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San Francisco, California

Circus Center

Join the circus for a few lessons to learn clowning, acrobatics, and Chinese contortion. 

Running away to the circus was the threat that rambunctious young folks would threaten their parents with… at least in the 1930s.

Today, you can fulfill childhood dreams of running away to the circus as well as following a career— specifically, at the San Francisco Circus Center, the only professional circus training facility in the United States. It’s also the only year-long circus clown training program in the United States, offering many classes to children and adults.

The Circus Center began as the Pickle Family Circus, founded in 1974 by Peggy Snider and Larry Pisoni. As part of a special project for the Pickle Family Circus, the San Francisco School for Circus Arts was established in 1984, with a first class comprised of 16 children. Famous Chinese acrobats such as Lu Yi of the Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe and other artists from his troupe were hired to help train aspiring acrobats, and in 1996 Yi founded the San Francisco Youth Circus, designed to provide young students with the opportunity to perform what they were learning.

Not just for acrobatics, the Clown Conservatory started up in 2000, the same year the school purchased the New Pickle Circus. The New Pickle Circus returned to the performing roots of the Family Circus, and now stages annual professional shows in San Francisco, participating in multiple productions throughout the year.

A wide variety of circus-related classes are available to children as young as 18 months, and any adult willing to learn. The Center emphasis safe training and understanding body movement, working from the ground up to develop strength, control, and flexibility. More advanced students also have a place in the many Level II and Level III classes.

Workshops are offered in addition to the weekly classes, and a summer camp program for children ages 7 to 15 teaches acrobatics, juggling, clowning, the trampoline, and more. Some of the courses offered during the “winter semester,” which lasts from the beginning of January until the end of March, are: acrobatics, aerial skills (such as the trapeze), circus arts (juggling, tumbling, unicycle, tight wire), contortion, general stretching and conditioning, the trampoline, climbing silks and ropes, acrodance, clown therapy, and acting for clowns.