“Look at Me!” Review

“Look at Me!” The circus approach: working with
children and young people through the circus arts
By Steven Desanghere
English translation by Steven Desanghere and Translation Kings
Published 2016 by Steven Desanghere
This copy is from Lottie’s personal collection.

This booklet is not specifically written for circus-folk… We will not delve/dive deep into the inner workings of specific circus techniques, but rather take a look in to the successful methods applied by circus schools when it comes to dealing with people in the margins… and how this can inspire you in your method of working.

Desanghere, p.12

I love this booklet, because it aims to teach the skills of master community circus teachers.

And I don’t mean that it teaches how to spin plates, walk a wire, or fly through the air– on the contrary, it teaches the really important stuff, like how trust and self expression help youth grow into resilient adults, how to balance complicated group dynamics, how to celebrate and teach to different abilities, how to orient lesson plans for optimal learning and experience. These are the sort of rare and powerful skills that a master teacher acquires from years of teaching, learning, and dedication to their students; they’re rarely taught in circus schools or workshops for young coaches due to their complex nature.

Furthermore, this booklet isn’t even intended for circus folk, as Desanghere points out in the above quote, and this is what I really appreciate about it.

So often, circus is treated as purely entertainment by noncircus folk. As many of you have likely experienced as well, whenever I’m introduced as a ‘circademic’ in noncircus circles, I find I am always prepared to launch into an explanation of how circus has played an important role in American and European history, and is both an effective development tool for working with youth of all kinds and a therapeutic tool for adults of many kinds. It’s exhausting after awhile. Somehow there’s a persistent information barrier between the serious study of circus arts and the rest of the world. This booklet is one of the few bridges between those worlds.

Community circus teachers have to be endlessly creative and intentional about how they teach, and this booklet brings that breadth of study into the open for teachers of all disciplines. The lessons of flow, proximal development, risk taking, the rhythm of differentiation (individual work) and integration (group work), among others– these are useful skills for all educators.

Bottom Line:

An inspiring and deeply useful booklet for anyone interested in a different perspective; densely packed with a little circus history and a lot of lessons learned from community circus teachers working with diverse youth.

Also, if you’re looking to find it / more information: I was fortunate to receive this booklet from Steven back in 2017 when we were presenting at AltroCirco in Italy, and I’m not sure if it’s for sale anywhere. I recommend checking out and supporting Circusplaneet where he has worked as a community circus teacher, and also the EYCO youth worker resources, where you can find a PDF copy.

How do we decide which books to review? These book reviews are not paid by either the authors or publishers. We do sometimes receive a free book though, which is pretty great. We love books. We are not obligated to post any review, positive or otherwise; we post reviews because few others seem to be doing so and we wanted to read circus book reviews. We hope they’re helpful to you as well. Some books were already part of our collection and we wanted to show them off. Some books we found in a small free library or the thrift store or bought for ourselves like capable adults. If you’d like us to review your book, or a book of your choosing, email us at circusdistrict@gmail.com.

See the Circus: Review

See the Circus
By H. A. Ray
Published 1989, 1998 by Houghton Mifflin Books
This copy is from Lottie’s collection.

Today is not a serious book review. I won’t even try to pull your leg for a little while– though I was tempted, the truth is, even my usually undeterrable adult circademic criticisms largely melt away in the face of my inner child squealing with delight, opening all the flaps.

To justify this completely shameless “book review”, I’ll do my best to look at this from a couple perspectives.

For children in general: It’s so delightful! Look how cute Rey’s drawings are– all these characters like plush toys, smiling in a world where a curious little monkey will always turn out alright and all the neighbors will always have a laugh in the end. It’s the kind of feelings we all need from time to time. The flaps hold no terrible surprises, as long as you’re ok with a lot of performing animals who seem pretty happy.

For raising circus children: It’s a fun and adorable peek into circus history. Circuses may not look like this anymore, but it’s a lot of what circus lore looks like. I can’t say that the book teaches any useful skills, or gives any real insight into circus life, but it might inspire a youngin’ to daydream about traditional circuses and perhaps plant the seeds of inspiration to try out a circus life later. (Maybe I should’ve included that as a warning in the previous section for all children.)

For adults of all kinds: See the ‘For children in general’ section.

Circademic commentary: This book is a little dated. Performing animals are not currently accepted as they were in the late 1980’s when this was originally published and most big circuses still primarily featured such. On a human note, there’s not much apparent diversity, though there are some pretty bossin’ ladies.

Bottom Line:

*inner child flips all the flaps and makes up long crazy stories about all the characters*

How do we decide which books to review? These book reviews are not paid by either the authors or publishers. We do sometimes receive a free book though, which is pretty great. We love books. We are not obligated to post any review, positive or otherwise; we post reviews because few others seem to be doing so and we wanted to read circus book reviews. We hope they’re helpful to you as well. Some books were already part of our collection and we wanted to show them off. Some books we found in a small free library or the thrift store or bought for ourselves like capable adults. If you’d like us to review your book, or a book of your choosing, email us at circusdistrict@gmail.com.

Artistes of Colour: Review

Artistes of Colour: Ethnic Diversity and Representation in the Victorian Circus
By Steve Ward, PhD
Published 2021 by Modern Vaudeville Press

There is so much to say and unpack and understand about race and ethnicity in circus that it’s hard to know where to begin this review. However, I suppose I will start by saying that I enjoyed reading this book very much. While it is not within the book’s purview to address all of circus’s complicated past, it focuses specifically on the Victorian Era (1837-1901 CE) in the UK. And a remarkable time that was.

By this period, modern Western “circus” was young-ish but already about 70 years old, as many consider its founding to be in 1768 by the equestrian and master of pageantry, Philip Astley. It all began with:

“Lavish hippodramas…, spectacular pageantry, and reconstructions of famous battles, all involving men and horses, pandered to [British] public nostalgia and enthusiastic nationalism. So the circus was to reinforce Britain’s view of itself in the world and its attitude towards foreigners and a perceived ‘evil’.”

Ward, p. 9

And British circus more or less continued to be that.

But as Ward describes through incredible individual stories, this fervor for the ‘exotic’ took on a different tone through this era of industrialization. British interest in other people became more curious, imaginative and daring, fueled by nascent scientific and ethnographic endeavors. While these interests largely continued to place light-skinned British people at the tippity top of the human hierarchy, they also enjoyed and celebrated independent performers from around the world. (Still horrid, but a sign of progress? Open for discussion.) Many of these performers became celebrities in their own right, owned and ran performance venues or troupes, ran in high social circles– but let’s pause here, because I think I might be making a very fun book sound kind of boring with my historical description.

Ward’s book is like following a detective down the winding paper trails of seemingly-mythical humans.

Each chapter is dedicated to a different person, or a different group of people operating under the same performance name, or a different group with a certain type of ‘exotic’ performance.

I found myself in alternating states of amused, infuriated, surprised, fascinated and horrified– each set of stories evokes a fresh aspect of performing in this time period. It is rarely predictable. I don’t want to give away any of the fun surprises.

It’s clear that Ward spent a lot of time researching; as a researcher myself, I doff my cap. These stories are built from the tiny puzzle pieces of show billings, court records, newspaper announcements, and (if you’re lucky) official records of births, deaths and marriages that together assemble the story of each artist. And oftentimes even these documents lie! Between the circus’ tendency for hyperbole, smear campaigns, a competitive market, experimental marketing and plain ole terrible record keeping, this book is an incredible feat and keeps you on your toes.

Nothing could stop these enigmatic performance pioneers of the 1800’s from striving for success; floods, fires, financial woes (of which there are many), pain, serious injuries, sudden deaths of beloved performers, violence, and multiple remarriages of varying success (generally by men, and often without evidence of the previous wife’s acquiescence). All of these obstacles seem to have plagued those whose stories are told within these pages.

And yet they carried on, show after show.

Few of the artists retired to a peaceful old age, as far as we can tell.

While we can’t go back and change the experiences of the past, I’m appreciative of authors shining light on our circus ancestors’ lives. It’s intriguing to put these eras, and consequently our own, into perspective; what privilege our generation enjoys in its current stage of multiculturalness and ease of international travel! In the world of the Victorian Era British, the circus was, for many ordinary people, one of the few times they would ever have access to see someone from Japan, or Morocco, or from anywhere that wasn’t ‘home’.

Artistes of Colour left me wanting more, in a good way. Things I would love to see more of:

  • Stories of women, female-presenting and trans artists. I understand the literature is scarce, but it doesn’t stop me from wanting it.
  • Perspectives from the artists themselves and how they experienced this environment, more than reconstructed perspectives based on available circumstantial evidence. Circus artists– that’s right, I’m talking to you— write down your current experiences! Future circademics will thank you.
  • More depth and stories on performers from India, China, Japan and South America, which are begun here but surely could have whole books dedicated to the subjects.

Bottom Line:

A very useful, entertaining and delightful read. I thank the author for bringing these stories to life.

*How do we decide which books to review? These book reviews are not paid by either the authors or publishers. We do sometimes receive a free book though, which is pretty great. We love books. We are not obligated to post any review, positive or otherwise; we post reviews because no one else seems to be doing so and we wanted to read circus book reviews. We hope they’re helpful to you as well. Some books were already part of our collection and we wanted to show them off. Some books we found in a small free library or the thrift store or bought ourselves. If you’d like us to review your book, or a book of your choosing, email us at circusdistrict@gmail.com.


“How did circus get so awesome?
…and what else can it do??”

These are the questions of a circademic, and if you’ve ever pondered them, you’ve taken your first steps into a fun and often overlooked corner of circus life. Welcome to Circademia. 🌈🥳

Despite images of super strong athletes and feats of physical prowess, circus is also fundamentally nerdy.

one side of circus:
daring feats of strength and bravery
the other side of circus:
my evaluation roadmap for social circus, ACE Conference 2016

Have you seen a juggler map out a new toss pattern for others to learn? or an aerialist watch dozens of rehearsal videos to get a hand wrap just right? Every discipline has its debates, theories, histories, traditions, teaching methods, possible social impacts, and technical skills, not to mention the politics and changing perspectives of circus as a whole.

All of these combined comprise circademia, and the people who are fascinated by it are called circademics. Some might call it an academic pursuit, others might call it an addiction.

Watch out, you will want to proceed with some caution.

Once the door is opened, you’ll find circademia is still a Wild West–
any and every topic is fair game, and there aren’t
many regulatory bodies to check writers’ accuracy.

In the past decade or two, pioneers have gained traction by uniting their love of circus with established careers in various non-circus disciplines, which has brought much needed validity to the studies of health, injury prevention, body movement, therapeutic uses of circus, teaching methods, social and emotional uses, youth development, and social impact. In the spotlight these days we find circus history and culture, especially in regards to gender, race and political power, which is very exciting. Who knows what we’ll tackle next?

These researchers are integral to our everyday experience of circus, helping shape and guide how we perceive, how we perform and how we prepare for the future.

Why did we bring this topic up today? Because you may have already read some of our previous articles written by our in-house circademic, such as 1918: Circus & the Flu, and soon we’ll be launching an exciting series for circus book reviews. You’ll start to get curious sooner or later, and you’ll start to wonder, how do I find out more? And we’re already here for you. You can come back here anytime and fall into the rabbit hole of circus science and history and lore.

To get you started, here’s some really useful stuff:

ACE (American Circus Educators) Resources
Info and links to research projects that ACE has been involved with, including self-determination through circus arts and the Weikart Center’s research showing positive impact of circus programs on youth at-risk.

ACE Circus Research List

ACE Social Circus Toolkit
Provides access to resources that can help strengthen social circus programs, including an evaluation toolbox, research on social circus, help with raising money, and the Case for Social Circus.

Circademics on Facebook
Come chill with the gang and see what’s hot.

Circus Arts Research Platform
A very cool and extensive free, collaborative project between circus arts resource centers, circus networks and researchers around the world. Find a directory of scholars, map of resources, info on conferences, and citations of academic papers.

Cirque du Soleil’s Social Circus Map
Turns out, people like us are all over the world.

Circus Historical Society

Supports the development and evolution of training, education and creation in the field of circus arts in Europe.

Les Arts du Cirque
Encyclopedia of circus things, people and places. Might be only available in French.

Social Circus Research Index
A couple years ago, I wrote a master’s thesis on developing evaluation tools and how social circus can help prevent urban youths from adopting lives of violence. To do so, I gathered this list of research papers, which is now woefully incomplete, but still not a bad starting place.

Use Google Scholar
One of the best free tools to check out random, actually published circus research.

The Legend of the Great Spirits of Jugglingcraft

(If you’re suddenly very confused, it might help to read last week’s post first, after, or at some random point in the middle of this.)

Once upon a dark and stormy night, in a nearby land, a child cried out in boredom. This cry was followed shortly by another more terrible cry… the sound of the child’s parent. The powers of these cries echoed across the land, floated up the Potomac, swung from tree to tree into the misty mountains, and eventually but surely reached the quiet abode of


Caught in the midst of a fierce debate over the exact weight of the perfect juggling ball, the Great Grandmama Spirit and Grandson Spirit of Jugglingcraft suddenly fell silent, heads turned to better catch the echoes.

Their hearts were moved at these pitiful sounds of boredom, frustration, Zoom meetings and idle hands wafting up from the region. With great dedication (and relief for Grandson who had been losing the argument), the two great spirits and their loyal pup set to work.

Each juggling set was meticulously assembled of the finest, upcycled, recycled and regularly printed materials. Each individual juggling ball’s contents was measured precisely with kitchen spoons, and the final product was inspected with a master’s eye, infused with the joy of learning new things, and neatly tucked into a patented plastic-juggling-ball-bundle with a nifty set of beginner-friendly, easy-to-understand instructions, and sealed with a beautiful sticker. Each bundle was a work of art; a masterpiece.

When all the juggling bundles were finished with love and packed into the handy dandy carrying case from their favorite circus organization, the Great Spirits of Jugglingcraft rested. Grandmama Spirit invited Grandson Spirit to sit with her on the seat in front of their wooded abode.

“Grandson,” she said to him in a quivering voice thousands of years old, “you have worked hard and become a great master of the ancient jugglingcraft. These are skills and techniques that have been passed down since the very beginning of the universe itself. I am growing older, and it is time that you inherit our ways. We have reached the end of an era. There are new styles that need to be invented, new kinds of juggling balls to make, new ways of juggling heretofore unknown.” She paused to catch her breath.

“I want you to come with me on this trip,” Grandmama Spirit said. “Let us journey together to the District of Columbia and its surrounding lands to bring these good people the joy of juggling.” At these words, Grandson Spirit leapt up, filled with joy and pride.

“I will try hard, and I won’t let you down!” he said.

And so, off they went.

Down the mountain slopes, navigated the great forest…

…passed over treacherous landscapes…

…and through strange and foreign spaces.

After a long and difficult journey, they arrived at their first destination: a place of thoughts, hopes and dreams. Carefully avoiding any passerbys, the pair of Spirits carefully placed one of the lovingly crafted juggling kits for a curious soul to find.

This was only the beginning though. They had a lot of work ahead of them, and a lot of distance to travel. There were many curious things in this world, and they tried their best to stay focused on the task at hand. Mostly.

Using a variety of stealthy transportation options, they soon arrived at the next of many, many, many Little Free Libraries– the best method for bringing the joy of juggling to all people of the DMV! With great secrecy, the Spirits secreted away this bundle of juggling goodness into the Little Free Library.

After this victory, they went on to hide bundles of juggling balls in Little Free Libraries all across the District, Maryland and Virginia (but not too far out, because they were traveling by scooter after all). From neighborhood to neighborhood, east to west to north to south, the Great Spirits of Jugglingcraft journeyed to bring the joy of juggling to the people of the District.

Grandson Spirit learned all the magical ways to travel, to bring a juggle bundle to even the most populated areas without being seen, and most importantly, to make sure his hand wasn’t caught in the door when Grandmama Spirit was in a rush.

After a long day, their work was finally done. The joy of juggling had been brought far and wide, and now that Grandson Spirit knew the way, he could continue to journey down the mountain and through the woods and take the S2 bus to deliver new juggling ball kits throughout the dark and cold DC winter to children and their parents. Because juggling is for everyone: old and young, thrill-seekers and patient perseverers, the easily bored and the hyperactive.

With an empty carrying sack and light hearts, the Grandmama and Grandson Spirits of Jugglingcraft made their way home, and celebrated with a well-earned relaxation.

They all lived happily ever after.


And with that oddity,
dear friends, we’d like to bid you happy holidays,
a great Hanukah, merry Christmas, cheery Kwanza, delicious Ōmisoka,
and a brilliant New Year with Peace and Circus for all,

Christian & Lottie

Behind the Scenes Making of:
The Legend of the Great Spirits of Jugglingcraft

You can read more about the Free Juggling Ball Project in last week’s post. Special thanks to local artists, Pablo and Rodin, for their beautiful masks and embodying the Spirits of Jugglingcraft.

*Please note: The 5 members of the Jugglingcraft Project operated as an isolated “bubble” before and during the production of this project, so you won’t see any facemasks in these photos while we’re indoors. We bubbled to keep us safe and you safe while we assembled your juggling ball kits. While all kits did additionally sit for at least two weeks after assembly and before distribution, we recommend using alcohol to wipe down the surfaces before use. It’s always a good idea to make sure your equipment is clean, even in normal times.

Found a juggling ball in your nearby Little Free Library?

A mysterious thing is occurring across the city…

Juggling ball kits are appearing in Little Free Libraries! How can this be?

On an exceptionally rainy weekday evening earlier this fall, a clandestine operation was taking place in Takoma. The infamous Thom Wall, of Philadelphia’s Modern Vaudeville Press, ran across the street hugging a giant black trash bag nearly bursting with *dramatic music plays* empty plastic balls. He deposited the bag into the open trunk of a nondescript white vehicle, and ran back to gather an additional box of Supplementary Materials. Meanwhile, the owner of the nondescript white vehicle began to plot a secret route to acquire the valuable Ball Filling Supplies. Thus was the beginning of the Great DC Juggling Ball Project! *more dramatic music*

At least, it happened more or less like that.

As the Modern Vaudeville Press explains,

Thanks to an incredible donation from the Flea Theater in New York City, Modern Vaudeville Press has found itself in a unique position — we have supplies to make some 3,500 juggling balls using mostly upcycled materials. With this shell donation, we can make hundreds of juggling kits to give away at extremely low cost / free to community programs all along the East Coast.

And we just had to get involved. Who knows which of these lucky finders may become the world’s next famous juggler? We requested help from some local friends, and have so far assembled and distributed 50 free juggling kits for the joy and amusement of people of all ages across the DC area.

Who are those juggling-ball-assembling friends, you may ask? Why, the Great Spirits of Jugglingcraft, of course. Next week, you can follow their story as they made their magical visit down to DC.

And if you haven’t found a set yet, don’t worry.

Maybe the Spirits of Jugglingcraft will hear your plea, descending from their foresty mountain home to leave a kit sometime this winter….

Spirits of Jugglingcraft prepare juggling balls