Why Circus?

a mother and child do partner acrobatics

Image by Tashi Hall

Students jump rope together while an aerials class runs in the background

Image by Tashi Hall



The benefits of circus were perhaps best summed up by Dr Reg Bolton in his 2004 doctoral thesis “Why Circus Works: how the values and structures of circus make it a significant developmental experience for young people”.  This thesis was the consolidation of four decades of work laying the foundations of Social Circus, where circus skills and performance are used to build confidence and interpersonal relationships for people in difficult social or economic situations. The circus hand is an analogy Dr Reg Bolton used to explain the 6 six key benefits of circus he identified.

  1.  dreams, imagination, aspiration, symbolism
  2. trust, touch, cooperation, sharing
  3. risk, adventure, courage, defiance
  4. self, individuality, identity, image
  5. hard work, persistence, resilience, process
  6. fun, humour, happiness, laughter
Dr Reg Bolton’s ThesisDownload

The pinky finger represents dreams, aspiration, imagination and symbolism. Everyone wants to be something or to achieve something, to discover and to learn. Everyone wants to improve something or create something meaningful. In circus this could be going from juggling three balls to being able to juggle five or from hanging upside down in the backyard to coming to classes or performing on stage.

The next finger represents trust, touch, cooperation and sharing. Circus teaches people to be careful with each other and to work together to achieve things that seem impossible. A human pyramid doesn’t work if everyone is the same size. All different kinds of people are needed. Circus also teaches people to be strong and to stay grounded.

The middle finger represents risk, adventure, courage and defiance. Circus supports individuals to take risks in a safe environment and provides both an outlet for adventure seekers and encouragement for more hesitant people.

The index finger represents self, individuality, identity and image. There are very few rules about how to do circus which means that participants can be whoever they want to be and exercise their creativity. It also makes circus the perfect tool for individuals to explore their identity in a safe, supportive environment.

The thumb represents hard work, persistence, resilience and process. To achieve requires hard work and dedication. Participants need to warm up, cool down, work towards their goals and chase the next move, balance or trick. They also need a process, a plan for how they will achieve their next goal, they need to stay in motion and build their resilience as they work towards the next thing.

The palm represents fun, humour, happiness and laughter. Circus is fulfilling. Participants are always working together, creating, learning and reaching for their next goal.