People You Should Know in Chicago

Dan Roberts

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Dan Roberts: CircEsteem is a social circus. We’re a youth advocacy organization works to help children and youth from around the city unite together from diverse backgrounds and also build self-esteem and other personal skills through the practice and performance of circus.

My name is Dan Roberts and I am the executive director at CircEsteem. CircEsteem’s mission is to unite youth from diverse backgrounds and to build self-esteem and mutual respect thorough the practice and performance of circus arts.

We do everything from aerial arts, trapeze, silks, lyra, which is the round hoop in the air, we do aerial arts, we do gymnastics, so tumbling, mini-tramp, we also do clowning, so comedic acting for the kids.

We have another program at CircEsteem called Homework at Circus Work, our free after school tutoring and circus program. It’s nine hours a week, we have 40 youth enrolled from ages eight through 14 or 15. They do an hour and a half of homework, they get a healthy snack provided by Whole Foods and the Greater Chicago Food Depository. And then after they’ve done their homework and had a snack, they do circus.

I moved to Chicago for university. I went to Brazil University Chicago College of Performing Arts, I have a Bachelor’s degree in acting and that’s really where I was introduced to the circus. The school had a program for sophomores that they basically wanted the sophomore acting students to put down their scripts and get on stage doing something that wasn’t acting. And I did that that semester and I loved it. I said to the professor at the time, I said, “Where can I do more of this? This is amazing. I loved this idea of being on stage and commanding an audience through my physical actions, as opposed to words that were written by somebody else.” And he introduced me to the founder of CircEsteem and he said, “Go teach those kids some clowning and maybe they’ll teach you some juggling.”

In five years, I hope to see CircEsteem spreading its joy and its peace throughout the city. We’re in 17 neighborhoods now, I’d love to see us in 77 neighborhoods. You know in 10 years, I’d love to see that CircEsteem is accepted as a useful tool to connect youth and that connecting youth is important and that’s how we’re going to solve some of these greater issues that we have in our city is by going directly to the source of youth and our future leaders.

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