Circus Tears

“Are you seriously going to cry over the circus?” My husband asks me. It was just a few days ago that I read that Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus would end their tour in May. For forever. Yes, I certainly might cry over the circus. I go watch a women’s gymnastics meet and get choked up every single time. The feats they can do! The practice they have endured! And when a gymnast falls, only to get back up again and finish the routine – the heartache. The determination. Yes, I get a lump in my throat watching those girls put forth so much effort and defying gravity with the greatest of ease. But flying through the air with the greatest of ease – that’s the acrobat on the flying trapeze.

Some people love sports. Some people love books. Some people love Star Wars. I love the trapeze, and therefore, I also love the circus. I could count each year of my life by counting each circus I attended. I can’t remember which circus was my first – either Ringling Bros. or the Flying High Circus at Callaway Gardens.

My mom was a chaperone for one of our school field trips to the circus. It was exciting being the kid whose parent was the chaperone. It was like being famous for an hour. Plus, it felt good sitting next to mom on the big yellow bus taking us to our destination. This was not my first time at the circus. My parents did a great job instilling the cultural arts in us – from circus, to museums,  to musicals, to drag races and monster truck pulls (ok, maybe there were some free tickets scored from  pop’s work along the way) we saw our fair share of events around town. By the time the teachers handed us our lunch boxes, our eyes were fixed on the three rings in front of us. I waited patiently for my favorite part. I watched the clowns; I enjoyed, with tightened shoulders, the high wire; I marveled at three motorcycles speeding upside down inside a caged globe; I held my nose while sipping my juice box during the elephants. But finally, at the very end came the trapeze artists! I just knew that I would be a trapeze artist one day. And I didn’t blink until they all dismounted in all their double and triple somersault glory!

As a family we went to the circus every year. To this day I still have my original Ringling Bros. spinning flashlight souvenir. I envied slightly my sister’s plastic souvenir trumpet. Then I finally realized the best souvenir – a snow cone. It’s forty-five minutes of cold, slurpy entertainment with a take home mug!

Luckily for me, in addition to these trips to Atlanta to see the Ringling Bros., my grandparents took on the tradition of taking me and my sister and brother (until he outgrew it) to Callaway Gardens for a couple nights every summer. This trip was full of fun and adventure: we swam, we biked, we picnicked, we admired plants and butterflies, and we saw the circus. Callaway Gardens hosts the FSU Flying High Circus. This is one of my favorite circuses. It is performed by FSU college students. Their acts are similar year to year, but solid. The bicycle built for seven, the slack wire, the clowns, the acrobats, the jugglers, and the Flying Seminoles! I don’t care if you are ACC or SEC. These twenty year olds are trapeze artists! And yes, I’m jealous! I carefully considered attending Florida State for college. Then, sensible as I am, I decided it was frivolous to pay out of state tuition “just to be in the circus.” If you are a man, you might remember the winning play when your team beat your biggest rival back in 1981. Or maybe you are a skilled shopper and can remember what you bought when Rich’s closed its downtown Atlanta store. But I can still remember my favorite Flying High Circus ringmaster – Rufus. His voice was smooth and velvety and his intonation let you know if you should start to be excited or nervous.

I certainly can’t avoid mentioning Cirque du Soleil. What a beautiful and amazing circus! They put on an extremely artistic show which I love. They are not, however, a traditional circus (kudos!) which means they do not put on a traditional flying trapeze act (blow to the gut.)

So am I sad that Ringling Bros. is ending? Yes! To my horror, surprise, and major disappointment, I found out early this fall that the Cole Bros. Circus had gone out of business. I saw the Cole Bros. Circus in Watkinsville (Farmington?) for the first time after I had read Water for Elephants. OMG. I was in love. This was the “small” circus. But it had everything, including one of the most exciting high wire acts I’ve ever seen, and of course my beloved trapeze artists. So if Cole Bros. and Ringling Bros. are done, that leaves me with only two circuses – Cirque du Soleil and the Flying High Circus at Callaway Gardens. Luckily for me my husband learned two years ago how important that Callaway Gardens circus visit is for me. Now it is even more so. It’s the only remaining circus “nearby” with a flying trapeze act.

And even luckier for me, I live in Athens, home of Canopy Studio where I get to play on the trapeze every week. These are low to the ground dance trapezes (and, after trying the flying trapeze once and realizing my adult fear of heights, I’m ok with that) so it’s not the same as circus trapeze. But the performances this studio puts on knock my socks off every single time. I get that choked up feeling like watching the Gymdogs, especially watching my own child perform her very first trapeze solo during a children’s performance.

So to answer my hubby’s question, yes, I’ll shed a few tears over the circus. But for now, I plan to see Ringling in a few weeks, order a snowcone for me and both my girls, visit Callaway in the summer, and just try to make sure I see at least one circus every year. It’s my thing.

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