Animal-free circuses have all the thrills, chills, and fun that you expect at the big top—but none of the cruelty to animals. Unlike depressed elephants, tigers, and other animals who are forced to perform through beatings and shocks, talented human tightrope walkers, trapeze artists, jugglers, clowns, contortionists, acrobats, fire-eaters, musicians, dancers, and more put on a show for the love of performing.
There is an animal-free circus to suit every taste, including old-fashioned big tops, mini shows in neighborhood parks, and thoroughly modern productions in large venues. Consult this factsheet about animal-free circuses, and check out the following list:
This traveling circus, based in San Diego, features death-defying stunts, flying aerialists, exhilarating acrobats, and uproarious clowns under a music-filled blue-and-yellow big top.
This circus circumnavigates the world, bringing a unique hybrid of vaudeville, burlesque, and sideshow to theaters, clubs, colleges, and festivals.
In 1974, Peggy Snider and Larry Pisoni founded The Pickle Family Circus in the Bay Area. Ten years later, members of the now-iconic circus opened the San Francisco School for Circus Arts, renamed Circus Center in 2001, to train young people for circus acts.
San Francisco’s off-the-wall Circus Finelli—a “circus gone awry,” in which four unruly female clowns court disaster—has audiences roaring with laughter.
This traveling circus specializes in a European performance style. Its “Aquatic Spectacular” features a water stage and aquatic-based performances.
Wise Fool is a Santa Fe–based organization that offers programs, workshops, and classes for young people and adults. For those seeking a more traditional circus experience, the affiliated Circus Luminous features a flying trapeze, elaborate choreography, and a turn-of-the-century look.
Based in Québec, this circus weaves traditional thrills—including those of awe-inspiring aerialists, precision jugglers, and graceful acrobatics—into narratives, creating a dramatic, sophisticated blend of theater and circus.
This San Diego–based organization offers performances but also teaches the circus arts in after-school programs, bringing families and neighborhoods together to effect social change.
This circus, which offers fantastic performances, also runs Australia’s only full-time circus school for young people.
Hailing from the San Francisco Bay Area, this circus combines daring skill, comedy, dazzling aerials, interactive audience antics, and magic with stunning costumes and music. It also offers aerial classes.
11. Hiccup Circus
This Hawaiian circus, which has been around for two decades now, offers a unique educational program to children and teenagers, especially in isolated rural communities.
Other notable animal-free circuses include:
- Cirque Plume
- Flying High Circus
- Imperial Circus
- Les Colporteurs
- New Shanghai Circus
- The 7 Fingers
- Swamp Circus
The smashing success of these animal-free circuses proves that performances don’t need to include animals in order to wow crowds or make money. When you buy a ticket to one of these modern, human-only productions, you’re sending the message that cruel, archaic animal acts don’t sell.
Read more about why we don’t support abusive animal circuses, and sign up for Living E-News to be sent to your inbox once a week.
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