Oberlin Blogs

The Greatest Show at Oberlin

September 3, 2023

Natalie Frank ’26

I knew no one when I came to college. Not a distant frenemy who attended middle school with me. Not that girl whose family was friends with mine. Not even a single person within a 100-mile radius of where I lived. My roommate was random, but she had friends coming to Oberlin. Before my dad left after dropping me off, I decided I needed to make friends fast. I could not thrive in college without a support system or at least people to complain to when my professor assigned 200 pages of reading.

It turns out that a community was all I needed, and within the first week of Oberlin, I found one.

Oberlin Welcome Week was a crazy time, where I attended a bazillion plus one events and activities and promised to return to each of them (spoiler alert: I didn’t). During my Welcome Week, I made it my mission to seize every opportunity I could. One event I attended with my roommate was the OCircus Open Jam.

I had no experience with anything circus. I could not juggle two balls, let alone three. I could tumble a struggling cartwheel, even though I was more likely to knock someone else (or myself) out. Trying to clown? Forget about it.

On that Saturday, I walked into a vast gymnasium on the edge of campus and discovered a new world. Inside, there were unicyclers riding laps around acrobats on the blue mat. On the edge of all of this, jugglers threw balls, clubs, and even rings in the air. Aerialists spun down silks to our left. They may not have intended it, but without even trying, everyone who came to the Open Jam was performing a show. We were immediately sucked in. 

Flitting from one station to another, Julia and I tried every activity. Some, we failed miserably at. Others gave me just enough hope that I could someday accomplish it.

The following week, I returned. For the first three months, I came to the circus nearly every day, practicing my juggling and my acrobat skills. By the time the show came, I could do a cartwheel, a handstand, juggle four balls and three clubs, and even knew how to clown (it is really just improv). 

Colorful-lit gym
Practicing for the winter show.

In December of 2022, OCircus performed Alice in Wonderland, and it was magical: an Alice that spun down a rope; Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum twirled above the room in silks; the Caucus Race circled with acrobatics; the Tea Party went mad with juggling. With the help of a smidge of makeup and costumes from the OCircus attic, we transformed the gymnasium into an immersive performance. The audience–and the performers–were swept away with it.

I loved the performance as much as anyone else, but what I loved more came before and after it. I loved getting dressed for practice, where Zoe would host Strength and Flexibility, or I could just work out to an awesome playlist. I loved being at practice with other Circus performers that gradually became my friends. We would hang out at every practice and use the space to help each other get better. I learned from the very best: other students who had been practicing at a circus for over ten years. Here I was, learning as a noob and lucky enough to find friends along the way. Of course, OCircus wasn’t just clowning.

Natalie laying on a blue mat
Me lying on the mat.

On lazy Sundays, we would lie on the mats and draw or fold origami together. On sunny afternoons, my friends and I would bring in rollerskates and spin circles around the quiet gym, listening to music and each other. On nights after long classes, we’d train in pacrobatics (partner acrobatics) or laugh at each other’s best attempts at tricks. I loved every practice, not to mention the show’s afterparty. I even loved walking home from practice, the light feeling in my chest, and the pleasant exhaustion of working out in a safe and comfortable space. A year later, I love scrolling through my old videos and finding myself cartwheeling across the mats or ranting about what a good practice it had been.

If you are like me (or if you aren’t) in that you look for a community to join, OCircus is your gig. Love theatre? It’s perfect. Love dance? Come find us. Love juggling or rollerskating or aerials or acrobatics or music or friends or having a fun way to work out? Circus is your jam.

We have training every Saturday and Sunday from 3-5 p.m. in Hales Gymnasium and more training during weekdays. No experience is necessary. Find us today, tomorrow, or next year. We would love to have you any time.

So when the day comes that you find yourself looking for a community to join, a cool way to work out, or a fun environment to burn off stress in, wander your way over to Hales Gymnasium. We’ll be there.

Natalie juggling, girl in background
Aster watching me juggle.

P.S. Email oberlincircus@gmail.com if you want to get on the Slack, mailing list, or learn more information!

P.P.S. Follow @oberlincircus on Instagram.

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