Sawdust in his shoes

Study abroad experience, Fulbright propel UI grad to career in circus arts

By Sara Epstein Moninger for Iowa Now

Duncan Wall
Duncan Wall

It was during his time at the UI that Duncan Wall became hooked by the circus. Although unimpressed by a traditional circus he had attended growing up in St. Louis, the undergraduate decided to check out a contemporary circus performance while in Paris for a study abroad program.

“It was unlike anything I’d ever seen. It was at a park under a series of white tents. People were dressed up, with their hair nicely done, and there was a bar serving wine,” he explains. “The performance was more like contemporary dance. I had taken a dance class at Iowa, but I had never imagined anything like this: men in suits ‘fake’ fighting, acrobats singing Simon and Garfunkel, a juggler quoting Proust. It was very smart—and really captivating.”

Cover of Duncan Wall's book, published by Random House in 2013.
Cover of Duncan Wall's book, published by Random House in 2013.

Wall attended as many circus performances as he could while abroad and even enrolled in a trapeze workshop. Back at Iowa, he completed a Bachelor of Arts in literature, science, and the arts, with minors in theatre arts and English, but he still felt drawn to the circus. With support from a professor, he applied for and won a Fulbright fellowship to attend France’s École Nationale des Arts du Cirque, where he enrolled in a competitive, two-year training program.

“I took classes in acrobatics, dance, and acting, and sat in on classes on circus history. I learned how to juggle and specialized in trapeze and clowning,” says Wall, whose previous athletic experience had been soccer. “I also did a wide variety of work in areas like music, voice, sculpture, and painting. The experience was really about learning to be an artist through circus.”

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