Ariana Wunderle

When Ariana Wunderle ’26 left the circus for college, she felt overwhelmed by change. Step by step, she’s finding new footing.

Ariana Wunderle performs her tightrope act with Circus Smirkus

Ariana Wunderle performs her tightrope act with Circus Smirkus in Greensboro, Vermont. 

A world-renowned tightrope legend, Ariana Wunderle ’26 views walking the wire as a state of mind. You keep your eyes fixed on your goal. But you also “kind of let go.”   

“It’s just peaceful and soft. You feel yourself taking the time to experience your body on the wire and moving with the air,” explained Ariana, who broke a world record during her senior year of high school when she walked across 639 feet of wire in four-inch stilettos.  

It was a feat she accomplished for her senior project—and through it, she raised funds for Circus Smirkus, a nonprofit circus she had performed with in Greensboro, Vermont, since the age of two. “I would not be who I am right now if it wasn’t for the circus,” she said.  

When Ariana was looking at colleges, she focused on two criteria—a college near a circus and an “undecided” program that would provide her with the space, time, and support she needed to explore her future. She was drawn to Ithaca College’s Exploratory Program. 

Send in the Clowns: First Semester Blues

The day Ariana moved to Ithaca was also her last day with Circus Smirkus. She’d just completed her final, whirlwind summer of performances—where she’d loved watching the eyes of children light up throughout venues in New England. She brought mementos with her to college, including her first tiny clown nose and a framed letter from her coach she’d had since the age of twelve—and whose words helped her whenever she felt lost.  

“I just jumped worlds with no break in between,” said Ariana about the confusion she experienced at the time, and then, “I kind of just sunk into this feeling of isolation.” 
Midway through her first semester, Ariana attended her first concert at IC for a class assignment, and a sense of familiar vitality came rushing back to her. “It was a very emotional time for me. I began to get some of the clarity I’d been searching for,” she said. The concert made her realize that she missed performing. So, after that, Ariana performed on Broadway with IC’s African Drumming and Dance ensemble. Her parents met her there and took her to the Big Apple Circus during the trip. But even as Ariana began connecting her present with her past, she still felt a sense of loss.  

"You always have the ability to connect to what you want to connect to. It’s just a part of the journey, and it’s helping me figure out what I actually want to do.”

Finding New Footing

Ariana’s rough first semester prompted her to make some important changes. Over the winter break, she volunteered for IC Crew, and they welcomed her aboard. During her second semester, Ariana set up a new routine and opened up to more experiences, including time with new friends. She also included space for exactly the side of herself she’d veered away from her first semester—the circus. “I had pushed circus aside because there was a lot of pain in leaving that,” said Ariana. She’d learned what her nonnegotiables were, and they definitely included more regular sessions with the circus school near IC—Circus Culture.  
“You always have the ability to connect to what you want to connect to,” realized Ariana, who is still exploring her ultimate goals. “It’s just a part of the journey, and it’s helping me figure out what I actually want to do.” 


A collection of introductions to the Ithaca College story—about those who continue to write it.
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