Just clowning around: UK Circus Club

Haley Simpkins

Haley Simpkins

Before last semester, Jess Farace, University of Kentucky senior and president of the UK Circus Club, never would’ve imagined that she would be twirling around on 20-foot-high silk curtains every Friday.

When Farace signed up for PHI 193: Circus and Philosophy in fall 2021, she didn’t expect to fall in love with circus arts. PHI 193 professor and faculty advisor for the UK Circus Club Meg Wallace didn’t expect to find a student that would be willing to commit to founding an inclusive, accessible circus club on campus for students who don’t get a chance to take the class.

“I just remember thinking like, ‘I want to do this all the time. I want to do more of this. I wish I could take this class again or something,'” Farace said. “Meg had mentioned that she had always wanted to start a circus club, and I wanted to be that person who started it.”

This unwitting pair soon became the dynamic duo when it came to laying the groundwork for UK’s Circus Club. From writing a constitution for the group to logo creation to successfully navigating the lengthy club registration process at the university, Farace and Wallace powered through to officially launch the club in December 2021.

In creating the club, Farace said her main focus was to create it in a way that encouraged community, valued safety and practiced supporting one another in a nonjudgemental way.

“I just want everybody to come and experience it. This is something everyone should get a chance to try no matter what,” she said. “We just wanted to create an environment where anyone can try something that you don’t really get a chance to try in a lot of other places.”

In the club’s first full semester of meetings, attendance has continued to grow to include both a loyal group of regular members as well as the addition of an adventurous few at each meeting who are curious about circus.

Athena Fahey, a club regular, said she is still finding things to be curious about when it comes to circus, even though she’s attended nearly every meeting since the club’s founding.

“One thing I have learned in circus club is to push your limits and try something new,” Fahey said. “It’s not every day that you can learn to flip on a silk or even balance on your best friend’s shoulders.”

Trinity Adams, another regular member of UK Circus Club, said she is thankful for the stress-free community that Farace and Wallace have built when it comes to exploring one’s own curiosities.

“My favorite part is probably how the people involved make the environment feel very safe and nonjudgemental. It helps get rid of the anxieties that come with learning something new by making it feel like everyone is there to grow together,” Adams said.

Farace said she wanted the space to be one where students could learn from the higher trained professionals who come visit the club at their meetings. These professional include several instructors from Sora Aerial Arts, a Lexington based circus art studio, and the professors like Wallace and Alexis Allen, UK marketing professor and aerial teacher, who have made the club a safe space for one-on-one training.

Halle Shannon, a regular attendee of circus club meetings, said that though these are trained professionals working with students, she never felt pressured to succeed right away.

“I have learned that it’s okay to not be perfect,” Shannon said. “Failure is a step on the way to success.”

Farace said she hopes to see the club continue to grow in her absence post-graduation with hopes for public performances and community outreach in the future.