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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Life's a circus at the Shenandoah Fair


Jonathan Morales rides a unicycle across the tightrope as part of the Zerbini Family Circus at the Shenandoah County Fair. Rich Cooley/Daily


WOODSTOCK, VA-The goes-without-saying disclaimer for audience members at a circus is don't try anything that you're about to see at home. But it's fun to think about trying.
After watching trapeze artists, swords balanced by their tips, high-flying trampoline flips, an aerial ballerina and juggler -- there was nothing on fire that he juggled, so there wasn't too much danger involved with that particular act -- Emma Selby, 15, of Woodstock, was asked if she could have done anything that's a part of the Zerbini Family Circus at the Shenandoah County Fair.
"Be the clown," she said.
If Selby were in the Zerbini bloodline, she'd be closing in on making a decision to be one of its jokesters. Once someone graduates high school, he or she is given a choice -- enter the circus or head off to "regular" life, ringmaster Melody Ramirez said. She selected the circus, where she was thrown into the job as ringmaster, because she gets to be with family every day.
"My husband and I are together all the time," said Ramirez, 30, of Myakka, Fla. "I see my parents, my little brother all the time. And you only have to work about an hour two times a day."
The circus, which is free as part of fair admission, has had two shows each day at the fair this week. There will be three today, at 1, 3 and 5 p.m.




Jennifer Luna performs an aerial act as part of the Zerbini Family Circus at the Shenandoah County Fair

While one of the most popular attractions during fair week involves cars smashing into each other, there is no desire among circus watchers to see anything destructive happen. It's the mere threat of it that gives the show excitement.
Lillian Bowers, of Woodstock, was one of the most animated attendees during a performance this week, mouthing an occasional "oh wow" as she smiled and clapped in reaction to what she saw.
"I thought it was very enjoyable," she said.
The Zerbini family has been getting that kind of feedback going on nearly 100 years, Ramirez said. The circus tours the eastern part of the country and also visits fairs in a number of states, stopping in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey and Virginia this year, she said. There are 21 performers from Mexico, Peru and Europe.
If Julia Austermann, 16, an exchange student from Germany here for the first semester of school, were to be added to the roster, she'd want to be a juggler. In her home country, the circus is bigger, she said, although that may be more of a product of the Zerbini venue being at the county fair.
Austermann had a different reaction to other sights.
"Everything is bigger [here]," she said, "even the pigs."
Juggling is something Lynn Tucker, Bowers' daughter, might be able to live with if someone in her family were in the circus. Otherwise, she wouldn't be a fan of a loved one trying anything circus-related at home, or for the pleasure of others for that matter.
"No, I don't think so," Tucker said. "I'd be too worried, too anxious."
Let the professionals in the Zerbini family do it instead.
"I thought they put on a very good show," Tucker said.

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