Circus risks instill above-average trust


Kids look for acceptance within community. As we’ve seen in the news lately, and heartbreakingly, with regard to teenagers who’ve found misguided purpose in joining Taliban-style Islamic militia, they accept fellowship wherever they can find it, even if the particular community’s tenets appear foreboding.

One of the strongest aspects of Circus Juventas is the community it builds among its participants. The draw to remain in its community is so strong that Alex Edwards finds it irresistible.

“One of the best things [about Circus Juventas] is the friends that I’ve made here,” says Edwards. “We see each other a lot and have learned to really trust one another.”

Circus Juventas is a non-academic, performing arts circus school that complements traditional athletic activities. It runs outside of usual school hours, providing an alternative to organized sports. Located in St. Paul, Circus Juventas serves children ages 3 to 21 throughout the metro area.

Edwards, who will begin her junior year at the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus, studies speech-language-hearing sciences. She’s a little older than most of the other 170 students at the circus school, one of several in the nation. But over the years, it’s become a second home for her.

Trust building is essential to circus performance. During practice, most of Circus Juventas’ steadfast rules relate to safety. Their “Safety Policies and Procedures” handout, given to each student, is four pages long. Cautions about double-checking and instructor supervision run throughout the handout.

All of these safety precautions are necessary, though, says Betty Butler. She and her husband, Dan Butler, founded Circus Juventas 14 years ago. The risks inherent to circus performance fuel the need among students to bond with one another and develop a high level of trust.

“I don’t think your average person can trust another person like that,” Edwards points out.

Most of the students at Circus Juventas eventually graduate from the school and pursue other ventures. On occasion, though, someone gets bitten by the thrill of circus performance, finds themselves exceptionally talented in circus performance skills, and chooses to continue the activity.

Renaldo Williams is one such person. A 2008 graduate of Belleville West High School in Illinois, Williams has trained for six years at Circus Harmony in St. Louis, Missouri.

Now a student at North Hennepin Community College, in February 2010 Williams will head over to Montreal, Canada, to attend L’École Nationale de Cirque or the National Circus School.

“As a child, I was a big fan of gymnastics,” says Williams, “so I took a few [circus] classes; I was good at it. I was a pretty active kid,” he explains. His ultimate goal is to perform with Cirque du Soleil, but he realizes that before getting to that point he’ll probably perform in Europe and Canada with smaller organizations.

Along with the trust that Circus Juventas builds, they also place a high value on youth and service. This trait is seen in how they help their students and encourage them to help one another. Williams is on full-scholarship at the circus school. He also serves as a mentor.

“I help to coach classes. I love teaching and training. I don’t teach as much as I’d like, but it’s a cool experience,” says Williams.

One of Williams’ circus skills includes mastering the Chinese poles, which resemble thin telephone poles. Featured in this summer’s upcoming performance, the student-artists look like they should be wearing Spiderman costumes as they climb the poles as quick as you can pull up a zipper.

This is only one of the skills Williams models to the less experienced students. He also performs on the bike, wall trampoline, and does flag tumbling. “I’ve gained a lot of physical skills from being here,” Williams says.

Circus Juventas’ summer show, “Yulong, the Jade Dragon,” will be held July 31 — August 9. Tickets are available through Uptown Tix online at or by calling 651-209-6799; for more information, go to

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