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From Academics to Acrobatics: How Circus Club Unites and Excites UK Students

Room 104 in Barker Hall on the University of Kentucky’s campus is a hidden spot for many students, but for others, it’s a second home for one night a week.


Inside the room resides the UK Circus Club, the only university club of its kind in all of Kentucky, according to staff advisor Kylee Pipgrass.


Nearly 20 participating students enter the cold, quiet room after signing a waiver acknowledging the dangerous activities they are about to take on. 


The room heats up as aerial acrobats take advantage of the blue silk curtains hung about 15-feet-high from the ceiling, as well as a lyra and trapeze.


Jugglers, contortionists, stilt walkers, cyr wheel artists and unicyclists remain on the ground but utilize the space to enhance their skills all the same.


The club was founded by former UK student Jess Farace in 2021 with the help of Meg Wallace, a philosophy professor and the club’s faculty advisor. Farace took Wallace’s Circus and Philosophy class in the fall of 2021, where Wallace said she teaches students circus skills as well as how philosophical thought processes apply to circus arts.


Wallace said many students left the class thinking, “This is great, but I want more circus,” and Farace was one of those students. Farace then went to Wallace with the idea of creating a circus club, which they did.


“I think the very first day we had about 50 people who came in,” Wallace said.


She said some people show up not even knowing what circus arts are, and most members come in with no prior experience whatsoever.


“It’s not about getting people together who are experts at this in any way; it's about getting people who are curious to learn something new and do something a little different,” Wallace said.


Wallace has been practicing circus arts for 13 years ever since her first aerial class in Louisville, Kentucky, she said. 


Amber Singh, the current UK circus club president, said Wallace has taught several club members a lot of what they know. Though the club operates without any trained teachers, the members learn through skill sharing.


Anyone at any skill level can join the club, Singh said. 


One student hops on a unicycle, trying to balance, and each time he fails, he stands up straight and tries the skill again. 

Another student wraps her foot around the bottom of the suspended silk to ensure her grip and reaches her arms high, latching them closer to the top of the silk. She unravels one foot and struggles to regain her grip. Stepping down, she allows her friend to take her shot at the skill.


Singh started with the club last year and, now a sophomore, worked her way up to president.


“I think it’s an awesome stress reliever for students, and a way for students to pick up a hobby and have fun, other than thinking about school or work,” Singh said. 


She is a kinesiology exercise science major and said the club is a great way for students to get physical activity in a fun, untraditional way, which she said makes it a “great health club.”


Peyton Cummins, a UK freshman majoring in psychology, ultimately decided to attend UK because it included circus arts. 


Cummins said she was first introduced to circus arts after taking a class for a birthday party at age 16. She said she fell in love with it and has been doing it ever since.


She was also in a traveling circus, where she practiced mostly on aerial silks, but said she is now just doing it with the club for fun. 


“I think a lot of people think that they can’t do it because it looks hard or difficult, but anyone can try it,” Cummins said. “And I think it’s important to expose yourself to new things and try new things because you might love it.”


Jamin Kochman, a third-year graduate student majoring in mathematics, has been with the club since its founding in 2021.


He said he comes to practice almost every week and has met a lot of people he considers good friends through the club.


“I think the club is really important because it brings together people from a lot of different areas who wouldn’t normally have a reason to interact, and it gives us the time to do something fun and just take a break from the rigors of college,” Kochman said.


Kylee Pipgrass, 24, is a former president and current staff advisor for the club. She said her role is to guide the officers with any questions they have, such as checking rigging equipment or putting on a showcase. 


Pipgrass said the club held a showcase for the first time last year while she was president. This is where members can sign up to show any new talents they have been working on throughout the semester. The circus club holds showcases twice a year and even incorporates themes with costumes and music. 

Pipgrass said she has gained a lot from this club over the years. 


“Before I started circus club, I couldn’t do a pull-up,” she said. 


Pipgrass now can do many different skills on the aerial silks, including a double star drop, back dive and toe climbing — all skills and poses that she has learned during her time with the club and now teaches to others.


She said although she had been to the gym previously, she didn’t realize how much strength went into climbing up the apparatus and holding yourself in different positions. 


Pipgrass said most importantly, she has gained a lot of friends. 


“I’ve gained a whole community here of people that are like-minded, but different in every other way,” she said. “The only thing we really have in common is that we all just enjoy having fun with our physical activity.”


She said everyone is always clapping and cheering each other on. 


“There’s just really this sense of being supported while you're trying something that is new, it's challenging and it looks a little weird, so having that community there for that is really important,” Pipgrass said. 


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