Circus performers continue family tradition, spend life on the road to put on a show

By: Joe Nelson Email
By: Joe Nelson Email

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - Tigers, clowns and jugglers all made their way to Eau Claire Tuesday for the 67th annual Shrine Circus.

For dozens of performers and staff, the show continues long after the grand finale. With all eyes on them, these performers thrive under pressure. But spending ten months or more on the road each year, avoiding injury and staying at the top of their game comes with a unique set of challenges.

While other 18-year-olds are spending their last summer at home before starting work or school, Ashley Felix found her passion long ago, and already has ten years of experience.

“It's pretty fun because in other jobs, you don't get to meet a lot of people or meet a lot of really cool places, in cities that you want to explore,” Felix said.

(As an aerialist) First you just gotta train a lot to be strong enough to be able to do a lot of flexibility, a lot of dedication to what you want to do so yeah, it takes a lot of time to get good at what you want to do.”

The aerialist, hula-hooper, and elephant performer travels year round with the Shrine Circus; the only life she's known.

“Basically, this is our home for us, just a big family traveling together, that's what it is.” “I've never been scared of heights; actually, I love heights, so that's why I love doing anything in the air,” she said.

“My mom, she was born in the circus and raised too, so she's been passing it on to me and then she's going to pass it on to my little sister.”

She said she might have liked to be in high school gymnastics and spend more time with other family and friends, but this life in the air is worth it.

“There's sacrifices for things that you love,” she said.

Originally from Argentina, Jose “Diego” Astaiza also grew up under the big lights.

“When I was younger, I was flying trapeze, juggling, a clown,” he said.

“I born in the circus, all my family work in the circus.”

He's now the floor manager, assuring the safety and success of each performer, with props nets and cables all in the right places.

“I never have a big accident, so I hope it never happens,” Astaiza said.

Some are living their dreams, and others are working towards their own grand finale.

“You always want to be better at something yeah, so I just like to learn new tricks and new stuff to get better at what I do and yeah that's our goal, to be the best at what we do,” she said.

“I would like to publish a book. I like to write, so that's my wish,” Astaiza said.

“I think I'm good at what I do so I just love it so much and I don't imagine myself doing anything else,” Felix said.

(If I can’t stay in the circus business for life) I'll just have to I guess be a normal person for a little bit.”

To see Astaiza's work come to life, and Felix, high atop the crowd, the circus continues Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. and Wednesday at 11 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. in Carson Park in Eau Claire. The circus travels to Rice Lake Thursday.


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