Gregory May puts his experience (and love of shaving cream pies) as a former professional clown to use at Center Ring Circus School.

Columbia, MD 042513 Staff Photo by Jen Rynda Gregory May poses for a photo at Center Ring Circus School in Columbia, MD on Thursday, April 25, 2013. ***FOR MAGAZINE USE ONLY*** (Jen Rynda / Patuxent Publishing / April 25, 2013)

The circus has come to town!

And it’s the clown, jokes Greg May, who is running the business.

A Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College graduate and former member of its circus troupe, May is the clown in question, and the Center Ring Circus School is his own arena.

Raised in Columbia, the Hammond High School alumnus is the son of community pioneers Betty (a swim, dance and theater instructor) and the late Dr. Gerald (a theologian, psychiatrist, author and possessor of a “sense of humor every bit as wacky as his circus clown son”) May. The combination explains a lot.

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After a half-dozen years clowning around and instructing kids in the same at the community center in Greenbelt, May has expanded the show in an innocuous-looking office park on Oak Hall Lane, just past the Columbia post office.

But inside is a menagerie of fun. There are circus posters, rainbow mats, giant rubber balls, and gorgeous jewel-hued fabric dangling 17 feet. These are the tools for aspiring jugglers, stilt walkers, unicyclists, plate spinners and trapeze artists.

And it’s here where May says he gets “to play for a living.”

It’s not as though the former professional hasn’t put in his dues, however. When he was in the ring, he points out: “I fell down for a living. … One of my jobs was falling off a 12-foot ladder 13 times a week.”

So, now May and his staff (including his mother) share their talents with children and adults alike through classes in circus arts, aerial arts and gymnastics, along with summer camps and birthday parties.

Circus school is much more than goofing around. There’s value in skills like agility, balance, teamwork, hand-eye coordination, public presentation, creativity and -- let’s not overlook -- how to slip on a banana peel without getting hurt.

“It’s geared to kids, but Greg makes sure that adults get to do activities, too, not just spot their children,” says Dawn Popp of Elkridge, a drama student of Betty May’s back when and now enrolled at Center Ring with her 6-year-old daughter, Maria.

In the acrobatics session they partner up, with kids standing on parents’ shoulders or creating a carousel with adults forming a circle while kids sit on their linked hands.

“It’s good one-on-one time with your child,” adds Popp.

Lisa Losito is not yet ready to try it herself, but her daughter, Juniper, 11, has gone from summer camp to advanced level and the performance team, says the Ellicott City mom as Juniper skillfully twists fabric and feet, posing gracefully.


The art of clowning appeals to all ages -- that’s why May offers classes for kids, teens and adults.

After a couple of months, Howard Community College student K-li Westhaver, clad in a T-shirt proclaiming “BALANCE,” announces, “I never thought I could walk across a tightrope, and now I sort of can!”

Many adult students opt for the Aerial Arts and Fitness program, and here’s one reason why: When May trained to become an aerial arts instructor, he reports, he lost 40 pounds.

“In the beginning, people love the fabric,” May says of the twisting and flowing substance for climbing and posing.

Despite being a tad afraid of heights, Columbia fitness enthusiast Erin Harrison scaled her bright fabric column and accomplished a circus trick known as a “Gazelle” on her very first coupon-inspired visit.