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Accessible and Free Live Entertainment: Bindlestiff Family Cirkus

Bindlestiff Family Cirkus

Tightwire dancing, a world-class Yo-Yo champion, bounce juggling, acrobatics and maybe some sword swallowing are all coming to Des Moines as part of Des Moines Performing Arts’ series of FREE Outdoor Events. The Bindlestiff Family Cirkus will make its way to Fort Des Moines Park, Centennial Park in Waukee and Walker Johnson Park in Urbandale this August.

Serving as a clown, juggler, producer, performer, executive director and co-founder, Keith Nelson does it all for Bindlestiff. In 1995, Nelson co-founded the circus group with Stephanie Monseu. Since then, Bindlestiff has performed their variety acts all over the country.

“My favorite part is that we bring joy to the world,” Nelson said.

Nelson’s job allows him to help audiences have fun and see human achievements at unimaginable levels.

As a performer himself, he said what goes on in his head during a performance largely depends on the heat. The performers need to balance their focus between the phenomenal feats that the performers accomplish and connecting with the audience.

There is a mixture of “Oh my gosh, this better not fall” and “Oh my gosh, they’re clapping. 

“We’re a show that really connects with the audience. We rip down the fourth wall,” he said.


The Bindlestiff Family Cirkus works to bring talent from all over the world. Last summer, they brought performers from Columbia and Ethiopia to Des Moines—talent that some communities might never have seen without free live entertainment.

“With the amount of resources and money that [the United States has], the fact that people aren’t able to experience free art is a travesty,” Nelson said.

Inaccessibility to free, live entertainment increased during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, Bindlestiff developed a way to bring art to the streets.

“In New York City, we have a project called Flatbed Follies where we took flatbed trailers, equipped them to be rolling stages, and the New York City Department of Transportation and the Mayor’s Office has funded us the past three years,” Nelson explained.

“We’re going into neighborhoods that don’t necessarily get any arts funding--in most cases, don’t have a performing arts space,” Nelson added.

According to their website, the project provided work for more than 200 artists and the 2022 season entertained more than 30,000 people across 50 neighborhoods.


Nelson hopes that his performances will do more than just entertain in the moment. “My deep-down hope is that in 10 or 15 years I’m booking a younger performer and find out that it was us coming into their neighborhood that inspired them.”

“I can’t think of any higher calling than providing free art to the people,” he said.

That is why Bindlestiff Family Cirkus is coming back to Des Moines for its second year.

Bindlestiff will be doing a completely different performance than they did last year in Des Moines.

“The entire lineup--except for myself – is completely new,” Nelson said. “We’re not bringing the aerial rig this year; this year we’re bringing a wire walker.” 

“If they are really annoyed by me, then don’t come,” Nelson joked.


More information about the events can be found here. All events are FREE and open to all ages.


Thursday, August 17 
10 AM, 12 PM, 6:30 PM - Fort Des Moines Park - Des Moines

Friday, August 18
5 PM, 7 PM - Centennial Park - Waukee

Saturday, August 19
10 AM, 12 PM, 6:30 PM - Walker Johnston Park – Urbandale


Our series of FREE Outdoor Events is not over yet, check out the rest of the events here.

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