Improving the lives of young people through circus



Lolly Jar Circus is the social circus centre of South Australia


Cirque du Soleil defines social circus in this way,

”Social circus is an innovative social intervention approach based on the circus arts. It targets various at-risk groups living in precarious personal and social situations… In this approach, the primary goal is not to learn the circus arts, but rather to assist with participants’ personal and social development by nurturing their self-esteem and trust in others, as well as by helping them to acquire social skills, become active citizens, express their creativity and realize their potential. Social circus is a powerful catalyst for creating social change because it helps marginalized individuals assume their place within a community and enrich that community with their talents.”

(Cirque du Soleil)



Every class is different and joyful


Lolly Jar Circus offers inclusive circus classes and performance opportunities for young people. Being inclusive means that we welcome young people with physical or intellectual disabilities or who are isolated or at risk. We are not a disability group, but an arts group that does what all arts groups should do, in fact all of society should do, and that is welcome, nurture and celebrate people of all different shapes, sizes, colours and tastes. Our wonderfully diverse participants are the “lollies” in the jar. The lid is off because the participants take the physical, emotional and social skills they learn in our classes out to their families, schools, work-places and other social situations.

Our regular participants attend weekly classes in line with State school terms. These classes are for ages 5 - 26.  Qualified trainers teach them tumbling, balancing, hula-hooping, juggling, plate-spinning and more. The spaces are full of smiles, laughter and applause. Each activity and piece of equipment can be modified so that there is always something for everyone, and each person can progress at his or her own rate. Participants become fitter, stronger and more flexible, improve their hand-eye coordination, develop resilience and grow in confidence as they learn new tricks and make friends.

Our regular participants also have occasional opportunities to perform in public, where the philosophy is to minimise stress by encouraging the participants to create the acts themselves and allowing them to opt in or out at any time.

Lolly Jar Circus also offers outreach programs, suitable for all ages, led by qualified trainers, where mainstream and special schools, OSHCs, community groups, Day Options groups, hospitals and corporate organisations can have the fun of the circus come to them and have a go at juggling, plate-spinning and hula hooping. Fun and laughter are guaranteed!

Lolly Jar Circus is an incorporated not-for-profit association with charitable status and deductible gift recipient status. Our strategic direction is set by a voluntary board including members experienced in accounting, law, management, youth, disability, circus and more. Aside from a casual book-keeper, all management is voluntary. Lolly Jar Circus trainers have many years of experience performing and teaching circus and gymnastics and they have received additional training on working with people with disabilities. The board, CEO, trainers and volunteers all have police clearances and all trainers and volunteers have DCSI Working with Children clearances.


“Lolly Jar Circus bubbles over with happiness”


Judy Bowden, CEO, Lolly Jar Circus



Circus training is a lot of fun, but it has a serious side. There is an emerging body of research that shows its many benefits.


It is well established that exercise benefits physical and mental health but in circus this is complemented by artistic and social elements. There is something for each personality type. An introverted person may prefer solo juggling, which can become mesmerising and like meditation. An extrovert may prefer acrobatics.

Circus promotes co-operation without being competitive. Group juggling will only work if participants respect and trust each other. A human pyramid will work best with strong and reliable people at the base and respectful people above.

In modern circus, often called ‘new circus’, there is no place for animals and the thought of ridiculing people for unusual appearance or disability is abhorrent. People are accepted and applauded for their efforts and achievements. Lolly Jar Circus strives to be a haven of acceptance and to model mindful behaviour and language. It has a very accepting and positive atmosphere.

Dr Reg Bolton, the father of the new circus movement in Australia, researched the many ways in which circus can benefit young people. In his doctorate thesis, Why Circus Works: How the values and structure of circus make it a significant developmental experience for young people, he used the analogy of a hand to summarise the elements of circus:


  • The index finger is self, individuality, identity and image
  • The middle finger is risk, adventure, courage and defiance
  • The ring finger is trust, touch, cooperation and sharing
  • The little finger is dreams, aspiration, imagination and symbolism
  • The thumb is hard work, resilience, persistence and process
  • The ticklish palm is fun, humour, happiness and laughter

Kristy Seymour, of Circus Stars, a circus school on the Gold Coast for young people on the Autism Spectrum, completed her Masters with a thesis, How circus training can enhance the well-being of autistic children and their families.

"Social circus sets out to re-create the sense of freedom and fun that is associated with healthy childhoods, making use of elements familiar from play and building playful attitudes among trainers and participants. For children with special needs, social circus can concentrate on providing an apparently non-therapeutic, easy-going creative environment in which they can come to feel safe, while involving them in activities that encourage them to develop a sense of connection - with themselves and with each other. In my experience the combination of a strong sense of safety and playfulness that social circus provides can build confidence and trust while encouraging creative expression and constructive risk taking. In this environment, autistic children often take the opportunity to explore and/or express their individuality, ironically because they are sharing themselves in an inclusive situation in which their concentration is on working/playing with others to make an activity succeed." Seymour 2012




Lolly Jar Circus was established in 2013 to provide a safe and happy place where all young people can enjoy circus fun together.


Lolly Jar Circus was founded by current Chief Executive Officer Judy Bowden as an inclusive circus school.

Classes commenced at the All Souls Church Hall in St Peters.

Brad and Ashleigh Ebert visited to take part in a class and report for Aspire Magazine.


The Department of Communities and Social Inclusion through Community Benefit SA approved a grant to purchase gymnastic and manipulation equipment.

We held our first fundraising event in 47-degree heat.

We performed again at the Bunnings Kent Town Family Christmas Party

The Sidney Myer Fund (Poverty and Disadvantage Small Grants Program) funded performance preparation and costumes for our first ever performance at the Disability and Information Resource Centre Expo. The MC’s comment was. “If that was their first performance, I can’t wait to see what comes next!”


Channel 7 News featured a story about us.

Lolly Jar Circus was the benefit partner of Cirque du Soleil and its philanthropic arm Cirque du Monde for the Adelaide tour of “Totem”. Not only did they give us 100 tickets to sell for our own profit, but they hosted our participants and their families at the dress rehearsal, putting circus stars in their eyes.

The Department of Communities and Social Inclusion through Community Benefit SA approved a grant for volunteer and paid staff training, which included a presentation by Autism SA.

Lolly Jar Circus received sponsorship from Perks Integrated Business Services who continue to provide in-kind support

We collaborated with Cirkidz to perform at the opening of Flinders Therapy House.

Lolly Jar Circus participants, families, trainers and volunteers took part in the Moon Lantern Festival, carrying a beautiful circus tent lantern made especially for us by local artists. Participants Charlie and Angus were featured with the lantern in the Messenger Press.

Trainer Charlie Wilkins won the inaugural Australian Circus and Physical Theatre “Spirit of Circus” Award. Charlie travelled to Melbourne to do trapeze workshops with Circus Oz.

Trainer Pennyanne Garner was awarded the inaugural Lolly Jar Circus Deb Dawson Award for Outstanding Service.


The Department of Communities and Social Inclusion through Community Benefits SA approved two grants for the commencement of a pre-school aged class called “Little Lollies” and for the purchase of a defibrillator.

The Sisters of Charity provided a grant to cover 10 year-long scholarships for participants who would not otherwise have been able to afford them.

The Belgian Beer Café began sponsoring our participant Diezel and an on-going program of discounted meals with the difference paid to Lolly Jar Circus.

In October 2016 Lolly Jar Circus moved to the newly built The ARC Leisure Centre at Campbelltown.

Lolly Jar Circus participants, families, trainers and volunteers took part in the Moon Lantern Festival, again carrying the beautiful circus tent lantern.

We put on a “Spring” themed performance at the KYD-X Disability Expo.

We performed again at the Bunnings Mile End Family Christmas Party.

Volunteers Brianna Gourley, Susan Soleil and Rikki Wright were jointly awarded the 2016 Lolly Jar Circus Deb Dawson Award for Outstanding Service.


The year began with a page 3 Advertiser article about participant Diezel’s achievements and his wonderful relationship with trainer Jono.

The Sisters of Charity renewed their grant of scholarships for 10 participants, enabling some of our old friends to continue and some new friends to join.

Lolly Jar Circus began offering classes at a second venue, the Windsor Gardens Community Hall. Participants Marley and Mya appeared in the Messenger Press promoting the new classes.

Participants Amelia, Marley and Mya promoted the launch of National Youth Week in the Messenger Press.

Volunteer Susan was featured in a national story about volunteers on Channel 9’s Today Extra show.

DCSI through Community Benefits SA funded another volunteer training program.

The Office for Recreation and Sport granted funds to enable us to reach more people.

We performed at KYD-X, the Christmas Party for Special Children at the Zoo and Celebration on the Square to mark International Day of People with Disability.

Peter Featherston, our treasurer, was awarded the Deb Dawson Award for Outstanding Service in recognition of his 4 years of processing our wages and accounts voluntarily.