CircEsteem: clowning around with style and confidence

When we were kids we liked to clown a lot almost all the time. As adults, we clown around too but it is more of a serious thing or a thing to have a laugh. Clowning around is something that we as adults take for granted in children and sometimes annoys us. But we don’t understand the power behind clowning and having a laugh.


Image courtesy of Beth Bullock at

Clowning can be ways children express themselves or let their feelings go without restrictions. It is creative, it is fun, it is even healthy for our bodies and minds. Of course, as adults, clowning around may seem like an immature thing or a thing that very few do. Depends on the personality.

But what if we told you that there is a way to make clowning around an activity where children can build confidence? Even more, when combined with other circus arts and very good guidance, it can become a source of happiness confidence and self-esteem for children, adults, teachers and everybody that is touched by these amazing approaches to life.

Let’s take a look at a charity in the Chicagoland area called CircEsteem that is doing exactly what we just mentioned: building confidence through circus arts and the activity of clowning around.

The idea of CircEsteem came to be in the year 2001 from the brains of Paul Miller, a former clown that was part of the Barnum & Bailey group. His idea was to provide a space where people could go and “clown” around without being judged or looked at. From there, it grew to a group that provided a place for kids that came from very different backgrounds and that did not know what physical activity to do or how to express themselves. With this, children went to the group to have fun and by the way, build the much-needed self-esteem that is required to face everything in life.  How did he do it? Well, he took the fine circus arts and applied them to performance approaches that were fun and useful.

Then, in 2004 a very special woman came to play an important role to grow the group and take it to new places. Her name was Maribeth Joy and she joined CircEsteem in its  4th Spring Circus working  as a stage manager, photographer, and costume maker. The way she contributed to the company was by taking the show and the idea all over the United States and even to Germany. She then became the Executive Director in the year 2009.


Image courtesy of Beth Bullock at

As for today, Dan Roberts is the head of the group. He used to be a CircEsteem Teaching Artist, and he took some time in Indonesia to learn and to work with different social circus programs where he sometimes was a founder and other times he was the manager.

Now, as for their programs, they are very holistic and include many activities aimed at increasing self-esteem and how to lose fear and panic of being seen on stage. All of their programs are connected to each other with the idea of helping and teaching young kids to respect for diversity and the importance of self-confidence. Another keystone in their programs is that they are always looking for ways to address social needs. For example, they created the HomeWork and CircusWork program when they found out children were not doing so well at school and they had the brilliant idea of having a free after school program which gave children the academic support the needed 3 times per week. This same program then led to other programs such as the employment opportunities program and the scholarship money for a college program.

Some of their most important programs are the following:


This is their youth employment program.  Here the group gives work to older students and more responsible ones by making them teach, perform, mentor younger students, and even teach personal finances and help students open bank accounts so they can save for college.

Saturday Circus

The Saturday  Circus is a program where students from the Chicagoland area meet up with other children that are part of the HomeWork & CircusWork program to have  five hours of circus classes. Here, students from many backgrounds meet to discuss, play, do activities and learn about circus arts and how they can contribute to everyday life. This is one of the oldest programs and it addresses their mission of “uniting youth from diverse backgrounds”

CircEsteem Scholarship Opportunities

This is not a program in the full sense of the word. The idea here is that CircEsteem wants to reach everybody. They charge certain fees and ask families to try to pay them if they can. If not possible, they encourage families to swap services with the company such as graphic design, costuming and marketing services. An amazing feature that makes the programs even more accessible.

Be sure to also check this post about the American Blues Theater and their importance in philanthropy.