Those Lucky Kids

Linda Burton posting from Tallahassee, Florida – Florida State University is famed for football, to be sure. The Seminoles just wrapped up their 2012 season with an Orange Bowl victory over Northern Illinois. But this post focuses on something else FSU is famous for, and that is the Florida State Circus. Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, and Children of All Ages, come see the show, come to be entertained, come for the color and the fanfare, come to learn some high-flying skills, because Florida State campus has a Big Top! This exciting program has been around since 1947 and was started when the school went co-ed. It’s not a degree program, it’s an extra-curricular activity under the Student Affairs division and was designed to give male and female students “something to do together.” You must be a degree-seeking student registered at FSU to participate. Unless you’re a lucky kid (between 7-17) in the Summer Program on the Tallahassee campus, or at the resort at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia. Which takes me back to 1973, when my kids were among those lucky kids. But first, about the Circus program itself.

What can a student learn? Pretty much anything related to the circus and performing arts. Students rig equipment, sew costumes, manage the lights and sound, and even set up the Big Top tent (a skill that can come in handy in later life when taking the family camping). There is a one-semester, one-credit course offered (but not required to participate in the Circus); it teaches the basics of juggling, high-wire walking, aerial ballet, and rigging. The course is offered through the School of Sports Management, Physical Education and Recreation. Most students go on to careers in the discipline they graduated with; few go on to a circus career. But what fun the Circus provides; what a challenge to athletic ability, to management skills, and to human relations. Which brings me back to that Summer Program at Callaway Gardens, where FSU Circus students not only get to perform before appreciative audiences, they get to work with kids, teaching and playing. My children learned a little about circus performing and a lot about having fun during that Family week we had back in 1973; it’s a summer vacation we still talk about. That’s son Mike (right) after a round of water skiing.

The FSU Circus generates it owns revenue, by the way. It hosts home shows in April on the FSU campus under the Big Top tent. And it directs those summer recreation programs at Callaway Gardens and on the FSU campus. It also performs throughout the southeast US, and in fact, has appeared in Europe, Canada, the Bahamas, and the West Indies. It has been selected as one of the SE Tourism Society’s Top 20 Events many years; and recently was the subject of a CSTV documentary. It has been commended by the City of Tallahassee as “a championship show” and by the State of Florida for “achievement in captivating audiences the world over.” They received a wonderful donation in 1981 when circus owner Jerry Collins gifted the University with the Clyde Beatty Cole Brothers Circus, saying he wanted to “benefit people of all ages, to preserve the circus for children, and to help the students at FSU.”

The FSU Circus is one of only two collegiate circuses in the United States, the other is at Illinois State. Chad Mathews is Director now; if you’re a student and want to get involved, contact

If you want to catch a home show performance, those happen each spring in April; and also in the fall at Parents’ Weekend, Pow Wow, and at Halloween in October.

Summer is when students host the 8-week Circus Summer Camp under the Big Top in Tallahassee; and when students staff the Summer Family Adventure Program (aka Day Camp) at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia. And they give daily performances. The Summer Family Adventure program includes water skiing, golf, tennis, laser tag, Aqua Island, and, naturally, circus activities. Summer Family Adventure Program at

Note: Florida State University is a comprehensive, national graduate research university with an international reputation in the sciences and humanities. Many programs consistently rank among the nation’s top twenty-five public universities, including those in Physics, Chemistry, Statistics, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Meteorology, Political Science, Psychology, Sociology, Criminology, Information, Creative Writing, Public Policy, Business and Law. Florida State University’s arts programs—dance, film, music and theatre—rank among the finest in the world.

The university is home to the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, funded by the National Science Foundation. Other research centers, such as the Center for Advanced Power Systems, are supported by the U.S. Departments of Defense and Energy.

Florida State University was established in 1851 and today has an enrollment of about 42,000. The main campus is in Tallahassee, Florida; other Florida locations include a satellite campus in Panama City, Florida; the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art (the state art museum of Florida) and cultural properties in Sarasota; and the College of Medicine satellite and rural campuses.

International Programs offers year-round Florida State study centers in Panama City, Panama; London; Florence, Italy; and Valencia, Spain. Additional offerings include over 40 diverse programs in 20 different locations in Europe, Latin America and Asia, including China.