Show time! El Zagal circus performers say life in spotlight gets in blood
One of Neecha Braun’s dogs stands on its two front feet as she balances the dog in her hand during the Friday night performance of the El Zagal Shrine Circus at the Fargodome. Photo by Dave Wallis / The Forum
April 02, 2011from:infourm.comFARGO – Running away to join the circus isn’t easy, and for the unseasoned, it’s not a profession likely to last long, say circus veterans. After stops in Bismarck, Dickinson, Detroit Lakes, Minn., and Jamestown, the El Zagal Shrine Circus arrived at the Fargodome on Friday, with scheduled performances through the weekend. Under the management of Cindy Migley Productions, about 20 acts take the stage from the classics of elephants and lions to the death-defying acts of Jennifer Smith, the human cannonlady, or the World Famous Wallendas. Inside the three-ring circus is a tight-wound family, generations of performers who have circus in their blood. Migley said most of the acts performing are at least second-generation; many are rooted even deeper. “There’s not too many ‘normal’ people that would jump into this. We’re all born into it,” she said. Migley, who calls Sarasota, Fla., home, was born to a performer mother and circus manager father. Her grandfather also owned his own circus, she said. Every year she scouts local theme parks such as Busch Gardens or Disney for new acts to come on the road. Ringmaster Timothy Tegge, a third-generation circus master, said he has seen the popularity of circus performing rise as athletes find allure in regular performances. Circus schools that claim to teach performing have also cropped up around the nation. Still, Tegge said circus life isn’t something you can just learn. “This isn’t a business; it’s a lifestyle you commit to,” Tegge said. “It’s almost like people going to Hollywood to become a star. I think they’d have better luck doing that than lasting here.” Many parents raise their children in the circus family. At Cindy Migley Productions, a tutor travels with the company, teaching the children at least three hours every day, including weekends. However, Migley and Tegge concede that they are actually seeing more children running away from circus life than running to it. They said societal and economic factors have had an impact on the circus. “The circus in America is on shaky ground. Europe has always grasped it as one of its original art forms,” Tegge said. Fortunately, the U.S. seems to be coming around once again, Migley said. Migley has already sold out many locations this season. “The real challenge is getting them here, but once they’re here, they’re hooked,” Migley said. This year marks the eighth year Migley’s circus produced Fargo’s El Zagal Shrine Circus. Circus proceeds are used for El Zagal Shrine operations, said Bruce Ridgway, El Zagal Shrine media and advertising chair.