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Thursday, July 07, 2022

Under the Big Top: Performers share stories

For Andrey Medeiros, the circus means more than doing daredevil motorcycle moves for a wide-eyed crowd.

Past the visually pleasing acrobatics and life-threatening tricks are family bonds between performers and staff.

Medeiros revs up a motorcycle almost every night and takes it for a ride in the ThunderDrome: The Moto-Globe of Death.

He joins three motorcyclists in a spherical cage that is about 18 feet wide.

The cage shakes and shimmies as they weave paths. They can almost touch hands.

Medeiros said that during the dangerous feat he has to "take care of the guys."

Besides strengthening trust, the band of traveling nomads sometimes forms everlasting relationships.

A man and a woman meet under the big top and get married.

A baby is born and travels with them around the country.

The spouses perform together in the circus and live happily ever after.

Under the flame-retardant vinyl tent, Medeiros has started his family.

Medeiros, originally from Brazil, met his wife four years ago while performing gymnastics with relatives at Cole Bros. Circus.

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"I fell in love with a beautiful girl from Bulgaria who is a showgirl in the show," Medeiros said.

When his family decided to perform with another circus, he had the hard choice of staying with Cole Bros. and his love interest or leaving it all behind.

"I chose love," he said.

Since then, Medeiros and his wife Viky have performed and traveled together with the circus.

"My wedding was right here in the tent, in the ring," he said.

His son, Christopher, is the fifth generation of his family to be in the circus.

He lives in a world where applause is the stamp of approval, the rowdy noise of success.

Where elephants are fed marshmallows by trainers as they're led in circles around the ring.

The Cole Bros. Circus crew travels across the country, toting its animals and props to different cities from March to November.

With about 25 semi-trucks in tow, RV campers full of families follow on their tour throughout the U.S.

Performance director Chris Connors said the circus is an international family business.

"As ringmaster, I say, 'Our family welcomes your family,'" Connors said.

As a little boy, his family was a member of the Circus Fans Association of America.

Jimmy James, who was Cole Bros. Circus ringmaster for 35 years, used to feed him his bottled milk as a youngster, Connors said.

The career grew on him, and he said he hopes to live up to the circus reputation of Jimmy James.

He has been the Cole Bros. ringmaster for six years.

"Six years … in circus years, that's 35," Connors said with a smile.

C.M. Christ, a marketing director for the circus, compares its big top to a self-sustaining city.

"It's a city of lights and sights," Christ said.

The campers rest behind the towering yellow-and-red big top, creating an intimate town of larger-than-life props and shuffling animals.

The Abuhadba family keeps about 16 poodles contained by a small fence next to its camper. Originally from Chile, Rafael Abuhadba travels with his family and its performing pastel poodles.

As ringmaster, Connors is used to welcoming new international acts into its program every year.

"We're a melting pot on wheels," he said.

It has performers who come from locations including Bulgaria, Mexico and Guatemala.

It's not unusual for performers and staff to know multiple languages.

"They all have one language, and that's circus," Connors said.

Medeiros said his son knows three languages at his young age.

Christopher, Medeiros' son, was born an American, although his father is from Brazil and his mother is from Bulgaria. Medeiros said this mix of nationalities is a common quality of a traveling circus.

"For us, it's a normal life," Medeiros said. "It's a circus life."

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