I’m always a little jealous of circus scholars that can begin their articles by describing what it felt like to go to the circus as a child. Personally, I didn’t grow up going to the circus. My introduction to the performance of circus arts was the juggling, sword-swallowing, and unicycling street performers at the downtown Toronto Busker’s Festival. I’ve still never seen something that resembles the Modern American Circus, complete with wild animals, clowns, and a big top. What kind of a circus scholar am I?
Considering my research is done with hobbyist jugglers who seemingly have very little relationship with the circus, perhaps I am not a circus scholar at all. Through my interviews with hobbyist jugglers in Canada and the US, I learned that many of them do not identify with the circus or are actively trying to divorce the associations between juggling and circus. Artistic juggler and educator Jay Gilligan echoes this American juggling ethos in conversation with Erik Aberg for their podcast “Object Episodes”: “When I was growing up in Ohio juggling, we weren’t doing circus, we were juggling. And that was again a really important distinction that we had to tell ourselves… that it wasn’t valid to do circus for some reason… I didn’t even understand that juggling came from circus until I really came to Europe” (Gilligan, “Episode 5”). According to Gilligan, even within the circus world, so...
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