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Suncoast Beaches Area Features

After the Final Curtain Call

The Circus will go on...

On May 21, 2017, the curtains closed on “The Greatest Show on Earth” after a run of 146 years. The end of the iconic Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus was a sad moment for many, but none more so than the performers who had made the circus their home. Marriages, new babies and lifelong bonds were created among those who worked under the “Big Top.” Within this close-knit, traveling group, entire families became famous, new acts were born, and the exotic animals were practically family pets to their handlers. Tears were shed as hugs were exchanged among the performers, and clowns cried after taking their final bow. Despite the finality of those closing scenes, the circus industry will always live on in one spotlight or another—especially in the circus’ hometown of Sarasota.

Performing acts that have captivated audiences for decades will still make appearances now and again. Take the Flying Wallenda family… This past summer, Erendira Wallenda dangled by her teeth over Niagara Falls from a helicopter. She performed beautifully acrobatic, yet deadly feats for about 10 minutes before returning to the safety of the chopper. Her family is well-known for stunts of this nature. In fact, when Erendira performed this act, it was on the 5-year anniversary of her husband, Nik Wallenda’s tightrope walk over the falls. His brave routine consisted of walking across the 1,800-feet-wide falls on a cable that swayed in the misty winds. Erendira performed at 300 feet above the falls and is now the record-holder of the highest suspension act, having surpassed her husband’s previously set record of 250 feet above Branson, Missouri.

Other circus performers are taking their acts to prime time. Various shows are featuring these talented individuals and creating opportunities for them to expand into solo careers. For example, Bello Nock, a daredevil clown with a hairstyle modeled after the bride of Frankenstein, appeared on the popular television show America’s Got Talent. Though he immediately wowed some of the judges, Simon Cowell was not impressed until the clown offered to shoot himself out of a cannon and over a helicopter. Nock made it to the final round and brought a more positive image of clowns to the show’s millions of viewers. He then starred in his own show, IncrediBello! at the Historic Asolo Theater in Sarasota. It’s likely we’ll be hearing a lot more from this amazing entertainer.

Then there are some acts that still go on the road! In the summer of 2017, the Sailor Circus from Sarasota was invited to perform at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. This event brought together many circus acts and paid tribute to this eclectic form of entertainment. The Sailor Circus is part of Sarasota’s non-profit Circus Arts Conservatory and is composed of young entertainers ages 8-18. It is the largest youth circus program in the nation and helps to continue the legacy of the circus. Kids and teens train after school and then put on performances that can be seen in the spring and winter.

And right here in Sarasota, the Circus Capital of the World, visitors can go to The Ringling to see circus exhibits and re-live the nostalgia of childhood outings to the big top. Or, they can take in a show several times during the year with Circus Sarasota—also part of the Circus Arts Conservatory. So even though the legendary Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus has come to an end, there are still ways to see extraordinary acts.


Memorable Closing Moments:

The Danguir family high-wire troupe welcomed a new baby three months before the closing show. It was so important to new mom, Anna Lebedeva, to participate in the final shows, that she vigorously pushed herself back into shape. She performed flawlessly with her husband, the new dad and leader of the troupe, Mustafa Danguir, along with the rest of the group during the last few performances. Their newborn son received the last baptism performed by the circus’ minister.

One of the most bittersweet moments involved the big cat trainer Alexander Lacey, who worked with these animals for years. The lions and tigers are owned by Feld Entertainment, but they were family to Lacey. In fact, Lacey raised them from cubs; the leopard, he raised from birth. On the last show, he hugged and kissed his feline friends. Before the last curtain drew to a close, he petitioned the U.S. government to take them to a German circus where he and the cats he loves can remain together. As of the date of publication, their fate has not been announced.

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