Many people have entertained a fantasy about joining the circus at some point in their lives, but very few people actually follow through, and even fewer succeed. Working in a circus can be exciting and very rewarding, but it is also highly demanding, precise, grueling work which can put very unique strains on performers and support staff, and not everyone will fit in. People who want to join the circus will need to be prepared to put in a lot of work, and to explore many options.
The classic way to join the circus is to be born into it. Children of circus members often start learning circus arts at a very young age, and many of them end up joining their family members in the profession. Some circuses have famous dynasties, with members who come from a long line of circus performers. Being born into the circus also conveys a distinct advantage, as circus culture is famously closed to outsiders.
For people who are not born into the circus tradition, the best way to join the circus is to acquire circus skills, and then apply to circuses. Many colleges and training facilities have circus arts programs in which people can learn a wide variety of skills. People can also opt to focus on a specific facet of circus arts, such as trapeze work or clowning. Many of these institutions have relationships with existing circuses, and these can sometimes be utilized to find a job after graduation.
It is also possible to join the circus as an apprentice, learning skills on the job. This is more common with the support staff who handle everything from putting up tents to traveling ahead to negotiate contracts and publicize the circus. People who want to apprentice in the circus arts must generally demonstrate some aptitude, and a background in performing arts, gymnastics, and related fields will be extremely helpful for applicants who want to be taken seriously.
Circuses are both fixed and touring, with touring circuses being more common. People who join the circus should be prepared for a lot of travel, and for living conditions which can be quite varied. Most performers live in trailers and camp on the grounds of the circus, and the lifestyle can be very grinding after a few years of touring with the circus. The circus is also highly physically demanding, as there are typically multiple performances every day and performers must be at their physical peak.
Several traveling circus schools offer people the opportunity to see what it is like to live and work in a touring circus while receiving training. For people who want to join the circus but want to get a glimpse of what the life is like, this can be a great option. Many of these schools also have connections in the circus world, and students who develop and demonstrate considerable talent may find themselves with a number of job offers after they graduate.