“I’m not just trying to create tumblers or acrobats here,” Tim Shaw tells the Chicago Reporter (March/April 2013). “I’m trying to create better people.” Since 1999, Shaw has led the Chicago Boyz Acrobatic Team, a program on the city’s South Side that trains young men in the art of professional acrobatics. The idea, says Shaw, is to provide positive male role models for struggling inner-city kids, while also sharing his love of the circus.
To that end, Shaw
expects a lot from his team. Participants must stay in school and maintain a C
average, and while the team tries to be as inclusive as possible, a background
in athletics helps. But for those who stick with it, the program offers some
definite rewards. The team regularly performs for Chicago Bulls and Chicago Sky
games, and many graduates have landed jobs with Ringling Bros. and Barnum &
Bailey. But more than that, says Shaw, team members build confidence, confront
their insecurities, and learn how to take criticism.
Along with nurturing participants’ personal development, the
team has also broken racial barriers. Aside from the Chicago Boyz, “there are
no gymnastics in any black neighborhood in Chicago,” says Shaw. “When I was a kid, my
coaches were Russian.” But of course, it’s that willingness to buck the trend
that makes the circus what it is.