Gamma Phi Circus

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Official Logo of Illinois State University's Gamma Phi Circus

Gamma Phi Circus, sponsored by Illinois State University, is the oldest collegiate circus in the United States.[1] It began as the Gamma Phi fraternity, founded in 1929 by ISU gymnastics instructor Clifford "Pop" Horton.[1] The fraternity's first circus performance took place in 1931. Gamma Phi Circus is a performing arts fraternal organization and is no longer affiliated with social fraternities or sororities and is a registered student organization.[2] Membership is available by audition to all full-time ISU students, faculty, and staff. Illinois State University and Florida State University are the only four-year universities that have full-fledged circuses.

History of the Gamma Phi Circus[edit]

The Gamma Phi Circus was founded in 1926 by Dr. Clifford Horton, who was a gymnastics instructor for Illinois State University.[1] The Gamma Phi fraternity was founded in 1929 and held the first Gamma Phi Circus performance in 1931 on the Illinois State University campus. The Bloomington-Normal community has had strong ties to circuses since the 1880s, and was home to the Flying Wards and the Conciellos, both trapeze acts. In 1938, female members began to perform with the all-male circus, with women formally elected into the organization in 1940.[1]

Circus alumni have gone on to perform in a variety of venues including the Shrine Circuses, the Circus Kingdom, Roberts Brothers Circus, Kelly Brothers Circus, the Great American Circus, and the Circus Alleluia. They have also performed at Disney World, Sea World, Busch Gardens, Universal Studios, Great America, and at Club Med Resorts. Members and alumni have also competed several times internationally in the Rhoenradturnen (Wheel Gymnastics) World Championships. In February 2017, five members competed in two acts at the first annual VivaFest, a circus competition in Las Vegas, Nevada. Lyric Hoop and Cyr Wheel received fourth place and Dance Trapeze received fifth. There were 37 acts in the Gamma Phi's category.

Financial aspects[edit]

The Gamma Phi Circus is an entirely self-financed organization supported by revenue from the home performances.[3] “Home Shows” performed at Illinois State University draw visitors to the university. Gamma Phi also offers free exhibitions that publicize the show and the University. Local businesses and corporations help with the cost of the show by sponsoring certain acts and purchasing advertisement space in the program. The circus rents space from the university at full cost, buys or makes the costumes, and does maintenance and buys equipment for the rehearsal areas. Advertising is through TV, radio, newspapers, and brochures.


Gamma Phi performs both Home Shows as well as Exhibitions[4] and Road shows.[4] Every April their Home Show at Redbird Arena usually consists of twenty or more acts and typically draws an audience of over 16,000 fans. Twenty to thirty road shows and exhibitions are also performed each year for schools, businesses, and charities. The Gamma Phi road show performances are approximately two hours long, and are performed in advance of the main Home Show. They perform double-duty as both a full circus performance and a preview and tune-up for the main show. Exhibitions are usually forty-five minutes in length and will normally consist of floor acts only including acrosport, globes, unicycles, gymwheel, chair balancing and juggling and are typically performed for school assemblies and open houses.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "History and Heritage | Gamma Phi Circus". Archived from the original on 2014-07-15. Retrieved 2014-02-25. 
  2. ^ "FAQ | History and Heritage | Gamma Phi Circus". Archived from the original on 2014-03-01. Retrieved 2014-02-25. }
  3. ^ "FAQ | History and Heritage | Gamma Phi Circus". Archived from the original on 2014-03-01. Retrieved 2014-02-25. }
  4. ^ a b "FAQ | History and Heritage | Gamma Phi Circus". Archived from the original on 2014-03-01. Retrieved 2014-02-25. 

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