaning of social circus and make it much easier to tolerate the less comfortable aspects of life at Pimparello, such as the cold mornings and the schnecken.

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My time here has taught me many valuable lessons in teamwork, understanding, and friendship. My best wishes go out to Sven and his incredible social circus. He certainly deserves a peaceful rest in Dominica after twenty years of working to change the world for the better.

Liam is a sophomore at St. Henry’s High School who shares his brother’s aptitude for learning and  juggling, but as you will read, he definitely has his own written voice, personal charm, and point of view. 

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This is Liam coming at you from Rapenhoff, Germany, on the bus ride back to Circartive Pimparello. Today, Tuesday, August 16, 2016, was a performance day. We left camp early this morning and headed to perform in front of the Cathedral in Ulm. We set up for the show and preformed the acts that we’ve been creating and learning for the past two weeks. After the show, we broke into groups and headed into Ulm with an opportunity to shop. Now we are headed back to camp for dinner.

These past two weeks have been a lot of fun for everyone. During the first week, we trained with kids from all over Europe in the Bausteine, giving us the eligibility to teach circus skills in Europe. During the European Youth Camp, we met a lot of people we will always remember and created memories that will last the rest of our lives, whether it be taking classes, dancing at parties, or staying up late at the campfires. Then the week came to a close and our groups went separate ways. Those who stayed at Circartive Pimparello prepared the camp for the children who would soon become our students.

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As we started week two, each of the teamers (counselors) received a tent to care for with a fellow teamer. The real work began. Starting Monday, each of us took on two classes, which we taught with a German teamer. I taught club juggling and ball juggling, Shay taught balance and diabolo, Marilyn taught chair/table acrobatics and lyra, Tate taught stilts and tight wire, George taught dynamic acrobatics and dance acrobatics, and Julia taught silks and German wheel. During this week, we taught our campers our skills and helped them create acts, and at the end of the week, we started performances. We have performed at Schwäbisch Hall, Ulm Cathedral, the Circus Haus, and for the families of the campers. We have also had fun, themed days like Renaissance Day, where we dressed up as people from the Middle Ages and had a Middle Age market, and American Day, where we cooked and had burgers and milkshakes. Now we are almost back to the camp. This is Liam, signing off.  ~xoxo~

 

 

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Tate’s Story: Germany 2016

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Tate is a Ludlow native who is now living and learning in Germany thanks to a decade-long partnership between Circus Mojo and Circus Pimparello. Starring and performing with us since 2010, she received the opportunity to study abroad for the next year at the CircArtive School. While her Kentucky peers have been in school a month, Tate started back to school this week. We miss her but know this milestone is simply wonderbar! 
It feels so good to be back in Germany! It feels like I never left in some ways, yet at the same time, it brings back memories I had forgotten. Now that I’m older and more mature, I have a better understanding of life in Rappenhof and the way Circus Pimparello works. I also have met many different kinds of people.
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A “vintage” shot of Tate’s many talents.

This year contrasts with the  last trip because there are about 15 refugees who are teenage boys living here along with the performers and visiting families. Most of the refugees don’t know anything about circus, which makes them unlike the rest of us but really great to work with since they have a completely different view than most circus performers.
Working with the refugees was difficult at first. For example, in wire walking class, they’d stand off to the side, not wanting to get on the wire. Once you’d tell them to give it a try, they’d take about two steps before giving up. That’s if they came to class. Most days I had to go up to their cabin and bring them to class.

 

Eventually I decided to try a new approach by showing off my tricks and then letting them try. I wanted to challenge them. When I knew they were watching, I’d perform a trick on the wire and wait for them to take a turn. We’d go back and forth like this until they started to actually try to walk the wire. After trying and failing a few times, the refugees pointed out my fancy wire shoes, letting me know they didn’t have good  shoes and suggesting this was the reason I could do more. So, I took off my shoes and did the same tricks barefoot.

 

This made the refugees more determined than ever. They’d closely watch my tricks and almost push me off the wire for their turn. They’d ask me to show my trick again and again, and they’d try and try until they got it. It was amusing to see them all flop and flail around trying to jump and do rolls over the wire.
As I was teaching them, they taught me too. I learned a lot about them without even talking and how to communicate and work with someone who doesn’t speak your language. Now I see them as friends, not the sad refugees some made them out to be. [Coincidentally, Pauly suggested referring to this group not as refugees but as “friends from other nations.”]
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Tate showing off her “barefoot” skills with Circus Mojo for the 2015 Major League Baseball All Star Celebration

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Amber’s Story: Germany 2016

unicornAmber is a freshman at Dixie Heights High School who grew up in Ludlow and has been with Circus Mojo for four years. She specializes in the trapeze and spent the past year honing this skill under the coaching of apprentice Rosa Groll of Stuttgart, Germany. Amber recently took her first airplane trip with us to Stuttgart, the nearest major city to Circus Pimparello.     

My trip to Germany was for a different reason than most people’s trips to Europe. Mine was to perform in the circus. As part of Circus Mojo, I was able to be a guest artist and camper at Circus Pimparello.  When I got there, it was so cool. It looked like a normal farm with pigs, chickens, horses and alpacas … until you saw the circus tents.

The first week was my favorite. You picked a circus skill you enjoyed and learned more about it.  I also really liked the trainers and meeting many students my age. By week two, the trainers and students from the first week had left and all new people arrived, which wasn’t all bad. I had a lot of fun and met a lot of people I’ll miss.

Sometimes the best things were the little things. The circus group I traveled with became closer and there were many funny quotes from our time together. One of the trainers named Mario made us laugh when he’d say, “It’s a stretch. You don’t give up. You reach,” to someone who wasn’t that flexible. Back-and-forth teasing between Mario and our group during stretch and strengthening classes became a running joke.

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A quick shot of many of the Mojo campers. L-R Lucas, George, Marilyn, Hope, Jesse (chaperone), Shay, Tate, Julia, Amber & Liam.

Performing f13925857_10154317859478758_1049089246692021955_oor me was the coolest. On our first Wednesday, Circus Pimparello held an open house in their big top. I was asked to perform my trapeze act but didn’t want to because I was scared. My trapeze teacher pushed me because she knew my strength and potential. She convinced me to perform, and I was happy she did. Everybody loved it!

I performed again on a lower trapeze at the swim club Bud-Spencer-Bad in Schwäbisch Gmünd. Many people recorded my act on their phones, yet I didn’t know it at the time. When we were back at the camp and I heard Panic! At the Disco’s “House of Memories” playing in the tents, I knew what had happened and thought, “Hey, that’s my song!”

The next time I performed was in the Circus House, or CircArtive Haus, which is Sven’s baby. It’s a beautiful space with real lighting. Afterwards Sven asked me on the mike how I felt about my sister Tate staying at their school for a year, and I answered, “I’ll miss her but that’s one less person in my house.” [Aside:  Circus Mojo and Sven have a hunch that the longer Tate is away, the more Amber will miss her Big Sis.]

In short, I had a great time in Germany and hope to do it again!

Amber on Trapeze from Paul Miller on Vimeo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Julia’s Story- Germany 2016

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Julia, a talented dancer, juggler and acrobat in her junior year at Holy Cross High School, joined us on our three-week tour and cultural exchange in Germany with Circus Pimparello, a youth circus Pauly has partnered with for over a decade. She worked hard on her circus skills and at her summer job to take her very first flight on this trip of a lifetime.

Staying up late working at Dairy Queen—getting a variety of chocolate sauce and ice cream splattered on me—is so worth the three weeks I spent in Germany. It’s an experience I’ll never forget! I loved sleeping in circus tents, training, teaching, and meeting the amazing people at CircArtive Pimparello.

Some people might say that the hardest part about going to the circus camp would be the cold nights in the tents, that they were the last table to get food or that getting a shower was harder than expected. Although these things were hard for me to adjust to, the hardest part for me was saying goodbye to the friends I made. The girls that I took care of were awesome and funny. I’d tell them different things like which of the teamers (counselors) I had a crush on or what America was like, and in return, they’d teach me German. They taught me how to count to twenty.

14054526_10154344800398758_1913712237776516874_oThe teamers were also awesome people I could joke with as if I’d known them forever. They’d teach us many things about Pimparello and life in Germany and help translate when we had no clue what was going on. We had fun nights laughing in the tent and eating the leftover snacks that were provided at the end of the day’s team meetings. I loved teaching and training with them. All of the teamers were nice people I enjoyed spending the last weeks of summer and first days of school with. 🙂

At the beginning of this trip, I was so nervous that I would have minor panic attacks and small breakdowns. I felt inferior in my circus skills and was scared to be thrown in with a group of people I didn’t know who spoke a different language. After the first few days, I knew I had definitely overreacted. It helped having my circus family with me. I learned that everyone there was being taught new things, even if they were all wickedly talented.gg

Now I’m on my way home and already miss Germany. I miss my new friends. I miss my campers. I miss the food. And I miss Tate (the human, not the tots). Tate is my Circus Mojo friend staying for a year at the CircArtive School, and I’m so proud of all that she has accomplished and will accomplish.

I’m sad to leave but excited to return home to my family, my friends, and my nice warm, comfy bed. I had an amazing time that I’ll never forget, and if I work hard enough, I’ll hopefully enjoy Pimparello again. While I write this on my long journey home knowing I need to wake up early for school tomorrow, I’m happy to share with you the best summer I’ve experienced thus far.14054544_1112595318785997_2263757787250008085_o

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