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Why Do You Love Smirkus Camp?

“Why do you love Smirkus camp?” I asked them, walking up to the campers in the middle of their afternoon activity. First I asked a young boy hanging upside down from a railing, then his friend watching eagerly from the side.

“Because it’s awesome,” he said, running off for more fun before I could grab his name.

“I just like circus. Aerials, juggling, unicycle, basically everything,” Ruby laughed, throwing her arms up to motion to the area around her. After just one day on the grounds, she was hooked.

I looked to the left to find more campers, ones who weren’t so busy that I felt bad pulling them out of their fun. I could see clumps of them running from counselor to counselor, completely unable to find any rhyme or reason to the activity that was happening around me.

“What’s your favorite thing about circus camp?” I asked.

“Good environment,” said Elaina, a wise 10 year old who scanned her surroundings, nodding as she assured me that she liked it a lot.

The campers were playing a game, one with little to no specific rules, with moving and changing objectives that would gain them points. Scattered around the dorms, tents, and between the trees were all of their camp counselors, waiting to be approached so they could offer challenges that the campers would complete to earn points. They might have to learn and perform a dance, listen to an Econ lecture, or return a stolen bandana in order to get the counselor to travel to the center of camp, jump through a hula hoop, and award the group with points.

This game, one that I had stumbled into, lead me to more answers for my question. Suddenly I was surrounded by an entire crew of campers, eagerly looking at me and expecting their task.

“Well, tell me what you love about Smirkus camp,” I asked the whole group, not really sure how to even play the game I had become a part of.

“That’s easy,” said Una, “There’s always fun and games and you get to learn a whole lot of circus things.”

“It’s my first year and I already love it so much. You can write that down,” Tanner told me.

They kept giving me answers, watching as another camp counselor was carried past by a group of troupers, his legs high in the air as he was transported to the hula hoop.

“You can be an amazing individual and express yourself,” said Billy, age 14.

With that I was rushed over to the hula hoop. I folded myself up, crawled through, and had to award them points for their service. By answering my questions and getting me to the hoop, they had completed a task.

“Uh, seven points?” I guessed. They looked shocked and appalled.

“It’s out of 100,” someone offered.

“Ok, twenty-five points?” The group still didn’t seem thrilled, but they thanked me anyway and ran off to find a new person to earn points from.

I wanted more answers, but even after completing a full round with those campers I didn’t actually know how this game worked or how to get a new crew. Without any effort from me, I found myself surrounded again, Stella and Dash and Havi all ready to earn their points and tell me why this week was so special to them.

“It just makes the phrase ‘I can’t run away with the circus’ totally false,” said Gavin.

I traveled through the hoop a few more times, awarded 30 points, and then 45, worried that my first group of campers would catch on that they hadn’t gotten as many points as the others, but nobody minded. They were far too busy laughing and running through the grass to compare scores, a true reflection of all their answers to my question.

When it was announced that 30 seconds were left in the game, one last group gathered around.

“Why do you love Smirkus?” I asked them.

Alejandra, a counselor in training answered this time.

“Because you’re allowed to be yourself here,” she said, “and nobody will ever judge you.”

There’s a magic to Smirkus Camp, something I found after only 10 minutes on site, something these campers discovered on their very first day. They felt the joy of learning together, experiencing the world of circus, and making friends along the way. The felt included, respected, and eager to include everyone and anyone who found themselves at Smirkus Camp.

Scroll through the photos below to see pictures of Session I:

2018 Session I