Social Circus and Health Equity


Loja social circus participants demonstrating their skills November 2014



Funded by:

Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)

Partner organizations:

Cirque du Soleil
Concordia University
Health Studies and Counseling Center (CEAS)
Simón Bolívar Andean University (UASB)
Simon Fraser University
Social Circus Ecuador – Ministry of Culture and Patrimony
University of Toronto

Lead researchers:


Loja social circus participants practicing acrobatics November 2014

Dr. Annalee Yassi, Principal Investigator, UBC
Dr. Jennifer Spiegel, Co-Principal Investigator, Concordia
Dr. Katherine Boydell, Co-Investigator, University of Toronto
Dr. Jaime Breilh, Co-Investigator, Simón Bolívar Andean University, Ecuador
Dr. Lynn Fels, Co-Investigator, SFU
Dr. Arturo Campaña, Simón Bolívar Andean University, Ecuador
Judith Marcuse, Expert in arts-based methods, SFU
Benjamin Ortiz, Project Coordinator, Ecuador

Project description:

Social circus combines physical demands with humour and creative expression to develop perseverance, self-esteem, and teamwork especially within marginalized communities. The past 15 years have seen a rapid expansion of social circus projects in over 25 countries, and Canada is certainly a world-leader in this area. Although there are claims of amazing positive impacts of social circus on mental and physical health, little scholarly research has been conducted to critically evaluate this, or examine the role of factors such as gender, sex, disability, age, ethnicity, or geographical settings in determining success. This experienced interdisciplinary intercultural team aims to address this gap, combining arts and humanities with social and health sciences, to understand the implications of Ecuador’s Social Circus programs for local, national and global health equity, understood as systematic disparities in health attributable to unfair social processes. In keeping with current trends in the critical scholarship on health equity, community arts, and art and health respectively, we seek to understand the implications of distributions (and possible redistributions) of power and resources in and through these programs, taking into considerations socio-economic as well as cultural processes. Our goal is to understand: (1) how social circus is affecting these processes, (2) how transformations in such processes are affecting the understanding of community health by those involved in and affected by the delivery of programs, and (3) the impact of such transformations on the overall distributions of power and resources. We are interested in how social circus is affecting the ability to pursue and attain personal and community health goals. These goals include the ability to contribute to the cultural life of one’s community and pursue a satisfying livelihood. Intersectional analysis will be applied across levels, taking into consideration cultural differences, gender, (dis)ability status, and socio-economic characteristics. Evaluation methods include: systematic literature review; discourse analysis based on document review and interviews; participant-observer techniques; interviews; quantitative questionnaires; and participatory arts-based methods including the use of photovoice.

For pictures from our workshop in Quito in February 2015, follow this link:

Stephan Alex group w hands

Participants in Quito, February 2015 (click to enlarge)

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Members of the research team and Quito social circus participants February 2015 (click to enlarge)


Social circus performance, Quito, November 2014


A social circus trapeze artist demonstrates her skills, Quito, November 2014

A social circus instructor in Loja teaches aerials November 2014

Children at the Loja social circus November 2014

Conferences, Press, and Publications

On November 11, 2014, members of the research team gave a press conference in Ecuador to discuss the project. “Circo Social, anfirion de investigdores foranos,” Loja Ecudador, Diario Centinela, 12 November 2014.

Fels, L. Voz de la foto. Presented at the Quito workshop, February 2015.

Spiegel JB. Study Social Circus: Inclusion and Creative Expression in Montreal’s Cirque Hors Piste. Presented at the Quito workshop, February 2015.

Spiegel JB and Parent SN. (2016). Rapport des résultats de l’étude de recherche sur le cirque social au Québec.

Spiegel JB, Breilh MC, Campana A, Marcuse J, & Yassi A. (2015). Social circus and health equity: Exploring the national social circus program in Ecuador. Arts & Health, 7(1): 1-10.

Spiegel JB, Ortiz Choukroun B, Campaña A, Yassi A. Borrador– Circo Social Ecuador: Políticas sociales, artes para el cambio social y salud colectiva. UASB. Quito. 2018.

Team in Loja


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Social Circus Quito February 2015

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