From late June to early July of this year, the nation’s capital celebrated circus. The Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage annually transforms the National Mall in Washington, D. C. for its Folklife Festival. The Festival’s themes in past years have ranged from Basque to Hungarian Heritage to Kenyan and Chinese Culture. This year, the circus community had the opportunity to showcase their unique history and artistry for the Festival’s fiftieth anniversary.
With representation from 22 circuses, attractions included flying trapeze shows, foot-juggling, and countless clown skits. In addition to a variety of performances, the festival featured other programs: circus cooking, science, and stories. As I meandered through the festival, I was greeted by jugglers from Circus Harmony, trampoline artists twisting through the air, and stories of how circus has forever altered performers’ lives.
I was struck by the magnitude of the festival. A blend of traditional ring and contemporary performances yielded a unique circus culture conducive to growth. In the midst of movements for social circus, birth of new circus programs, and questions regarding new means of unifying the circus community, performers came together to celebrate the complexity and beauty of circus. The Festival certainly reflected the spreading passion for circus, which was my primary takeaway from the event.