Enriching the Soul at the Circus: An Interview with Ben Hoffinger ‘22


Charlie Gainey/The Bates Student

Ben Hoffinger ’22 (r) has been a member of Circus Club since his first year at Bates.

What do you think of when you hear the word circus? Does a fond memory of gobbling down popcorn as a performer flys by on a trapeze come to mind? Or do you think of a clown juggling an unfathomable amount of balls?

Whatever your past associations may be, I’m happy to introduce a new version: an in-depth look at our college’s own Circus Club, via an interview with club president Ben Hoffinger ‘22. You may know this club, be a casual member, be a die-hard member or may even be Ben Hoffinger yourself, but hopefully there’s something in this interview for everyone.

IW: Let’s start real general, what is Circus Club?

BH: Circus Club is a regular club, run by students. It’s a very chill space to practice the circus arts or circus skills. We have a lot of different activities, our main stuff is in aerial activities. We have the aerial hoop, which is often called the lyra, and getting people to practice their aerial skills is something really cool. Ground circus equipment, such as juggling, diabolo, stilts, and unicycling are also offered. We have a lot of different stuff for people, and Circus Club is a club where every Sunday, for an hour, we get to chill, hang out, and mess around with a bunch of circus equipment.

IW: How did you get into Circus Club and can you talk about any prior experience you have in the activities the club offers?

BH: I first got into Circus Club, at the club fair freshman year in early September. I learned how to juggle my freshman year of high school. Because my grandparents got me a learn-how-to-juggle book for Christmas. Then, I just learned how to juggle my free time. I wasn’t necessarily that good or anything, but I could juggle.

BH: Then at my freshman year club fair, I went up to the circus club table, and I signed up and showed off my skills as a juggler. At the time, I also signed up for Badminton Club, which was also on Sundays at 4:00 p.m. My initial thought was I’ll go to Circus club this first week, and then I’ll go to Badminton club next Sunday. I never ever went to Badminton Club, and I’ve gone to Circus Club every single Sunday for the last four years at 4:00 p.m. The reason I kept going was because of the social aspect of hanging out with people and practicing the circus arts.

Every Sunday, the Circus Club comes together to practice their juggling, stilt walking, aerial hoop skills and more. (Charlie Gainey/The Bates Student)

IW: What can a new member expect at their first circus club meeting?

BH: Circus Club is open to anyone, regardless of previous experience. The vast majority of our members come in with no experience and they just find something that they like to do and keep going with it. You’ll be connected with someone more experienced who can teach you about that circus skill whether it’s juggling or the basics of aerials, and you’ll be set free to practice.

IW: Did the previous leaders do anything that helped you for when you stepped into a leadership role?

BH: Yes, I had a great president my first three years, her name is Emma Proietti ‘21. What Emma did is that she was always prepared, and she would put what was best for the club before herself. She was always open to other people taking leadership roles and becoming as involved as they wanted to.

BH: It’s more important for the future of the club to have people who are into it rather than old-school people like seniors who hold onto power.  Emma was also very positive and chill, and we try to continue that to this day.

IW: COVID-19 restrictions hit all clubs hard, how did Circus Club handle the 2020 and 2021 school years?

BH: Unfortunately because of COVID-19 restrictions, we could not use any of our aerial equipment, which was very tough. We had to meet in Memorial Commons and socially distance.

BH: What ended up happening, though, is we had a lot more people come to the club because there were fewer activities, and it became a really positive social space. Some people would come and not even do any circus activities, they would just hang out because it was a positive social environment. Even our aerialists, who couldn’t practice their art, kept coming. 

At every Club Fair, President Ben Hoffinger ‘22 walks around on stilts to promote the club, inviting other brave souls to try them out. (Charlie Gainey/The Bates Student)

IW: What is your favorite tradition/memory of the club?

BH: My favorite is my own personal “Ben-Hoffinger-Tradition.” At every single club fair, I hop on the stilts and advertise the Circus Club. If someone is brave enough, I try to put them on the stilts and have them walk around at the club fair, it’s really fun. It shows everyone how accessible the circus arts are.

IW: What are you most excited for about the club’s legacy now that you’re graduating in the spring?

BH: This is a tough one. I would say the thing I’m most excited about for the club’s legacy is for the new generation of circusers that came in this year, I’m very excited to see what they do with the club. I’m also really proud to have kept a small club at Bates going strong for four years. We still have regular members coming every week, and not every club gets to stay strong for that long. I’m happy I got to play a role in creating a space for people to chill out and learn new skills.

IW: Does the club interact with the community in any way or do they have any ambitions to?

BH: The club used to interact with the community before COVID-19. We juggled for a Farwell Elementary School Halloween event, that was really cool. I’ve also done stuff with L/A Arts because I interned with them over the summer. Generally, we help out with arts events on campus that are open to the community. For example, we’ve had a juggling workshop at the Bates Arts Festival. Also, this spring, there’s going to be a Short Term Arts Event at the Puddle Amphitheater for the community. We’re going to be organizing circus activities for kids.

IW: Finally, to close it out, do you have any special shoutouts you want to make for anyone that may have helped Circus Club become what it is?

BH: I want to give shoutouts to the faithful members over the years. The people, who when I was a freshman and a sophomore, came every week and made the club what it is. That would be, as previously mentioned, our president for three years, Emma Proietti. Our perennial vice-president/treasurer/community liaison, Alice Li ‘21. Also, our resident juggling unicycler Sam Onion ‘20. Finally, my abroad co-president Liv Eaton ‘23. She’s been in Circus Club every single week since my sophomore year. She’s someone who I’m super excited to see what she does next year with the club when she leads it. And one more, our other co-president Miguel Pacheco-Gonzalez ‘24.

BH: All those people have been crucial to my experience in Circus Club, and I’m so grateful that I got to spend time with each and every one of them. I’m also so thankful that I got to participate in Circus Club because without it, my Bates College experience would be vastly different, and, I think, less rich.