Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Shrine circus memories

My first memory of the circus is of a night show, after dark, sitting in the bleachers at the Ft. Pierre rodeo grounds for the Oahe Shrine Club Circus. I remember watching in awe as the tight rope walkers balanced with their arms outstretched, high above my head. Colored lights reflecting off their glitter-covered faces only seemed to amplify the excitement. I remember the taste of cotton candy in my mouth and having to share my seat with my sister because of the large crowd that was in attendance that evening.

The show featured many things I’d never seen before; colored doves appeared out of a magician’s hat and poodles did tricks in skirts, bears rode on tricycles and elephants danced to their trainer’s whim. There were also clowns and tigers and ponies and many other things to entertain a young child.

The feel of the air that night was magically addictive and in succeeding years, when it comes to that time of year, I feel butterflies of excitement in my stomach in anticipation for a two-hour show. More than once over the years, I’ve caught myself wondering what it would have been like to run away with the circus and learn to perform like they do; to enchant the crowd like the circus artists had enchanted me.

Earlier this summer, as I drove myself to the Sully County Rodeo Grounds to take in the spectacle, I couldn’t help but notice the thrill I felt; the sense of returning. It was rewarding for me to see so many young children in attendance and watch the gleam of anticipation in their eyes.

This year’s Oahe Shrine Club’s circus was held in Onida because of a flood in Pierre and Fort Pierre, where it is normally held. This was the first circus that had been held in Onida in recent memory. Two days, with and afternoon and evening show each – I went to both on Thursday.

I always tell people that I’m the Circus Freak who didn’t join the circus. One of the local Shriner’s found that out about me and promised to get me and my editor a ride on an elephant for all the publicity help we had done with the newspaper. (It was a first for me, and way cool! I can check that one off my ‘bucket list’ now.)

Typically, many of the local businesses are to be thanked for sponsoring tickets ahead of time (although this year the Oahe Shrine Club did not have a chance to gather those usual donations due to the flooding circumstances). The expenses of the circus are defrayed from these initial sales. Any local businesses who display the Shrine Circus posters in their windows are sponsors of tickets and should be thanked. On a typical year, the local circus generates between $15-16,000 for Shriner’s hospitals across the United States. The Shriner’s hospital offers free medical services for children under the age of 18 for orthopedic needs, muscular problems, cleft palates, and burns.

After the show, I looked around and saw a seat here or there that was empty and pondered about those folks who had chosen not to attend this year’s circus. I thought to myself of the show they had missed; of the circus magic. But then again, I remembered, not everyone had dreamed of running away with the circus as a child.

Although it was not that long ago, I now realize the silliness in dreaming of joining the circus. Nonetheless, I can’t help but keep myself from wondering what it would have been like if I had and I find myself eagerly awaiting next year’s performance.

This is an adaption of an editorial piece I wrote several years ago about the circus for the paper I work for. The original article was published on July 16th, 2009 in the Onida Watchman. The photos published here were taken by me during this year’s circus in Onida.

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