Feature Writing: Lure of the Big Top

A passion for the circus leads to a new student organization—and an unusual career plan.    by Amy Cohen '08

As a kid, I loved nothing more than climbing trees. Over the years my parents made many attempts to focus my primate activity into something a bit more organized—dance, gymnastics, rock climbing.

But the monkey in me wasn’t satisfied—until I attended the Purchase College Circus Arts Camp. Trained by professionals, I became devoted to circus and notorious for my quirky talent. I began teaching circus arts at the camp and in my hometown.

When it came time to look at colleges, I looked for a place that would foster my creativity. Ithaca College was clearly the best choice, with diverse academic programs, a fabulous artistic environment, and a willingness to trust students to start their own organizations. At circus camp during summer 2004 I met Matt Karp, a unicyclist who was also about to enter IC. Together we decided to bring circus arts to Ithaca.

Based on our in-depth proposal, the school funded our dream. We rounded up an enthusiastic group of members that became ICircus, Ithaca College’s circus club. Most of the students had no circus experience (our majors included speech-language pathology, math, chemistry, and music), but we quickly gained a positive reputation and have been growing exponentially in numbers and ability. We now perform annually at the Family Weekend showcase on campus, the Apple Harvest Festival downtown, and the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus Cavalcade of Youth in New York City. Our members say they are thankful to have found a noncompetitive environment that pushes their physical and creative abilities further than they had ever imagined.

The College not only allowed me to start my own club, but it also funded my travel to Chicago to attend the Educators Conference on Social Circus, where I was inspired to use circus arts to benefit at-risk communities. I landed an internship last semester at the Circus Space, one of the top three circus schools in Europe and the powerhouse of British contemporary circus. There I taught and trained with other monkeys—er, circus artists—and I hope I inspired them as I’ve been inspired.


Amy Cohen is a theater arts management major who plans to open a circus school of her own some day.  She can often be found swinging from a tree on campus, studying while standing on her head, or balancing a ladder on her chin. A longer version of this article originally appeared in longer form in Fuse, new student-run admission magazine.