History

In recent years, age-old circus arts have experienced a global renaissance, in practice and in popularity. Today's circus is profoundly inspired by the past, but bursts forth with an artistry and vibrancy drawn purely from our modern world.

Circus arts are rooted in many diverse cultures: ancient Chinese acrobats, the Roman Circus Maximus, the Medieval Commedia Dell Arte, the American Ringling Brothers Circus, and many more. Many of the props used by today's artists - from aerial hoops to juggling balls -- are simply modern takes on the common household goods and tools used inventively by Chinese peasants to entertain and show off at annual harvest festivals 2,500 years ago.

Circus arts evolved from the daring experimentation of those ancient farmers, peasants and craftsmen.
In fact, Confucius's father was an acrobat!

Fueled by such ground-breaking companies as Canada's Cirque du Soleil, contemporary circus arts combine elements of music, theatre, strategy and dance to culminate in a captivating performance. Cirque du Soleil began as a small group of young street performers in 1984, but quickly became an international sensation.


The group eschewed the three rings and animal acts typical of circuses of that time, and replaced them instead with stunning theatricality and athletic artistry with a global flair. It is against that backdrop that Circus Juventas was founded in 1994.

Circus Juventas, then known as Circus of the Star, began as an after-school program in a neighborhood recreation center. The initial offerings were limited and could accommodate only 30 students, training on hand-made equipment with founders and former circus performers Dan and Betty Butler. From the start, classes were filled to capacity, and after enthralling audiences at their first performance during St. Paul's Highland Fest in 1995, interest in the program only increased. Before long, the waiting list was over 300 names long.

Seeing this widespread appeal, and realizing the local needs a youth circus arts program could fill, Circus Juventas began a capital campaign in 1996 to build a permanent home. By that time, Circus Juventas was serving 120 students, and more than 400 were on the waiting list. A board of directors was established, a long-term lease was secured from the City of St. Paul, and initial designs for the 21,000-square-foot Big Top were commissioned and completed. Thanks to the generosity of hundreds of contributors of all sizes, from middle class families to charitable foundations, the campaign goal of $2.1 million was reached, and the Big Top was built in 2001.

We opened our doors that summer with a greatly-expanded curricula accommodating toddlers, youth and adults.

Since that time, our enrollment has doubled, then doubled again.

And the showcase performances for our beginning and intermediate students each May have proven to be as popular as our August shows. We also have captivated hundreds of thousands of audience members in other venues throughout the Twin Cities in performances in partnership with other arts and civic organizations, including the prestigious Ordway Theater.

The response to our programming and performances has been gratifying and invigorating, and allows all our students to bask in the spotlight. We continue to make a unique contribution to the Twin Cities arts scene, collaborating with more established arts organizations and reaching out to our community.

Investing in the Community

Circus Juventas has worked with many diverse organizations over the past seven years to strengthen the development of its students and audience, and to broaden its impact within the community:

Circus Juventas has teamed with many organizations here under the Big Top such as The American Cancer Society, SMILE Network, MN International Center, and MN Friends of the Orphans.

  • Highland Fest, a celebration of arts in the Highland Park neighborhood (Summer 1995-1999, 2001-2007)
  • Capital New Year, St. Paul's New Year's Eve celebration at the Science Museum, River Centre and Roy Wilkins Auditorium (December 1996-99, 2001)
  • St. Paul Winter Carnival (Winter 1996-1997 and Winter 2004-2006)
  • Women of Nations, benefit for battered women's shelter (April 1997)
  • St. Paul Companies, benefit performance for United Way (August 1997)
  • Mall of America Fifth Anniversary Celebration (August 1997)
  • Planet Ordway, performances at World Party for Cirque Ingenieux (September 1997), Cirque Eloize (October 1998)
  • Performances with 80th Annual Minneapolis Shrine Circus at the Target Center (May 1998)
  • Minnesota Adoption/Foster Care Celebration (November 1998)
  • Ordway Performance with Theatre De La Juene Lune in "Pulcinella" (October 1999)
  • Children's Museum "Juggle Fest" Celebration with the Big Apple Circus (April 2000)
  • Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra Annual Fundraiser - River Centre (May 2000)
  • Cirque Du Soleil Opening night Gala Party for "Dralion" at Theatre De La Juene Lune (August 2000)
  • Benefit for Marie Heu sponsored by the Federated Police Department (November 2000)
  • Inaugural ball for Mayor R.T. Ryback January 5th, (2002)
  • Entertained, with Balagan, at the Minnesota Orchestra's 100th anniversary celebrating (2003)
  • Breck school annual fundraiser (February 2003)
  • The Retreat House (September 2003)
  • The Ordway Center for the Performing Arts - Flint Hills International Children's Festival (Spring 2003-2006, 2010)
  • St. Thomas Academy (April 2004)
  • Blake School annual fundraiser (May 2004)
  • American Cancer Society Gala (2006-2010)
  • Chattanooga Symphony and Opera Gala, performances as part of their annual gala in Chattanooga, TN (Spring 2007)
  • Sanford Medical Center Children's Hospital Gala, performances as part of a fundraiser for a new medical center in Sioux Falls, SD (Spring 2008)
  • Children's Home Society Gala (Fall 2008)
  • Children's Theatre Company, Madeline and the Gypsies performances (Fall 2008)
  • Target Corporation Book Fair (September 2008-2010)
  • St. Thomas University Workshop, Engineering Department study of physics (January 2009)
  • 15th Anniversary Open House, 10,000 people visited Circus Juventas Big Top (March 14, 2009)
  • Young Professionals Organization Family Event (March 2009)
  • Taste of Minnesota (2010)
  • Minnesota Orchestra (2010)
  • Performance at Coolidge Park as part of RiverRocks event in Chattanooga, TN October 8 & 9, 2010
  • "Circus Ring of Friendship" Festival, Sweden. CJ Triple Trap team received gold medal. (October, 2010)
  • Cedar Crest Academy Gala (2011)
  • St. Paul Public School Transition Event (2011)
  • NCAA Big Ten Women’s Gymnastic Championship Opening
    Ceremonies (2011)
  • 2012 Community Outreach
    • Dragons are Singing/Southern Theatre
    • Neighborhood House
    • Highland Catholic
    • Minneapolis Children’s Hospital Performance
    • Oak Hill Montessori
    • Kids ETC Youth Movement, Canada
    • Country Side Elementary
    • United Way
    • City of St. Paul, Public Works
    • Basilica of MPLS
    • Youth Social Entrepreneurship Summit
    • African American Awards Gala

More information on Circus Juventas history is available.
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1270 Montreal Avenue‚ • St Paul, MN 55116‚ • Phone: 651-699-8229‚ • Fax: 651-699-4395‚ • Email: info@circusjuventas.org‚ • 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization