Under the big top: A chat with Circus Juventas Founder Dan Butler

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The following is a feature on Circus Juventas Founder and Executive Director Dan Butler, by Peter Bailey at The Prouty Project. It’s part of an occasional opinion and profile series on BringMeTheNews, in partnership with Prouty, featuring insights from business leaders.

In this busy, self-congratulatory world, it is rare to meet such a humble person and think, “Wow, I wish I were this guy!” That thought immediately crossed my mind when I met Dan Butler, the Founder and Executive Director of Circus Juventas.

He has Dean Martin’s ruddy good looks, is in phenomenal physical shape, and spends his days helping talented youth swing, flip, and catch trapeze bars 30 feet above the ground. Cool!

Dan and his equally talented wife Betty are co-founders of Circus Juventas, the performing arts youth circus school in St. Paul. In the large white dome, just southeast of the Highland Golf Course, they offer youth circus arts training and performance opportunities for children and youth ages 3 to 21 in a safe and non-competitive environment.

Since their founding in 1994, they have emulated the style of Cirque du Soleil, by offering uniquely compelling and whimsically-themed shows in multiple venues, including the Science Museum of Minnesota, Target Center, the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, the Mall of America, Children’s Theatre, Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, as well as the St. Paul Winter Carnival and festivals in Italy, Sweden, Chattanooga, and Sioux Falls.

Talk with the students, staff, or numerous parent volunteers involved in each of their breathtaking productions and you will learn that this is a very unusual nonprofit organization that genuinely puts the youth they serve at the very center and spotlight of all that they do.

Rather than pit students against each other for starting positions on school sports teams, Dan and Betty Butler have created a much more collaborative environment combining the very best of challenging athletics with the beauty, style, and grace found in the performing arts.

As Dan says, “At Circus Juventas, no child is ever disappointed by not making the team or not being allowed to perform. Every child is given the opportunity to grow and be challenged.”

Circus Juventas provides a very positive learning and growing culture during formative youth years by focusing on four key imperatives:

– Offering an environment in which boys and girls work and train side-by-side as equals, learning together the values of discipline and hard work;

– Fostering mentoring relationships between older and younger children, between peers, and between adults in the community and children of all ages;

– Training all children as a team, from superior athletes to those less gifted;

– Teaching students the value of contributing to society through performances at community and charitable events.

When I asked Dan what his secrets to success and happiness were, he responded quickly, “Too many businesses focus on the outcomes and forget what they have to do on a day-to-day basis to get there. We focus on impeccably high safety and production standards that develop the technical and emotional ability of the students. Betty and I have a driven passion for high performance, for ourselves first, and for bringing it out from within the people around us.”

With rare inspiration, excitement, and a passion for passing on the Circus Arts, Dan focuses on bringing out the very best in each person as a part of the whole.

Dan’s gift and mission are simple, honorable, and refreshing. “Developing talented youth who can aspire to greatness.”

When you attend the next Circus Juventas performance, Dan will graciously welcome you from the center ring and then he will turn over the microphone, step into the shadows, and attend to the safety of the performance, beaming like a proud father of 300 marvelously performing students.


Circus Juventas in St. Paul is the largest youth performing arts circus in the nation and is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The public is invited to a free open house on Saturday, April 12, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visitors can try out circus equipment and see popular circus acts with center ring performances every hour. A 90-minute anniversary performance is scheduled for 7 p.m. that night.

Check out this video from a recent Oz-themed show:

Peter Bailey is a senior consultant in the Prouty Project’s Organization Development practice area. Peter is a multi-faceted experiential designer and facilitator who has 25 years of experience in the fields of high-technology, telecom, manufacturing, pharmaceutical and customer service.

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