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DIY Circus Lab

Jackie Davis, Author of DIY Circus Lab

Jackie Davis, Author of DIY Circus Lab

“I believe more kids — ALL kids — should have the chance to discover circus.”

So says circus educator and Smirkus residency consultant Jackie Davis, author of the newly released DIY Circus Lab for Kids.

The book, she says, is the culmination of her lifelong work as a circus educator, and guides readers through the ABCs of making their own circus.

It teaches basic skills like juggling, tumbling, clowning and how kids can make their own circus equipment and props.

Using the book as a guide, readers can learn how to combine skills into an act, and acts into a circus show.

Newly released by Quarry Books, it is an excellent educational resource and a perfect complement to the CircusSecrets™ learning skills taught in the Circus Smirkus Ringmaster Residency program.


Founder of the both the Flying Gravity Circus, the Silver Lining Circus Camp, and a founding member of the American Youth Circus Organization, Jackie also has a robust history with as an educator with Circus Smirkus.  Together with her late husband and longtime Smirkus Residency Director Rick Davis, she also developed the CircusSecrets™ learning framework that has become the hallmark of the Smirkus arts residency program.

Also a former Smirkus Camp coach, Davis is notably proud of the fact that 21 students from her own circus programs have gone on to become Smirkus Big Top tour troupers over the years.

One would conclude Davis knows a thing or two about teaching circus!


While she has worked with and consulted with Smirkus education programs for years, it was a national study that Smirkus was asked to participate in that provided a backdrop and context for writing her own book about circus arts education.

Jackie Davis with her book contract and a photo of her late husband Rick Davis

Jackie Davis with her book contract and a photo of her late husband Rick Davis

Conducted from 2016-2017 by the Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality and funded by Cirque Du Soleil, the study looked at seven circus residency programs across the country – including Circus Smirkus, where Davis was working as the lead artist in the Lakeview Elementary School in Greensboro, VT.

The study aimed to test whether the integrating the circus arts into K-12 education could improve student performance. The answer was a resounding yes.

In fact, it found that circus residencies improved social and emotional learning skills in all areas measured – and delivered results measurably better than all other supplemental arts and sports activities studied. 

DIY Circus was informed by the Weikart project and written primarily at Smirkus headquarters during the study period.

The Circus Smirkus Residency Team

The Circus Smirkus Residency Team


Davis’ research on the connections between the circus arts and Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) further developed the CircusSecrets™ learning methodology – which are directly linked to five core competencies of SEL.

They provide a potent tool for integrated arts education and effective curriculum development, and are widely demonstrated in the book.

CircusSecrets™  are general universal truths that can be applied to any learning,”  but they are especially effective in helping kids develop the self-awareness and perseverance nurtured by the SEL teaching framework.

“You know what I never get tired of? Hearing kids declare, ‘I can DO it!’,” says Davis “PAUSE. IMAGINE. TRY A NEW WAY.  We use the CircusSecrets as a touchstone for the residency program,” she said.

Pre-order the book through Davis’ favorite local bookseller, The Toadstool or on Amazon. All books ordered through the Toadstool will be autographed by the author — and folks wanting 5 or more copies can get a 20% discount.
Rob Mermin Jackie Davis Smithsonian

Jackie & Rob representing Circus Smirkus at the Smithsonian, Summer 2017