Over the past two decades, AYCO has learned about the power of circus arts to play an effective role in accelerating youth and community development. We call this work Social Circus.
Social Circus refers to the use of circus arts as a medium for social justice and individual wellness and uplifts the role of art and culture as powerful agents for change. Social Circus practitioners support participants as creative change makers through the collective development of self-esteem, solidarity, and trust.*
*We recognize that this is an evolving definition. A wide coalition of social circus practitioners and participants are working on this collaborative project. Interested in getting involved in this conversation? Email socialcircus@
You can read more about the definition of social circus in this article written by one of our Social Circus Network Members.
Connect with Other Social Circus Organizations and Artists
1. Connection Calls: Interested in joining in on the conversation? Individuals are invited to join our Social Circus Connection calls which are 1 hour bi-monthly convenings for anyone interested in community conversation around social circus. You do not need to be a member of AYCO to join. Calls take place at 9am PT / 10am MT / 11am CT / 12pm ET on April 13, June 8, August 10, October 12, December 14, 2021. You must register in advance for these calls by clicking here. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting. After you have registered once you can attend any of the following calls.
2. Individuals interested or involved in social circus work are invited to join the Social Circus Community Google Group. The group is moderated by AYCO and is open to anyone connected to the social circus community (practitioners, educators, participants, therapists, social workers, etc.). You do not need to be a member of AYCO to join this group. The purpose of the group is to connect with others and discuss social circus topics (i.e. topics related to circus arts in the service of social change) including funding, pedagogy, training, program development, game swaps, evaluation strategies, accessibility, resources, challenges, and successes. We will also use this group to communicate about upcoming Social Circus Connection calls. Click here to join the Google Group.
3. The Social Circus Community International Facebook group is another way for individuals to connect with others in the field.
Social Circus Network
AYCO has created a national network of social circus programs that offer cost-effective, evidence-based approaches to help people overcome the barriers they face. The mission of the Social Circus Network is to provide pedagogical, capacity-building and professional development support to individuals and organizations pursuing and engaging in social circus work as well as to support the sustainable growth of social circus in the United States.
2021 Social Circus Committee
Research on Social and Emotional Learning in Youth Circus
Youth in social circus programs across the US are making big leaps in the skills they need to lead productive lives, according to a recently completed study commissioned by the American Youth Circus Organization (AYCO) and conducted by the David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality.
Each Social Circus program in the study is a member of the AYCO Social Circus Network. Each program is carefully designed to meet the needs of participants, and seeks to improve the social and emotional skills that youth need to thrive as adults: knowledge and awareness of emotions; the ability to manage emotions in behavior; the ability to seek help and to help others; and the ability to set and work towards goals.
The Weikart Center conducted the study over nine months and eleven sites, with eight participating organizations. The study showed that youth in these social circus programs made progress in the development of social and emotional skills at the level of other exemplary youth development programs and well ahead of a nonselective group of after school youth programs.
“It’s so refreshing to get unambiguous findings in relation to the group of programs in this study. That almost never happens! Our Center has been working for several years on establishing a benchmark for exemplary programs in building social and emotional skills and it’s particularly gratifying to have uncovered a set of programs that are generally performing at this high standard.” says Charles Smith, Chief Knowledge Officer at the David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality, about the social circus study results.
The lead funders of the study were the James E. and Diane W. Burke Foundation, and Cirque du Soleil.
History of the Social Circus Initiative
In 2015, AYCO launched a multi-year initiative to support growth in social circus across the USA.
Phase 1 drew to a close in February 2016 and achieved the following objectives:
- – Provided organizing support for social circus programs within AYCO
- – Established good practices for social circus programs
- – Recognized social circus programs that currently employ good practices
- – Identified needed capacity-building assistance for social circus projects
- – Created a plan to provide this assistance
- – Developed materials to help social circus programs to build capacity
Learn more about the initiative here, in a slideshow presented at the AYCO Festival in August 2015.
The AYCO Social Circus Impact Study launched in October 2016. This is a research project, conducted by the David P Weikart Center for Youth Program Effectiveness. The study involves 8 Social Circus Network members over the course of one year. Measurements include observation by external evaluators, assessments by program staff and youth questionnaires. Results will be available in Q4 2017. The project is jointly funded by Cirque du Soleil, the James E and Diane W Burke Foundation and participating organizations.
The 2016 American Circus Educators conference included a specially designed Social Circus track, based on the needs expressed by Network Members. We held 15 sessions in this track including:
- – Three-part series on goal setting, data collection and evaluation
- – Cultivating individual donors
- – Panel on Social Circus challenges
- – Circus and Occupational Therapy
- – Circus and Accessibility
Cirque du Soleil provided a three-day pre-conference training for Program Directors, focusing on developing systems to support program growth. This included training in staff and curriculum development.