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Local gymnast takes talent to circus

Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the News Messenger in Christiansburg, VAon July 31, 2018 and was written by Marty Gordon

Photos by Marvin Wang
Hannah Grove of Blacksburg has taken to the circus, and this summer performed the lyra (aerial hoop) with Circus Smirkus.

Hannah Grove was one of the performers in the Virginia Techniques Rock Star Gymnastics meet held this summer at the Christiansburg Recreation Center.

But in the back of her mind, she was dreaming of being somewhere else. This summer she ran away to join the circus.

“I started dreaming of running away with the circus when I was about six years old and saw my first Cirque (circus) show. It inspired me to start training basic circus things” Grove said.

Her parents didn’t really take her seriously until they saw another show when she turned nine years old.

“It was at this point when we saw Circus Dreams, a documentary by Circus Smirkus, on PBS television. At this point, we started to research what joining a circus really meant and if it was even possible,” Grove said.

Circus Smirkus is the only traveling youth circus in the United States—where the stars are kids, not animals! Performing under traditional European-style circus tents the traveling youth circus will perform 68 shows this summer. Thirty budding circus stars ages 10 to 18, bring youthful exuberance and polished circus skills from all parts of the country and the world.

The show is full of aerials, acrobatics, wire walking, juggling, clowning, live music and an array of brilliant costumes.

After seeing the documentary on PBS and searching for them on the internet, the 16-year-old from Blacksburg learned that they produced what is called the Big Top Tour and that kids ages 10-18 could audition and tour.

“To audition for the tour, I had to submit a video first. Since I would be 10 before tour time, my parents and gymnastics coaches helped me to put together an audition video,” she said.

She is currently a Level 9 gymnast at Virginia Techniques Gymnastics Training Center in Christiansburg. That training helped her to stay physically fit for the rigorous demands of the circus training and tour schedule.

Grove performs the wire and lyra, which draws from her gymnastics skills she has been learning since the age of two.

“Gymnastics helps to keep my lines clean when I am performing tightwire or balance beam and allows me to have solid tumbling and acrobatics in the show. It also helps me to stay focused and disciplined as I am in the gym 25 plus hours a week training.

“All of the skills and requirements of my gymnastics schedule give me the ability perform at a high level on the road with Smirkus,” she said.

Photos by Marvin Wang
Hannah Grove (second from left) is using her gymnastics skills for wire walking as part of Circus Smirkus’ 70-stop tour.

Grove’s main performance act is tightwire, an apparatus that she loves and taught herself.

“I have always been called the ‘beam queen’ at gymnastics for my ability be very posed on the balance beam, I think this skill has really helped to carry over into wire walking.

“In this year’s show, I am also performing lyra (aerial hoop) and acrobatics. We do not have a local circus school where I can train, so the majority of my skills are all self-taught. I train wire, hand balancing, rola bola, juggling at home. Plus, I train lyra at home, as well as at Aerial CLT in Charlotte plus acrobatics (via gymnastics training),” she said.

For the tour, the performers had to report to the Circus Barn in Greensboro, Vermont with only three weeks to put together a show that would hit the road for seven weeks and 70 shows.

The inspiring gymnast calls her experience (her third year) with Smirkus as being life changing.

“I get to travel, train and experience absolute joy making magic and entertaining people. I work with an amazing group of teenagers alongside 40 plus staff and tour members who collectively work together with a common goal to make people of all ages happy,” she said.

Grove’s long-term goal is to get accepted into a circus school or training program so that she can transfer those skills into a professional circus.

Outside of the gym and circus, she loves to be outdoors, and frequently goes backpacking, rock climbing, kayaking and hiking. She is also a member of a local Venture Crew group where they go on trips and high adventure outdoor outings.

Grove also enjoys photography, especially outdoor and scenescape photography.

She encourages others with a dream of the circus to never stop dreaming.

“I am just a girl from a small town where I don’t have the ability to train local, yet somehow, I am on tour in this amazing circus with the most incredible people. Just because it isn’t at your fingertips or easily accessible to you, doesn’t mean that you have to drop the dream. Dreams are possible,” Grove concluded.

For more details on Circus Smirkus, visit out

Hannah Grove