Social Circus refers to the growing movement toward the use of circus arts as mediums for social justice and social good. It uses alternative pedagogical tools to work with youth who are marginalized or at social or personal risk.
Through the dynamic approach of art-based education, the "Social Circus" seeks to expand the opportunities of and teach valuable skills to marginalized youth. The Social Circus "recognizes and values the role of art and culture as powerful agents in the education of at-risk youth, producing knowledge, and promoting the interchange of ideas and experiences, impacting (Brazilian) society and the public organizations responsible for youth education."
With rigorous training, interpersonal dialogue and expression, and the acquisition of goals through dedication, the social circus has the ability to alter the lives of at-risk youth. Autonomy, solidarity, self-esteem, physical-fitness, communication, and adaptability are some of the skills learned and practiced.
While a career in the circus is one possible future to the youth who participate in the social circus, it is not the purpose. Rather, the objective it to increase self-awareness, individuality and collective unity, self-discipline and many other values through a pedagogical alternative in order to transform the vision and capabilities of at-risk youth.
The Social Circus owes much of its use and success to its roots in arts education. Artistic expression often allows for the recognition of emotions and their articulation because art is a different language in itself. Art creates a basis for a greater understanding of new experiences, often not attained through a simple translation of verbal concepts which are not tied to the emotions of the individual. With a base in the circus arts, the social circus has the capacity to bring about a personal transformation in the performer and the spectator.
Another characteristic of the social circus is its universality and accessibility. Each person, in accordance with their abilities, is able to realize their own potential through the wide gamut of activities that the circus offers: one can participate in juggling, trapeze, acrobatics, contortionism, clowning, magic, balancing acts, etc. Thus, she who does not have the flexibility required to be a contortionist can find refuge in balancing acts; he who does hot have the ability to do trapeze can act and be a clown; someone not interested in the physical activities has an opportunity to work with the set, lighting, or costumes. Furthermore, the social circus lacks barriers to entry: one does not have to know how to read and write in order to participate. Often, the youth have already developed skills in dancing, singing, and percussion– activities which, generally not valorized, take on importance in the social circus. Such inclusive characteristics add to the social circus' success by attracting youth from all backgrounds, ensuring participation and access.
The demands and necessities of the circus arts give rise to personal transformation. Self-discipline is an absolute requisite with the constant practices, daily difficulties, and physical risks that characterize the social circus. Youth learn to push through these challenges, with their own efforts, and in doing so discover that they are capable and valuable beings. The social circus allows for at-risk youth to realize their own potential through the challenges that the circus brings, making them feel accomplished. Upon discovering that they are capable and intelligent beings, they start to deconstruct paradigms that they originally thought to be true. For example, Brazilian youth reevaluate the commonly held beliefs that everyone who lives in the favela is stupid, that every street child does not have a purpose or future, etc. These beliefs end up becoming a barrier to the self-development of the youth, and circus activities let them break such paradigms.
The structure and characteristics of the circus allow the youth to discuss and engage in free thought, often under the pretext of circus technicalities. Social relationships and generally taboo yet relevant topics are discussed, such as sexuality, gender, inclusion, prejudice, and discrimination. Such debate and discussion expands youth perspective while increasing their confidence, tolerance, and knowledge.
A Roda, or the Circle, is an integral part of the social circus. It refers to the scheduled hour in which students and leaders of the social circus gather for a discussion on the status, successes, and problems of the circus. The Circle's ritual and physical shape embody a moment of complicity in which everyone is in harmony, subjectively thinking together, although differently, about solutions, paths, and options for the daily questions and challenges.
This youth reflection represents the right for everyone to speak, disagree, express opinions, and make contributions. The Circle's dialog is essential to the Social Circus' pedagogical method, as it contributes to the composition of a liberal, critical, and democratic education.
By participating in the Circle, the participating youth develop a conscientiousness born through hearing other opinions and thoughts and through the articulation of their own. Reflection, dialog, and communication are elements that allow youth to take into account their place in the world, decisions, errors, and questions. Such personal analysis has direct implications to the development of the youth's reality and even his perception of reality. They learn to coexist in a peaceful, constructive, and respectable manner, and in doing so, implement such behavior into their daily lives.
The Circle gives youth an opportunity to vocalize their thoughts and ideas, to hear other opinions on their own, and to sometimes see their opinions incorporated into the social circus. This process valorizes the youth who in turn perceives the importance of his own knowledge. Thus, a transformation ensues: once seeing himself as incapable and inadequate, the youth, through the Circle, becomes a confident and conscious being, with increased self-esteem and self-awareness.
There are various social circus programs throughout the world, including, but not limited to: South Africa, Australia, Belgium, Burquina Faso, Canada, Cameroon, Chile, Colombia, Brazil, and the United States. Cirque du Monde is a social action program of Cirque du Soleil that works to expand and support social circus programs in 15 different countries and over 86 communities worldwide. The Cirque du Soleil donates 1% of its revenues to Cirque du Monde. The Cirque du Monde holds circus workshops for youth at-risk, in close collaboration with community organizations working with these young people. Cirque du Soleil also provides training aimed at enhancing the teaching skills of the circus instructors who wish to practice their art in a social-intervention context. The program provides an outlet for circus performers looking for a way to direct their talent toward a social objective and for social workers wanting to incorporate the circus arts into their work with young people.
Cirque du Monde has been made possible through the support of the following partners: Jeunesse du Monde, primary partner since the program's creation; the Canadian International Development Agency; members of the Oxfam international family; Pueblito; and a number of community organizations, governments, universities, and private companies.
Some social circus programs are (not necessarily related to Cirque du Monde):
- Creative- World Foundation(in Dutch Stichting Creatieve Wereld )empoweres vulnerable people with creativity(circus, dance, clowning, juggling, theatre, art and music) as a source. After initiating projects in Tanzania 2007/2008, Costa Rica 2009, Mexico 2010, Bosnia 2009/2010/2011, Belgium 2006-2009 and Netherlands 2005-2011. Working on start-up, developing and improving Creative World Centres / Empowerment Centres in Tanzania, Bangladesh, Uganda, Holland(Eindhoven) ans Bosnia. Working together with 1WE  for the Empowerment Centre in Bangladesh. Working together with Be More  for the Creative Centre in Uganda. Working together with Out of Area  for initiating Creative World Centre in Bosnia.
- Escuela Naciónal Circo Para Todos in Cali, Colombia, the first professional circus school in the world specifically dedicated to street children, providing an alternative avenue to social and professional development for vulnerable youth through the teaching of circus arts.
- The Afghan Mobile Mini Children's Circus, a child-protection project in Afghanistan;
- The Circus Debub Nigat in Ethiopia,formed in 2003, focusing on HIV/AIDS and female genital mutilation prevention, alcohol and drug abus, refugee repatriation;
- CircEsteem  in Chicago, USA, which aims to unite youth from diverse racial, cultural, and economic backgrounds and help them build self-esteem and mutual respect through the practice of circus arts.
- Hidung Merah  in Jakarta, Indonesia, which works with marginalized youth and helps give them a dream;
- The Barefoot Angels Project in El Salvador, which helps keep street children out of gangs through child-magician collectives;
- The Leapin Lurp Lurps in Australia, Flipside Circus, and Far West Performance Youth Project, which offer three projects for indigenous youth in Australia, and Circosis Circus who offer social circus outreach programmes to indigenous communities in Central Australia;
- The Nigeria Street Kids Project;
- The Zany Umbrella Circus in Pittsburgh, PA, USA, which offered circus relief to the survivors of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
- The Zip Zap Circus School  in Cape Town, South Africa; a Social Circus School which brings together children from all different walks of life, working with youth at risk, children with HIV/Aids and any child who wants to learn circus.
- LILALU, Germany
Programs in Brazil
Social Circus programs in Brazil are organized under the Rede Circo do Mundo Brasil, which supports 25 different projects throughout Brazil. The Rede Circo do Mundo Brasil is supported through organizations like Dreams Can Be that sell Cirque du Soleil tickets and turn the profits over to the Rede Circo. Dreams Can Be works in partnership with local organizations and NGOs to provide: education, moral and social development, humanitarian relief, and various opportunities.
The Rede Circo do Mundo Brasil is a collective of organizations that believe arts education is integral to social development and is an effective process for the comprehensive development of underprivileged children and youth. It believes that the artistic and cultural languages that the circus arts provide are powerful and dynamic tools for learning, integration, expression, and the promotion of citizenship and social transformation. Furthermore, it is integrated into other national and international forums, guaranteeing the network the capacity to influence public policy focuzed on human rights, economic, social, and cultural rights, and in special public policies for children and youth from the general population. Some of these organizations are: The Câmara Setorial de Circo do Ministériio da Cultura (Sectorial Chamber of Circus of the Ministry of Culture), and the Encontro Internacional de Formação de Formadores em Circo Social (International Meeting in Formation of Educators in Social Circus.
Some programs include: Se Essa Rua Fosse Mina, the Projeto Final Feliz, Levantando a Lona, the Programa Social Crescer e Viver, and the Circo Baixada. All programs work with at-risk youth, who generally live in the favelas, with the intention of widening their opportunities and perspectives through the social circus. Information on each individual project can be found at:
|Information on the Social Circus in Brazil|
|Number of organizations||22|
|Children and youth served||9,900|
|Direct Employment produced by the organizations||868|
|Regions in Brazil where the Social Circus is Present||05|
- Wood-Babcock, Donna. "Social Circus Movement." Regional Circus Conference. Circus Center, San Francisco. July 2004. Lecture.[verification needed]