Professional Acrobatics Helps Inner-City Kids

Training young men in professional acrobatics is not just about joining the circus. It’s also about providing positive male role models to inner city kids.

| July/August 2013

“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.