Field Trip: At Circus Mojo, clowning around can be serious stuff

Juggling, trapeze, stilts and self-confidence

Camp: Circus Mojo
Where: Ludlow, Ky.
Ages: 7 - 17

Kids from around the Tri-State learned new skills while clowning around this summer. From stilt walking to spinning plates and juggling, children ages 7 through 17 experienced circus life from the perspective of performers at Circus Mojo.

Circus Mojo was started by owner Paul Miller in 2009. Miller, who is also known as Pauly the Clown, was formerly a Ringling Bros. circus clown. He went on to teach at Greater Cincinnati nonprofit My Nose Turns Red and for Circus Minimus  in New York City before purchasing the Ludlow Theatre building in Ludlow, Ky., where Circus Mojo now resides.

This is the fifth year Circus Mojo has offered summer camp. The camp draws about 20 to 25 children from Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky most weeks. Some youths even travel and vacation with family to attend. Circus Mojo has served up to 100 kids in a day, when youths from other camps visit the facility on field trips.

The camp falls into one of three rings of activity: entertainment, education and medical studies.

Summer camp is offered Mondays through Fridays between June and August. Parents can sign their children up for a single week of camp, or more. Monday through Wednesday, campers learn to perform circus activities including juggling, trapeze arts, tight wire walking and a clowning routine.

“That (routine) really helps bring down stage fright and also gets them to open up out of their shells,” said Circus Mojo performer and camp counselor Jesse Suttles.

Because the youths get to experience multiple circus activities, it helps them recognize and develop their talents.

“It helps them to see that while they may not be good at one thing, they might be better at another,” Suttles said.

“It’s almost like a cross between sports and acting, but you’re only in competition with yourself,” said Circus Mojo Operations Manager Renee Harris.

Amira Beck Borden, 9, of Madisonville wanted to learn trapeze when she first attended camp at Circus Mojo in 2013. Trapeze arts were not being taught at the time, so she shifted her focus to juggling.

She has since found that her favorite activity is tight wire walking.

“It was fun to balance, and sometimes it was fun to fall because you landed on something really soft,” she said.

After learning and practicing specific skills, campers spend Thursdays transitioning into performance mode, practicing circus acts with set groups of performers. Parents are treated to a full show Friday.

Campers at Circus Mojo benefit in bigger ways too, leaders say. “Self-confidence is a big one,” Suttles said.

The camp also helps kids with hand-eye coordination, teamwork and concentration. For many, the circus tricks provide something for them to focus on.

“A lot of them, when they’re upset or really mad about something, they can really focus on circus stuff,” Suttles said.

Spinning plates, walking on tight ropes and other circus activities teaches campers the importance of perseverance as well.

“Everything’s been challenging, but all you have to do is practice. And I’m not saying you’re going to be an expert, but you will be able to do it,” said Seth McKinney.

The 11-year-old Union, Ky. resident said his favorite thing about Circus Mojo is meeting new people and learning new tricks.

Circus Mojo staff also produce and perform shows for events. They are currently preparing for a 150th birthday celebration for the City of Ludlow, which will take place in September. Circus Mojo also hosts events, including birthday parties, during which guests are treated to a show followed by an interactive workshop.

The education arm of Circus Mojo includes summer camp, classes centered around specific skills, corporate workshops and CircAbility classes for individuals with disabilities.

Circus Wellness and Ta-Da! Therapy makes up the medical programming component. Circus Mojo artists visit Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center four days a week to engage with patients and their families.

“We help them have a good hospital experience,” Harris said.

Performers entertain patients and teach them new skills while they are in the rehabilitation, orthopedic and hematology/oncology clinics, psychiatric unit and other areas of the medical center.

The Circus Mojo summer camp comes to a close this week, but staff members expect to continue to offer it in the future.

McKinney encourages other kids to give it a try.

“At least go for one week. It may be a pain to wake up early, but it’s worth it,” he said.


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