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rings finale





Developmental Circus Arts™

Pine Hill is unique in that developmental circus arts is built into our movement curriculum, whereas most youth circus programs occur outside of school.

As is true of youth circus practice worldwide, at Pine Hill our development circus arts program has three fundamental elements:

  • Unique skills — The physical skills that serve as the basis for youth circus activities are unique to circus: juggling, acro-balance, equilibristics, clowning, and aerials, to name the key domains.
  • Collaborative approach — Youth circus is by definition non-competitive, departing from the team-versus-team tournament model found in sports and the access-by-audition model of elite performance arts groups, in favor of the “troupe” model where youth participate in the spirit of “all for one and one for all.”
  • Radically inclusive — Youth circus is radically inclusive of all young people of every age, athletic capability, body size, developmental capability, socioeconomic status, academic standing, race, and gender.

The curriculum

As part of our movement curriculum, students learn circus skills in four disciplines: tumbling and acrobatics, juggling, equilibristics, and clowning. Participation in Pine Hill's annual Hilltop Circus is reserved exclusively for middle school students to exercise their new and growing cognitive capacities as young adults.

  • Grade 1-3: Basic tumbling and acrobatics (through grade 8); bean bags, balance beams
  • Grade 4: devil sticks, diabolos, unicycling, simple vaulting
  • Grade 5: toss juggling (balls), rola bolas, rolling globes, vaulting with mini-trampoline
  • Grade 6: ring and club juggling, tightwire, partner acrobatics
  • Grade 7: review, poi, club twirling, clowning, performance studies, Hilltop Circus
  • Grade 8: review, human pyramids, clowning, performance studies, Hilltop Circus

Circus disciplines

Tumbling and acrobaticsAcrobatic act

Working individually, tumbling involves stretching, bending, rolling, inversion, cartwheels, handstands, and other stunts, developing critical physical skills, core strength, and balance. Working in teams, partner acrobatics incorporates timing, cooperation, and communication skills. Working as a group, human pyramid building teaches students to be responsible for one another and to work as individuals in attaining group goals.


Juggling in its broadest sense means object manipulation. It trains eye-hand coordination, bimanual dexterity, concentration, goal-setting, and delayed gratification. This category includes toss juggling with scarves, balls, rings, and clubs; gyroscopic juggling (diabolos, devil sticks, poi, club spinning, plates) as well as odd object juggling (apples, wiffle bats, badminton rackets, socks!). Partners and groups pass multiple objects between them in sequences where heightened awareness between oneself and the others is required and developed.


Encounters with the unicycle, tightwire, rolling globe, balance board (rola bola), and stilts offer countless opportunities to exercise the vestibular system and to develop postural control.


The clown’s smallest task entails huge amounts of exertion and elicits great waves of confusion mixed with cleverness, frustration with joy, and helplessness with virtuosity. When the clown ultimately triumphs over his inadequacies (through some unforeseen solution) we laugh with relief, knowing that our own fallibility, too, is never far from the surface. The non-verbal gestures of clowning may have connections with language, meaning-making, and social connections.