A circus for all of us

Friday, April 27, 2012

"The Greatest Show on Earth" is what Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey tag their circus performances, and I have to agree. This weekend, they come back to the Show Me Center, and I'm sure they will leave audiences happy.

I last went as a kid, and remember having an amazing time. My friends and I used to get excited days ahead of time just knowing that we were going to see the circus. It's a feeling I rarely get today as an adult.

My newborn daughter wouldn't know what a circus is yet, so I don't get to take her this year. But I can't wait for the day when I can. Each Ringling Bros. show is packed full of excitement; daredevil tricks, amazing acrobatics and animals large and small. And, of course, there's the pageantry.

And most of these performers frequently risk life and limb to elicit applause and gasps from the onlookers. Among these crowd-pleasers, there is always an animal trainer. I can remember one such trainer who used his powers to persuade four tigers to roll over at the same time. From the back of the tent, I could hear the roar of the lions and tigers that were ordered about. I would then promptly go home and practice these animal tricks with my dog, without success (I almost got him to roll over once, but he just wouldn't go all the way).

In addition to the lions and tigers, there are regularly around 50 nonhuman performers involved with the Ringling Bros. circus including dogs, cats, elephants and horses.

And while the animals are a big draw, I always watched for the clowns. The last time I went to the circus (nearly 20 years ago) I had a chance to meet a few performers before the show. By that time, I was becoming more disenchanted with the circus and more interested in Nirvana, sports and girls. One of the clowns noticed my teen angst shining through and decided to walk my way.

"You know, you don't gotta be a kid to love the circus," he said. "We haven't been around this long because only children, who make no money and can't buy tickets, love us."

"OK, why should I care?" I replied.

He proceeded to hit my father in the face with a cream pie, and I never laughed so hard at a clown. I realized then that you don't need a reason to go to the circus, just the opportunity.

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