21Country: Peru Amateur Circus a family affair

Circus City Festival celebrates 62nd year
Updated: Jul. 21, 2022 at 5:45 PM EDT
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PERU, Ind. (WPTA21) - Every year, kids in Miami County learn skills that will last a lifetime: communication, teamwork, and fitness, to name a few. And perhaps this one-of-a-kind program is the reason many of those who ‘graduate’ take their experiences throughout adulthood. It’s the circus! Which for most — whether related by blood or not, is a family affair.

Juggling Practice

Training for the 62nd Peru Amateur Circus began in March. “I do juggling, teeterboard, Russian swing, high casting, French trap,” Kaden Hanson told us. He’ll be a freshman next school year. “I have four siblings, three doing circus. The youngest is not old enough yet,” he told us. “I’ve been juggling for five years now, and the only reason I’m as good as I am — or at least hope to be, is practice.” Hanson is just one of dozens of kids dedicated to the craft, spending four hours a day practicing, in the three months leading up to their performances.

Though the word ‘amateur’ is in the name of the traditional show — but a view of the performance in any seat around Peru’s permanent three-ring building, and even the most seasoned professionals will be ‘wowed’. The Circus City Festival began in 1960, in hopes of honoring and preserving “the Circus Capital of the World’s” rich history. Around 200 kids between the ages of 5 and 21 present ten shows across eight days in July.

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Balancing Act

Among the most impressive acts, is the seven person pyramid walk across the high-wire. Many teens you’ll see perform each year, have over a decade of experience. “It’s pretty nerve-racking sometimes,” Kaci Whann told us. “I love feeding off the crowd when they cheer for us after we’ve done something really cool.”

Amid the cheers and exuberant band, those on the high-wire can be heard communicating with each other. “We count so we know how many steps to take,” she added. “We kind of just pump each other up and say ‘you got this!’ And cheer each other on while we’re up there.”

When performing such a complicated routine, trust is essential. “You just have to rely on everybody. Hope that they know how to do their tricks… and have confidence in your ability to do your trick,” Cory Bockover explained. After this season, Bockover will leave for Army basic training in August. “This year’s my last year. I’m super sad to see it go. It’s been a major part of my life.”

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The Yoo Family

Though ‘aging out’ is one of the somber realities of the close-knit community, passion for the Peru Amateur Circus often comes full circle. Show producer Diana Yoo remains heavily involved with organizing the performances, decades after she starred in them herself. But despite the fond memories of the past, You admits she’s loving the present. “I really enjoy being a circus mom. It’s just so cool to see the blessings the circus has provided for them. The way they’ve learned confidence and working with each other, and working with others,” she explained. “It’s like another extended family.”

The Yoo children, Hannah and Jason, play a very unique role in the 2022 performance. As a pair, brother and sister complete the show’s finale trick from the flying trapeze. “It’s called the double summersault, pretty much a classic,” Hannah told us. “To throw it to your brother is certainly an experience to be had, but honestly I’ve loved every second of it.” It’s her final year in the circus, too. “When I think about it, I get a little sad,” she said. “It really just helps you with dedication, with physical and mental strength, and it just teaches you so many things like patience, trust and how to work together as a cohesive unit with your fellow performers.”

Jason Yoo plans to stick around as long as he can to help those up-and-coming. “There’s not nearly as many of us anymore in the show,” he said, of young men commonly utilized for their strength in catching, holding, and throwing. “We’ve got a few guys stepping up and I want to stay in and be an example and kind of show them the ropes on how to take my place when I’m gone.”

“Our whole family was essentially homeschooled, so circus is our primary social outlet. And I think the advantages that has given us over your average team sport or anything is massive difference,” Jason continued. “You’re part of a team, but you’re still allowed to be individuals and really have a deep, almost familial connection to this.”

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May All Your Days Be Circus Days

Though the Circus City Festival is underway now, there are still several opportunities to attend. Performances are scheduled for Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. You can find more information and buy tickets here. Also on Saturday, is the annual parade in the morning at 10. This year’s Grand Marshal is Fort Wayne’s NBC anchor, and Peru Amateur Circus ‘graduate’ Linda Jackson!

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