derringEngineering major Anna Partridge ’16 was only 9 years old when she fell in love with the circus. That’s when she took her first class at Seattle’s School of Acrobatics & New Circus Arts, now said to be the nation’s largest circus school. She started performing at age 12 and went on to join Circus Smirkus, an international youth circus, where she specialized in juggling and partner acrobatics. Upon arriving at Smith, Partridge founded a circus club—the Bearded Ladies—that emphasizes circus skills for fun and fitness, not competition and performance. Its weekly practices draw up to 15 students, most of them beginners. “Circus practice pushes people to try things that are out of their comfort zone,” Partridge says. “This leaves everyone feeling more confident and proud of their accomplishments.”

The best part of performing is connecting with audiences. I spent two summers touring with Circus Smirkus in New England, and we got to perform 70 shows in seven weeks in our 750-seat big-top tent. The energy at the finale of the show was exhilarating.

I started a circus club at Smith because I wanted to continue to practice circus skills. And with circus clubs growing on college campuses throughout the country, it seemed like perfect timing. Circus provides a fun way to get to know more people on campus and try new things.

The name “Bearded Ladies” evokes the days of historical circuses and sideshows, giving the club a decidedly circusy name while also welcoming anyone and everyone into the “show.”

Weekly practices consist of a warmup to get our bodies moving, which often includes working on handstands or headstands and other tumbling skills. We then break up into groups to do partner acrobatics, tightwire or juggling. Everyone gets to practice both performing the skills and spotting, so we learn to help each other out and stay safe doing it.

Circus has given me physical skills as well as confidence. It led me to try diving—a sport I had never done previously—and now I have a whole team of amazing people to call my swim family (“swamily”). Academically, I give many presentations as an engineering major, which I like to think of as scientific performances.

The physics of acrobatics has always interested me, and as an engineer, I find myself contemplating the forces at work on my body while I’m flipping off diving boards. I also love the way the engineering design process parallels circus show creation in its constant iteration and creative approach to fulfilling a need, be it aesthetic or functional.

I applied for a Fulbright to study renewable energy, specifically biomass energy technology. The Fulbright would fund one year of a two-year master’s degree at Lappeenranta University of Technology in Finland. I ultimately hope to go into academia or research and development. I see combining different energy production methods as a key way to increase the feasibility of renewable energy systems worldwide.


SAQ, Spring 2016