Jake Weinstein, the statuesque co-founder of One World Circus, is also a registered nurse. Weinstein  finds parallels between nursing and clowning: “We have a desire to touch people. Everyday when I wake up, I hope I can be a part of healing the world.” Several years ago, Jake and his partner in love and clowning, Lissa McLeod, traveled to the Middle East and performed at Palestinian refugee camps and schools (cover photo).

Circus Isreal laugh

At a weekly peace demonstration, One World Circus led a large international crowd of demonstrators to the edge of a heavily guarded and fenced off no-man’s land while playing accordian music. Upon their arrival the group was treated to sound bombs and tear gas. Weinstein says,  “It was then that I realized so many people around the world take very seriously their committment to make the world a better place.”

Circus Israel Acord


In 2010, One World Circus began making Knoxville an even better place when they became part of the University-Assisted Community School  program at Pond Gap Elementary School. The Community School’s Director, Dr. Bob Kronick, a Professor of Educational Psychology and Counseling at the University of Tennessee, understood the value of a circus arts education.  “How do 6 kids not fall  from parallel ladders? The goal is to say ‘I can do this.’ This is circus arts in a Community school.”

Circus Israel group

Five days a week during the school year, One World Circus provides a 4-hour after-school circus arts and giant puppet building class for 60-70 students. While the children learn unicycle riding, stilt walking, and complex juggling techniques, they also learn important life skills. Weinstein says, “The children are learning a quiet mindfullness. They are improving their ability to focus and concentrate. They are building their self-esteem, cognitive skills, and their ability to cooperate with others. We engage them physically and help to develop the whole person.”

McLeod says the students are also “learning that you don’t need to buy expensive stuff. We teach them to make their own things and to use recycled materials. We made all of our stilts and a teeter-board. We made juggling balls from used tennis balls the UT tennis team donated.”


Jake Weinstein and friend roll a circus arts camper in the body sock. Photo courtesy of Dragonfly Aerial Arts Studio.

McLeod and Weinstein also incorporate activities for children on the sensory integregating spectrum.  They learned special techniques, like using a body sock, at a two week workshop on circus arts thereapy with Carri Heller at the Circus Arts Institute in Atlanta, GA. Heller, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and Registerd Play Therapist (RPT) says part of the benefit of playing with circus arts is that, “The experience of working with circus equipment helps participants overcome the fear of everyday challenges.”

Weinstein, McLeod, and four other acrobats are also instructors at  Dragonfly Aerial Arts Studios. According to its website, the studio provides classes in trapeze and aerial silks to students ages 6 through adult.” In May, One World Circus, Dragonfly Aerial Arts, and Groundswell Music Circus hosted a Circus Extravaganza benefit for Breakthrough Corporation, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to ” improve the lives of adults with autism.” McLeod says, “Learning aerial arts will take you beyond what you thought you could do. When you’re in the air, you literally see the world from a different perspective.”

Circus Lissa flying

Lissa McLeod flies high over the Market Square stage. Photo by Amber Winters.


Circus Aerial Bow

Dragonfly Aerial Arts at Cirque du Gay Street. Photo by Amber Winters.

One World Circus is also wrapping up a June tour of  the Knox County Library system (see schedule below) with their show “The Circus Pirate & the Fairy.” While this skit contains a good bit of silliness, music, and audience participation, there is also a subtle message about individuality. “No one said I could be a Circus Pirate,” says Weinstein, “and I didn’t ask either. Your life is a blank page. Don’t let someone else fill it out for you,” he gently advises.

The Circus Pirate & the Fairy

The Circus Pirate & the Fairy

See One World Circus:

Saturday, June 22, at 11AM, at the Cedar Bluff Branch Library 

Saturday, June 29, at 11AM, at Lawson McGhee Library.

For more information about circus arts please see:

Knox Flow

American Youth Circus Organization

Bread & Puppet Theatre

Circus Arts Institute


(c) Debra Dylan, 2013




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