A decade ago Johnathan Lee Iverson stepped into Ringling's center ring to become the circus's first African American ringmaster.
After a six-year stint and a couple years off on other pursuits, he is back with his booming voice and flashy costumes as the show's grand ambassador. He has a degree in voice performance from the University of Hartford's Hartt School. He took some ribbing from friends about what he was going to do with the degree. Then they saw him in the circus spotlight.
"I'm like a black Liberace," he said. "When I walk out in that costume something changes in my nature. I'm not the same person. I'm much more confident."
Iverson's wife dances in the show, and his son and their daughter travel with them.
"I get to really experience this through my 5-year-old son," Iverson said. "He's the only other person I wish I was at this moment of my life."
Trapeze artist Ivo Silva Jr., right, will be out to execute a rare feat: a quadruple somersault.
He succeeded during the opening week of the show in Tampa, Fla. It had been more than a quarter century since the last completed quadruple somersault at the circus.
Silva and catcher Daniel Simard had been practicing for more than six months to hit what is considered the pinnacle of the flying trapeze. The pair flies as part of the famous Flying Caceres trapeze troupe.
Asked after his successful "quad" if he was confident that he will be doing it again, Silva confidently replied, "Yes."
THE TIGER TRAINER
Daniel Raffo faces glistening fangs and risks a lethal swipe from a massive paw when he steps into the ring with almost a dozen Siberian, Sumatra and Bengal tigers, each weighing between 400 and 700 pounds.
In his early years the fifth-generation performer tended to the animals at his family's safari park in Argentina. Soon he recognized his passion for working with tigers, horses and elephants.
After four years of training, his tigers are ready to join the act after getting used to the upbeat music, bright lights and nonstop action.
"I've never been afraid with them," Raffo said. "No, never, because otherwise I wouldn't do it. I love being together with these animals. That's my life."
His wife, Andrea, is also a performer. They met at Ringling in 1997. Her act is a different kind of hair-raising experience.
THE HAIR HANGER
If all goes well, Andrea Raffo finishes her act with only a few split ends and maybe a neck ache. She's a third generation hair hanger.
She dangles by her hair about 30 or so feet above the ring and spins around while juggling flaming torches.
After seeing her mother perform the act, she was hooked.
"In the beginning it was painful, but you have to find your own way of how to fix your hair and adjust it," she said. "It is very important to have your hair very even so it's not pulling on one side more than the other."
She braids her hair in one thick plait, and her husband hooks her up and starts her spinning. She says there is no trick involved.
"It is so weird because some people think I have a cable or a nut or something in my skull," she said, chuckling. "My hair has to be healthy for my act, so I don't perm it. I try to use organic and natural products."
She said she loves circus life, including traveling, meeting new friends and performing. And while her act requires great focus she often gets to see the audience's reaction.
"They put their hands to their mouths, and I can see their lips going, Wow! That's the great part."
Roy Bahls, (757) 446-2351, firstname.lastname@example.org