Gamma Phi Circus of Illinois State University is the oldest collegiate circus in the United States, and one of only two still in existence. Founded in 1926 by Clifford “Pop” Horton, a gymnastics instructor, it began as a small group of men performing human pyramids and tumbling at sporting events. By 1931, it was an actively performing college circus troupe. Now, with a rich, 82 year performance history, Gamma Phi has roughly 70 performers and holds highly attended performances every April, in conjunction with a rigorous year-round practice schedule.

I chose to focus my research on Gamma Phi because they represent a strikingly visual and dynamic performance tradition. The performances that members create visually convey certain essential aspects of what it means to be a member of Gamma Phi. Members of the college circus share a set of goals, ethics, and characteristics which both create the culture of which they are a part, and qualify them as members. The information I gathered in collaboration with the members of Gamma Phi focused on the ways in which circus performance is learned and how that process helps Gamma Phi achieve its performance goals.



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