Magical Birthday Parties at CircEsteem

Children’s birthday parties have become a hot topic among parents and the pressure is real. During my childhood parents bought some cake, ice cream, and paper hats and we were pleased as punch. Now parents struggle with questions like: Do I invite the whole class or just close friends? Do I prepare goody bags? How do I create a Pinterest/Instagram-worthy party while still paying my mortgage and living my life?

Here’s a secret I’ve learned: the Pinterest parties we drool over aren’t the only way to please the kids. As with everything, it’s much more about the experience than the appearance. Kids know this, but sometimes the adults forget.

What better way is there to celebrate a birthday (or graduation, or anything, or nothing at all!) than to try something new and include family and friends? The only way it can get any better is if parents can enjoy the party too, and not be bogged down by tons of preparation and work to make it successful.

CircEsteem is the perfect party place.


CircEsteem was founded in 2001 by retired Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus clown Paul Miller. Their mission:

Unite youth from diverse racial, cultural, and economic backgrounds and to help them build self-esteem and mutual respect through the practice and performance of circus arts. 

CircEsteem offers a variety of youth programs, including a Chicago Youth Circus, Homework & Circus Work, Circus Camp, workshops, Circus in Schools, Advanced Performance Troupe, Open Gym, and (of course) parties.

Location: 4730 N. Sheridan, Chicago

Phone: 773-732-4564

Website: CircEsteem website, CircEsteem birthday party page

Social media:

Hours: Party, workshop, and class times vary.

Cost: Workshop and class fees vary. Fees for parties begin at $495 for 20 participants, with extra fees for additional participants.

We paid: Our experience was complimentary, to facilitate this blog post. The normal fee for a party is $495.

Amenities: There are cafeteria tables in the gym with a great view of the circus activities. Birthday parties include 30 minutes for eating, cake, and presents, and any food or non-alcoholic beverages are allowed. Additionally, CircEsteem has a refrigerator, microwave, and oven in the kitchen that are available for use. Party hosts can arrive 15 minutes early to decorate before guests arrive.

At the time of scheduling, party hosts can also add on amenities like pizza, Ethiopian food, cupcakes, or a variety of party favors, and other extras for additional fees.

Parties can also come to you for an additional travel fee.

Our experience

Confession: We had a birthday party without a birthday. Cooper, Dexter, and Campbell all have birthdays during the colder parts of the year, but when the opportunity for a circus party come up, you don’t say no! Who says parties are only for birthdays anyway? We decided to celebrate the end of an amazing school year and start of a beautiful summer by gathering some friends and learning something new with an End of the School Celebration.

As expected for a spring weekend, not everyone we invited was able to make it, but we wound up with a great group of eight kids.

The instructors included Sam (a member of the CircEsteem professional staff) and four instructions from the Advanced Performance Troupe. They introduced themselves to the parents and kids, went over some basic rules, and got the kids warmed up with some games. This helped the kids not only get comfortable with the instructors, but with each other too, since some were meeting for the first time.

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When I scheduled the party, we had to choose four skills (two large and two small) for the kids to work on. The options were:

Small Circus Skills:

  • Diabolo
  • Juggling
  • Feather balancing
  • Clowning
  • Plate spinning
  • Rola Bola/stilts (groups of less than 20 only)

Large Circus Skills:

  • Tight wire
  • Rolling globe
  • Partner acrobatics
  • Gym wheel (4’9″ or taller to participate)
  • Trapeze/lyra
  • Aerial silks/aerial sling

Photos and descriptions are available on the CircEsteem website and it was such a difficult choice. Everything looked like so much fun, but we decided on feather balancing and plate spinning for our small circus skills, and tight wire and aerial silks for our large skills.

For each of the skills, the instructors demonstrated first to show the kids what they’d be doing. Then, with help from the instructors, the kids got to try it for themselves.

Tightrope walker

Our party was broken into two groups – each with two instructors and four kids. This allowed one group to work on one skill while the others did a different one, and then they would switch. It’s obvious that safety is a priority at CircEsteem, as they had plenty of mats available and instructors spotting and closely supervising the kids throughout the party.

Funny story: My kids were a little nervous when I told them they’d be trying the tight rope. It did not occur to my they thought it would be high in the air, so they were very relieved to find it was low and not scary at all. They were excited that they not only got to trying walking the tight rope, but even got to try “tricks” like an arabesque with help.

Child learning tightrope walking

While there are no animals at CircEsteem, there are peacock feathers! Feather balancing was the skill I think the kids were the least excited about before we arrived (I’ll admit that it doesn’t sound as impressive as tight rope or aerial silks), but I think they were all pleasantly surprised. Each of the kids learned pretty quickly how to balance the feather and then they got to move on to the trickier balancing – on their arm or while spinning, or even throwing the feather into the air and balancing it when it came down. There was plenty of giggling and shouts of, “Mom/Dad, watch this!” during the feather balancing, and I’ve had a request from my kids that we get them peacock feathers so they can practice at home too.

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Plate spinning was another skill the kids didn’t think they’d be able to do, but once they tried it they reported it was easier than they expected. Throwing the plates up in the air was trickier, and catching them…. well, they still need practice to do that, but they’re all a step closer to being professional plate spinners now!

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The kids loved everything, but the aerial silks were definitely the star of the show. I think the kids were pretty skeptical when they saw the two instructors spinning and flipping around, but once they got a chance to try it they were all flipping around and loving it.

Each of the kids had an opportunity to be wrapped up in the silks in the fetal position and the instructors spun or pushed them. They also got to flip around stand.

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I’m pretty sure that wrapped up in an aerial silk and swinging is Campbell’s happy place. Anyone know where I can get one installed in my house? It looks very soothing!

Everyone seemed to like it.

If you’re a crafty person, or aspire to throw the perfect Pinterest party, there’s nothing stopping you. CircEsteem allows you to arrive early for the party to decorate and you can bring any food or non-alcoholic beverages you’d like. There are tables and you have access to their refrigerator, microwave, and oven.

We went minimal, bringing just some juice and snacks, cupcakes, and a couple quick and easy photo props for the kids to play with. Dexter couldn’t get enough of this “ring of fire” made from a hula hoop and some plastic tablecloths.

Circus party prop - ring of fire

Campbell loved showing off how strong he is with this strongman barbell, made with a dowel rod, black balloons, and black duct tape.

Circus party prop - weight made from balloons

In conclusion…

CircEsteem was SO much fun. The kids loved it and are still talking about it weeks later. They not only had fun, but they did things they never thought they’d be able to. I think it was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon and the confidence it gave the kids was amazing. The parents (myself included) didn’t try any skills, but we had a great time hanging out together while we watched the kids. We all smiled and laughed watching them do really cool things.

As a parent of three kids who have never shown much interest in the traditional team sports like football, baseball, or basketball, I’m always eager to have them try other sports or physical activities. I want them to find something things that they enjoy doing that will help them stay healthy and exercise their bodies, and if they can learn teamwork doing it that’s a bonus too. CircEsteem was great for this; the kids got plenty of exercise and had to work together and it definitely shows them there are many, many options beyond traditional sports.

A CircEsteem party is perfect for:

  • Any occasion, including birthdays, small family gatherings, or a just-because party.
  • Kids ages 5 and over.
  • Those kids who are a bit adventurous and anxious to try new things.
  • Kids who like to be active.
  • Kids who aren’t very confident in their (traditional) athletic skills; this can be a great confidence booster because it’s not a typical sport and every kid was able to successfully complete the skills.
  • A group that’s not (yet) bonded; parties can be awkward when there are kids who don’t know each other well, but this was a great ice-breaker and by the end of the two hours all the kids were laughing and chatting and even exchanging phone numbers.

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