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UniverSoul Circus comes back to Baltimore area

The UniverSoul Circus returned to Baltimore this month, with its red and yellow big top in the Security Square Mall parking lot.

The circus features a diverse cast of performers from around the world, with acts from Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Central and South America, the Caribbean, Mexico and the U.S., and is designed to reach a diverse audience.

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The last day at Security Square Mall is Monday before circus travels down to Plateau Parking Lot at National Harbor for an extended run June 30 through July 24.

More than 25 million people have seen the UniverSoul Circus across more than 15,000 performances since the company was founded in 1993 by Baltimore native Cedric Walker in Atlanta.

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Because of the pandemic, the circus did not tour in 2020 and ran a limited tour in 2021, which did not stop in Baltimore. The company is still taking it city by city with this year’s tour, based on varying COVID requirements in the cities they want to visit, a spokesperson said.

Donald Long, one of three ringleaders, said the the circus is glad to be back in Baltimore.

“We gotta represent for [Walker’s] hometown,” Long said of UniverSoul’s founder.

The show is an annual event for many families, with all of the things one could imagine at a circus: kids with sparkly face paint, concessionaires peddling cotton candy and popcorn, whirly gadgets that spin and glow in the dark, and animals.

Before the show and during intermission, children took camel rides around the ring. UniverSoul Circus still uses performance animals including zebras and horses, and the animals are introduced in specific segments during the show then hurriedly corralled and wrangled out of the ring.

But it’s the performances that take center stage. The 2 1/2-hour show opened with a graceful ballerina who captivated the audience as she glided around the arena.

The pace picked up with high-flying acrobatics and high-energy dance troupes. Echoes of “ooh” and “ahh” were matched by “Did you see that?” as children and adults pointed in amazement at the performers hitting their marks and completing stunts in a 52-foot diameter ring.

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Damion Jones, 34, of West Baltimore, said he came to the UniverSoul Circus as a kid, so he brought his girlfriend, Gypsy, and their two daughters, Daisy, 1, and Veronica, 2, for their first time at the circus.

“You’re so used to seeing things on TV, so when you see it in person, it’s different,” Jones said.

The toddlers took turns on Jones’ lap, casting their eyes to where he pointed at performers. Jones said he couldn’t single out a favorite act.

“When you’re a kid, you don’t remember all of it, so I’m glad I came back,” he said. “I liked all of it.”

Blasting hip-hop, R&B and pop music, Fresh The Clowns – three clowns sporting a rainbow Afro, Afro puffs and Afro mohawk – got the audience up and dancing.

Daysha Sampson, 32, said her daughter Amor, 5, watches the clowns on YouTube, “so she was really excited to see them in person.”

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“I like the clowns,” Amor Sampson said, giving two-thumbs up in approval. “I had a good time.”

Daysha’s husband, Arvin Sampson, 32, said the couple come every year and brought their daughter to celebrate her graduation from prekindergarten.

“And Father’s Day,” Amor Sampson added.

Daysha Sampson, who said her mom brought her family when she was a child, said she likes the international flavor of the UniverSoul Circus. Arvin Sampson said he comes because of the culture, and he enjoys the audience vibe.

“It’s good to get out and be around your own people and spend money with a black-owned business,” Arvin Sampson said.

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The Sampsons are like a lot of parents in attendance with younger children, who have been coming to the UniverSoul Circus since they were kids and are introducing the multicultural event to the next generation.

Quanche Wise, 20, and Janell Brandon, 25, came with a group of moms and their children, all under age 5, for the kids’ first time at the circus. Both women, who came when they were children, said they missed the exotic animals, like tigers and lions that used to populate circuses.

“But otherwise it was fun,” Brandon said. “I enjoyed the fire limbo [act].”

The Santifuls were among the grandparents who took their adult children and grandchildren to the circus and enjoyed it as much, if not more, than the youngsters.

“It was a family affair,” said Audrey Santiful. “We brought our children when they were younger, and I wanted the grandchildren to experience it.”

“I loved the motorcycles,” said Kelvin Santiful. “They were exciting. They didn’t have those before.”

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The performers, it turns out, get as much joy from the shows as the audience does.

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“It’s our passion,” Long said. “Our hearts are in it. We love the people.”

The circus also gives back to the community. Residents from The Children’s Guild orphanage and other group homes were bused in for the performances, and families from local shelters were given tickets to attend. During the day, the performers visited local schools and black-owned restaurants.

“We’re not just here to sell tickets,” Long said. “We’re here to give back, to make some child’s day by giving them a ticket to the show when they wouldn’t have been able to come otherwise.”

Members of Black Greek-letter organizations and local black-owned and small businesses were recognized; outside of the tent, a mobile clinic from the University of Maryland nursing school offered free COVID vaccinations, boosters and test kits.

“It’s our connection to the people of the communities we visit, who support our show like we’re an essential part of the community,” said ringleader Zander “Zeke” Charles, who has worked for the circus almost since its inception.

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Attendees also said that the show is inspirational, seeing performers who look like them accomplish great feats, and that is how the show ends, with a motivational moment from Long.

“Put down the cellphone and pick up life,” Long said. “It’s never too soon or too late to follow your dreams.”


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