Working with diverse communities of young people in South Africa and the USA, Zip Zap Circus helps kids "Dare to Dream" and empowers them to make those dreams a reality.

About Zip Zap

A bit of history:

In 1992, in the years before South Africa’s first democratic elections, international circus performers Brent van Rensburg and Laurence Estève launched a project that would help create a global movement: circus for social transformation.

Returning to his native South Africa after years of exile, Brent found his homeland facing a critical moment. A divided country at risk of civil war, communities isolated from each other by history, race and culture, and millions of disenfranchised young people with no apparent future. He also saw the opportunity, as articulated by Nelson Mandela, for South Africa to forge itself into a true Rainbow Nation. He and his wife Laurence decided they would do what they could to help meet that opportunity.

They began in the crowded, violence-torn townships surrounding Cape Town, hanging a trapeze from a tree. The children gathered, and Zip Zap was born. The vision was simple: to give kids who are different from each other in many ways the chance to discover that they really are not that different at all, in the ways that count. To provide opportunities for kids to discover the possibility of doing something big – something beautiful. They saw that circus provided an ideal framework for that demonstration.

“In the circus, we do things that do not seem possible. We take risks to make something beautiful. And most of all, we do – in a very literal sense – depend on and support each other as partners.” (Brent)

They began using circus to create a sense of family and community – bringing together young people from vastly different cultures and backgrounds to learn, work and play together as equals during their formative years. Since its inception, attendance at the school has been free of charge and open to all. Nobody who wants to be a Zip Zap Kid is turned away. There is no talent audition, and Zip Zap attracts children from all economic, cultural and racial backgrounds, uniting them in one circus family.

Today, that family has grown and thrived.

“When we started this work, we could not have possibly imagined what we would become. Our vision of Zip Zap was clear, but small. We wanted to reach out to kids, so we began teaching workshops in schools and parks, in townships and suburbs. And our kids did learn. They came together in extraordinary ways. They become the closest of friends; they forged a bond of family. But they also did much more. They struck a chord in South Africa and around the world, inspiring many more children and adults by their example.” (Laurence)

The Zip Zap Kids have performed for presidents and world leaders. They have done more than twenty international tours and numerous international media showcases. Their free performances around South Africa have been highlights in many communities, and have been seen by more than one million people. Kids who began as six-year-olds swinging from a trapeze tied to a tree are now professional performing artists working in Europe and North America. Young people who grew up on the streets are now skilled and valued artists and technicians in the entertainment and film industries. Best of all, these kids are becoming teachers themselves. They are ambassadors and role models for others, demonstrating dramatically to young people and the wider public the possibility of a new way of being with each other. They are reaching out to other kids, including children with HIV in the townships where it all began.

This journey has not been an easy one. They have had to learn how to meet challenges, to deal with differences, to manage and resolve conflicts. In learning and sharing these lessons both within and outside of South Africa, Zip Zap has become a part of a growing international movement of “social circus” organizations traveling similar paths. The Zip Zap Kids have had the opportunity to share and exchange learning with colleague groups and young people in North and South America, Australia and Europe. They have become global citizens, making a global contribution.

Today, Zip Zap faces new challenges and new opportunities. In 2008, after years of hard work, Zip Zap moved from a location in a remote industrial warehouse district to a magnificent new purpose-built Circus Dome easily accessible to all in the heart of Cape Town. This process has pushed the organization to and beyond its limits. The financial implications to a small organization are huge. And already, many more young people have been drawn to Zip Zap, creating a need for more of everything – programs, equipment, teachers and hours in the day. The Zip Zap Kids are confident that, with the support of like-minded people in South Africa and around the world, they will grow to meet the new challenges and those to come. Like the original decision to hang a trapeze from a township tree, the new dome represents a bold step into the unknown – without a net or safety lines.

“Dare to Dream”