As a kid, I was involved in a lot of typical activities: soccer, swim team, piano lessons. But when I was eleven years old, I also joined a children’s circus club. A little before my 11th birthday I saw a kid on TV riding a unicycle, and decided to ask for one for my birthday. It took me about a month to teach myself how to ride it, hours spent riding back and forth along our deck while holding the railing. Shortly thereafter, we found out about a kid’s circus club in the area.
The exhibition club was started in the late 60’s by Jim Moyer, a PE teacher at the elementary school that was home to the club. He wanted to teach children acrobatic and circus skills. Unfortunately, Jim Moyer passed away shortly before I joined the club so I never got to meet him. But the club was left in good hands. Upon joining, I advanced my unicycling skills and learned many other circus and acrobatic skills.
When I arrived at circus club, I was only able to ride my unicycle forward and turn. They taught me how to free mount (without the assistance of a wall, a helpful hand, etc.). I also learned how to ride in formation for parades and exhibition shows.
Later on, I learned how to do more advanced skills such as ride backward, ride with one foot, jump rope on a unicycle, and ride down steps and over teeter-totters.
Once I mastered these skills, it was time to move on to a “giraffe” unicycle, which is a tall unicycle that uses a chain to power the wheel. The club had giraffe unicycles from 5 feet to 12 feet tall, and I started out on a 5 foot tall one. It took me a bit longer to learn to ride this one, and thankfully I had a patient dad by my side who would walk back and forth across the gym holding my hand while I learned. Once I got the hang of the 5 foot unicycle, it didn’t take me long to move on to a 6 foot and then a 7 foot unicycle. In 2002, I rode my 7 foot tall unicycle in the Cherry Blossom parade in DC.
To this day I still own my first unicycle, my own 6 foot giraffe unicycle, a miniature unicycle, and an “ultimate wheel” (a unicycle with just a wheel and pedals – no seat). I can still ride all of them, except the ultimate wheel, in the same way you never forget how to ride a bike.
German gym wheel
Another neat circus skill I learned was the German gym wheel, which is a bit hard to explain. The wheel had wooden planks on the bottom that you strapped your feet to, and then you held onto handles as you rolled the wheel.
There were different variations in the way you stood inside the wheel. You could also have multiple people in the wheel. There was also a trick called Ferris Wheel, where two people rode around on the bars. I usually always rode my unicycle in parades, but would also perform on the gym wheel in exhibition shows.
The trick in the above right picture is called a “penny roll” and it was one of the most difficult tricks that we were taught. I tried to learn it a few times, but kept getting stuck and ending up with the wheel falling flat on it’s side (thus hitting my face on the ground).
Juggling, balancing, and tight rope
In addition to unicycling and the gym wheel, I also learned to juggle. I started out with scarves, and later moved on to juggling balls. I can also juggle oddly shaped objects, but I never learned to juggle clubs. I still have my own set of juggling balls.
We were also taught various types of balancing acts. We were taught to balance on rolling globe balls, cylinders, stilts, and other people. We also threw in other types of tricks like juggling, jump roping, and hula hooping on these apparatuses.
One time we also got the opportunity to train with the Taiwan National Acrobats, who were touring the country. We learned a lot from them, and also taught them a few of our tricks in the gym wheel. That’s me standing on the guys hands on the left!
The club also had a tight rope for us to practice on. I dabbled with the tight rope in practice, but never had the patience to develop any skills for exhibition shows.
Tumbling and contortion
Finally, we also learned a variety of tumbling and contortion skills. I learned to walk on my hands and do basic tumbling passes like a round-off back handspring. We also had an inflated inner tube that we would bounce off of and then do flips and tricks in the air.
Circus club was a great experience for me. I always looked forward to going to practice, and I learned a lot of skills that I still have today. Back then I dreamed of becoming a professional circus performer. My younger sister joined the club when she 5 or 6, and it was fun performing together. We ended up leaving the club when I was in high school, though. It had kind of fizzled out. It’s still around today, but its not what it used to be. Hopefully some day it will be returned to it’s former glory.
*many of these photos were provided by the Jim Moyer Circus Club
Do you have any hidden talents? I can juggle, ride a unicycle, and walk on my hands
Did you ever dream of being in the circus when you were a kid?