Circus arts training program for students in Sarasota & Manatee counties

Sailor Circus Academy is America’s oldest youth circus with more than 1 million spectators throughout its history attending annual youth productions known worldwide as “The Greatest ‘Little’ Show on Earth.” Sailor Circus Academy provides after-school circus training in Sarasota, Florida. Students ages 8-18 learn to develop life management skills, gain self-discipline, bolster confidence and a commitment to achievement, all in a circus atmosphere.

Originating in 1949 as a small high school gymnastics class, Sailor Circus has grown into a spectacular circus school that is one of the top in the USA serving students in the 4th through 12th grades. Through extremely rigorous interdisciplinary performing arts and psychomotor skills programs, students learn circus arts in a safe and nurturing atmosphere. Sailor Circus Academy students are recognized as future leaders and major contributors to the circus legacy in Sarasota.

“Being in the Academy has helped me to become more responsible…”

– Morgan McCarthy, Sailor Circus Academy Graduate, 2015 

For more than six decades, thousands of students have completed the Sailor Circus training program. Each year, students train countless hours per week with dedicated coaches and volunteers to create Sailor Circus Performances that have become a major tourist attraction in the Southwest Florida region. The Sailor Circus Academy also offers a Circus Summer Camp for children ages 6-15, which takes place in one- and two-week sessions during June, July and August.

Sailor Circus Academy students have the unique opportunity to work with international circus artists who travel to Sarasota from around the world to perform with Circus Sarasota. The professional performers deliver workshops and hands-on circus training in various disciplines to the Sailor Circus Academy youth.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Sailor Circus Academy?

This is an after-school, circus-arts training program in the Sailor Circus Arena in Sarasota. Students train in a variety of circus arts disciplines learning teamwork, building self confidence and learning life-lessons.

What is the process for my child to participate in Sailor Circus Academy, do they have to audition for the program?

For information on joining the program please fill out the Sailor Circus Academy Interest Form. Prospective students and their parents will receive an email regarding upcoming procedures to join Sailor Circus when it becomes available. For additional questions email the Sailor Circus Registrar,

What is the after-school schedule for the Sailor Circus Academy?

Student training times vary according to the acts they are learning. 

Is this dangerous?

No. The Circus Arts Conservatory is a professional organization with expertly trained artists, and our coaches are experienced in working with students at all levels. Though the training is rigorous, we evaluate each student’s individual potential and push them only to their limit and ability. Students start on the ground and slowly, one step at a time – and only when they are ready – do they advance. Students are never in an unsafe environment, as they are harnessed or over nets when above ground. We use top of the line gymnastics mats and safety equipment. This is a hands-on training program in a safe environment.

What is the purpose of the Sailor Circus Academy?

Sailor Circus has been serving area families since 1949, and is known as America’s Longest Running Youth Circus.  Our experienced and caring staff and coaching team come from a variety of backgrounds such as retired or working professional circus artists, teachers, early childhood professionals, Sailor Circus alumni, gymnasts and more. One thing that they all have in common is a desire to pass on their love of the Circus Arts to the students engaged at The CAC!

We strive to provide a fun, safe and educational experience through the circus arts.  We know that giving your child the opportunity to learn circus skills is one of the best decisions a parent can make for their child.  Circus Arts teach important life skills such as determination, courage, strength development, flexibility, coordination, self-confidence, team work, discipline – and the list could go on and on….

Will there be a scheduled performance? If so, how can I buy tickets?

There are multiple performances a year. Exact show dates and times are posted in October on the website calendar. 

I would like to volunteer - where can I find more information?

Contact Tonia Bichler at

Where can I download registration forms?

Registration forms are not available online. Please see question 3 above.

Join the Sailor Circus Alumni Group and help us build an all-access network connecting past, present, and future Sailor Circus Academy students

  • Share stories and photos (link)
  • Connect with teammates, coaches, staff, riggers, volunteers and all involved
  • Continue to uphold the Sailor Circus legacy
Sailor Circus Alumni Group Sign-Up
more information
Sailor Circus Alumni e-news

Our History


The Sailor Circus was founded in 1949 by Bill Rutland as part of the Sarasota High School gymnastics program


Due to increasing popularity and audience attendance, the Sailor Circus moved to the football field at Sarasota High School and added center poles to perform aerial acts in open air


James A. Haley, an official of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus®, secured permission for this student circus to use the world-famous copyright title with the addition of one word “Little”, from then on Sailor Circus was called “The Greatest “Little” Show On Earth”

Warner Bros. Pictures filmed a 30-minute short in color, which was shown in movie theaters throughout the country, which established the Sailor Circus’ fame nationally and internationally


Three high school performers appear as guests on the national TV show hosted by Ted Mack “The Original Amateur Hour”, the precursors to “America’s Got Talent” or “American Idol”

Performer Donna Meyers becomes the youngest girl in the world to complete the double somersault on the flying trapeze


Sailor Circus gets its permanent home on Bahia Vista Street, in Sarasota, Florida.

Five circus acts are featured on the national TV show, “The Mike Douglas Show”, the nation’s most popular variety show.


The Sailor Circus travels to Fairbanks, Alaska, for a six-week performance tour


The Sailor Circus appears on the nation’s most popular morning TV show, the “Today Show” with Barbara Walters

The Sailor Circus marches and performs in the nationally televised Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City


Construction of a new permanent facility, The Sailor Circus Arena, is completed, and has since become an icon in Sarasota, Florida

The new Sailor Circus Arena’s expansion to the circus site we have today, enables year-round practice, rain or shine


The Sailor Circus spends 43 days performing at Mitsui Greenland Park near Fukuoka, Japan


Merle Evans and the “Windjammers” begin an annual tradition with the Sailor Circus, performing each January at the Sailor Circus Arena.

The Sailor Circus travels to Lima, Peru for a five-week performance tour.


Five more buildings are added to campus to house props, provide dressing rooms and a showcase museum of Sailor Circus history


The Sarasota Sailor Circus Foundation, Inc. is established to ensure the continued success of Sailor Circus and provide financial support to our students who continue their education


The Sailor Circus celebrates its 50th anniversary


The Sailor Circus is no longer a subsidiary of the Sarasota County School Board, and now falls under the operations of the Police Athletic League of Sarasota County, Inc


Sailor Circus launches a capital campaign to raise funds for a complete renovation of the Sailor Circus Arena and facilities


Circus Sarasota inherits the Sailor Circus Program & Campus


Circus Sarasota renovates offices at the Bahia Vista campus to house the combined circus families.


The organization rebrands as The Circus Arts Conservatory, stewarding the nation’s longest running youth Circus The Sailor Circus Academy as well as its’ other continuing outreaching programs


Sailor Circus Academy students, as part of The Circus Arts Conservatory’s partnership with The Smithsonian Folklife Festival, have been invited to present and perform on the National Mall in Washington DC during summer of 2017 .(link)

Staff & Coaches