Catch the show today at the fairgrounds
Written by,Alesha L. Crews
Iowa City Press-Citizen
May. 7, 2012
The 2012 El Kahir Shrine Circus kicked off its summer tour Monday, entertaining the crowd with a show full of acrobats, aerialists, motorcycle tricks and exotic animals.
A parade of semi-tractor trailers and mobile homes filed Monday into the Johnson County 4-H Fairgrounds, filling the air with roars and trumpeting from the circus’s four-legged performers.
It took about three hours to transform the fairgrounds into a three-ring circus, with the troupe working methodically to unload eight semis, which held everything from the stage and props to four elephants and 10 tigers that travel with the company across the country.
Aerialists perform during the El Kahir Shrine Circus on Monday at the Johnson County 4-H Fairgrounds. / Benjamin Roberts / Iowa City Press-Citizen
For 11 months out of the year, the troupe travels and performs across the country — in the next three months alone the group will visit 60 towns and perform 120 times.
While living on the road may not be for everyone, aerialist Nida Carden, 26, said it feels like home.
“What you love has to stay with you,” Carden said. “And the rest of the stuff doesn’t matter.”
Carden said she first fell in love with the circus when she attended a circus camp when she was 8 and began working professionally when she was 16.
“I thought it was the perfect combination of theater and dance and athletics all combined,” Carden said.
Carden has been traveling with this show for four years along with her husband, Larry, who is the elephant trainer.
She said the entire company feels like a family and that a good deal of the performers are indeed families. Generations of performers work side by side to bring the show to towns across the country and in many cases couples raise their children on the road.
Right now, about 15 children travel with the group working alongside their parents.
“As soon as they can walk, our daycare is putting them in the ring with their parents,” Carden said. “That’s how the children learn their skills.”
Tiger trainer Daniel Raffo, 40, comes from five generations of tiger trainers. Raffo — originally from Argentina — performed in a circus for the first time when he was 11.
He said living and working with the circus doesn’t really feel like a job.
“For us, it’s work, but at the same time, it’s fun,” Raffo said.
Raffo — who works with the show’s 10 tigers on and off stage — said he spends time with the tigers to figure out what they would naturally be good at. If a certain tiger is high energy, he will work with it on jumping and running. If another tiger is a bit lazier, he works with it on rolling and posing.
“Every animal is different, some show you right away what they like to do, others take time to show you what kind of abilities they have,” Raffo said.
The troupe will perform again today before packing up and continuing on to the next destination.