Why circus psychology?

Circus artists perform skills that require producing and sustaining high levels of muscle strength, extreme range of movement, and high impact loads, often with little time to recover between performances (Wolfenden et al., 2017). To an extent, the physical and psychological demands of circus resemble those of professional sports such as gymnastics. For example, both circus artists and athletes may have to cope with excessive training demands, fatigue, injuries, extensive travel, and contract uncertainties. But there are also differences between circus and professional sport, such as the required artistic expression, the inherent risks in some circus disciplines, the different types of performance pressures, and the circus culture (Van Rens & Filho, 2020; Van Rens & Heritage, 2021).

Few scientific studies have investigated factors that affect the performance, mental health, well-being, and safety of circus artists. Further, few practicing psychologists have extensive knowledge about the circus industry. Contrary to in sport, knowledge and application of psychology in circus is thus limited. Given the unique demands of circus, I believe that circus psychology could make a positive contribution to the circus industry by facilitating the safety, well-being, mental health, performance, and career longevity of circus artists.

girl upside down in lyra
Picture by Olive Oates Photography


  • Van Rens, F.E.C.A., & Filho, E. (2020). Realising, adapting, and thriving in career transitions from gymnastics to contemporary circus arts. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology. Find it here.
  • Van Rens, F.E.C.A., & Heritage, B. (2021). Mental health of circus artists: Psychological resilience, circus factors, and demographics predict depression, anxiety, stress, and flourishing. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 53, 101850. Find it here.
  • Wolfenden, H.E., Angioi, M., & Orlando, C. (2017). Musculoskeletal injury profile of circus artists: a systematic review of the literature. Medical Problems in Performance Art, 32, 51–59. Find it here.