Why I Serve Trenton Circus Squad

Monday, Dec 9, 2019
by Benjamin Gelman ’22, Pace Center Student Correspondent

In this ongoing Q&A series, we aim to highlight students, faculty, and staff who engage with service at Princeton and beyond. This time, we spoke to Isla Weber ’21, a neuroscience major from Indiana and co-director of In Circus of Humanity, a Student Volunteers Council service project dedicated to building a close relationship between Princeton University and the Trenton Circus Squad through tutoring, mentoring, and a collaborative sharing of circus-related skills.

What is In Circus of Humanity?

“We support the Trenton Circus Squad. That's the whole idea. The Trenton Circus Squad is an after school program for youth in Trenton and in surrounding areas, and they provide circus training for youth ages 12 to 18. The squad members then teach younger kids skills, they perform, and have fundraisers. They meet everyday after school, from 3:30 to 7 p.m. A soup kitchen provides dinner, and there’s a study space so the kids can do homework. It's at [Roebling Wire Works, which] used to be a factory, and it’s a really amazing space. It’s a great place for Trenton youth to have leadership opportunities. They also build great relationships, and members will be in the squad for years. Even after they graduate they can become a junior coach and get paid to coach.”

How did this organization get started?

“When I came to Princeton as a freshman I was looking for a place to do aerials, since I had been doing them for awhile, and I visited the Trenton Circus Squad because they were the closest place I could find. When I went for the first time, it was completely different from what I expected. It was incredible and I was hooked. They helped me a lot, and they supported me as I was trying to start the aerial arts club at Princeton, which is now running successfully. We had been talking about the relationship between Princeton and Trenton Circus Squad, and how they could benefit more. [In the fall of 2018 I led] a Breakout Princeton trip [“Social Circus: Using Performing Arts to Promote Youth Empowerment”], and after that I started In Circus of Humanity to keep the relationship going.”

Princeton Students practice aerial arts skills.

Over fall break in October of 2018, Weber co-led a Breakout Princeton trip examining how circus arts can play a role in youth empowerment in Trenton, NJ. She and other Princeton University students connected with the Trenton Circus Squad. 

Why do you think it is important for Princeton students to be involved in service programs like In Circus of Humanity, which connect to local communities such as Trenton?

“One big thing is talking with squad members about Trenton, being in Trenton, and knowing people who live there has changed my perspective about Trenton. We sometimes think of it as a dangerous pace with a lot of gun violence and poverty, and that we should go and do service there to help. But the squad members love Trenton; it’s their home and their city, and there’s so much life, joy, and things you wouldn't expect if you just look at it from the perspective that a lot of people do. Trenton Circus Squad has been eye opening and made me realize that there are so many beautiful things going on there. I love Trenton, and it's very valuable for Princeton students to see all the beauty that’s there. Trenton Circus Squad itself is such an amazing environment in Trenton, it’s incredibly safe and all the squad members are like family. I’m so lucky to have been a part of that.”

A girl being held up.

Trenton Circus Squad members show off their talents at a recent circus arts workshop at the Frist Campus Center on Saturday, December 7. Photo by Ella Whitfield '21

Can you talk about a particularly rewarding part of your activities in this organization?

“The most rewarding thing has been the relationships with the squad members themselves. When I walk in the door I’m  greeted by huge hugs and smiles. They’re so friendly and amazing to hang out with, and being able to do circus and aerials is amazing. Sharing that with them is a great way to get close with them. The first day I ever went, I was on a lyra (a kind of aerial apparatus) and one of the squad members I didn't know asked to get on it with me, and it was hilarious. We were climbing all over each other doing this aerial act, and he’s one of my favorite people. It's so important to get out and meet different people outside Princeton.”

Is there anything else you would like people to know about you, your role, or the organization in general?

"I'd say if people are interested in getting involved they can definitely reach out to me [iweber@princeton.edu]. The biggest part is getting there the first time, but once you get there it's easy to go back because it offers such an incredible viewpoint. The squad welcomes everybody, and if anybody would be interested we’d love that."

Princeton University undergraduate or graduate students interested in learning more should reach out to In the Circus of Humanity. Trenton Circus Squad is also a community partner with Community Action, helping welcome incoming first-year students to the greater Princeton community, and played an integral role in Victoria Davidjohn's, Class of 2019, remaking of Homer's classic epic poem "The Odyssey" as a participatory musical with with the Lewis Center for the Arts' Program in Theater and Music Theater in the spring of 2019.