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What is Youth Circus?

“Youth Circus” means kids, teens, and young adults who practice or perform circus arts. This includes young people who are learning circus skills at home, at a circus school, through an organization, at camp, school, college, or in a professional circus setting. There are about 10,000 youth that we know of doing circus all around the USA—and hundreds of thousands of others around the world with the numbers growing.


Here are some of the many, varied skills included in youth circus:

  • Acrobatics—including tumbling, partner acrobatics, group pyramids, handstands, and hand balancing
  • Aerial techniques such as trapeze (static, flying, dance/single-point), fabric (silks, tissue), hoop (lyra), rope (corde lisse), and many other apparatuses (sling, hammock, cloudswing, rectangle, sliding trapeze, ladder, perch, tippy lyra, triple trapeze, etc)
  • Juggling – including objects such as balls, beanbags, rings, and clubs
  • Object manipulation skills such as plate spinning, diabolo, devil/flower sticks, poi spinning, hula hooping, and contact juggling
  • Balancing skills such as rolling globe, rolla bolla, tightwire, slackline, unicycling and stilt walking
  • Contortion
  • Clowning
  • German gym wheel, cyr wheel, teeterboard, and Chinese pole
  • Acting, dance, and choreography
  • Puppetry, street art, magic, parkour, bmx, and capoeira
  • And more!

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Circus arts can be performed with almost any type of equipment in any setting. Many people invent their own tricks using whatever they can find. Circus is a worldwide tradition and there are many different names for the same thing. If you are interested in learning about circus apparatus and terms, check out the World Circus Federation Terminology Database. It’s also a fun way to learn circus words in other languages.


Over the course of our 20-year history, AYCO has defined “youth” as 21 years of age and under. In service to the growth in our sector, AYCO’s Board re-examined the age limit based on the following criteria:  1) consistency across the AYCO organization, 2) consistency with current national policies and trends, and 3) consistency with research in youth development. We have therefore determined that 26 years of age and under will define “youth” with regards to AYCO membership and outreach.

In setting a clear policy in which “youth” is defined as extending to age 26, AYCO is aligning with existing youth development research and public policy, as well as fixing inconsistencies within our own organizational practices. This refined definition will help us to design programs that support our constituents in their transition from ‘youth participants in circus arts’ to ‘adults with careers in the circus arts’. We already have such support for certain pathways, such as the Work Study program at AYCO festivals and the option to become a member of ACE for those interested in becoming circus educators. However, youth pursuing other pathways in circus (e.g., performance, rigging, directing, etc.) are not currently supported by AYCO beyond age 21. Providing continued support as youth engage in the earliest stages of career exploration is consistent with the practices of many youth circus organizations who “grow” their own staff out of their student populations and continue to support emerging professional artists to prepare them for auditions, etc. It is also consistent with the requests of current AYCO youth members, who want to stay engaged with the organization after high school graduation.