Circus - Sarasota County Blog

Circus Sarasota Raises the Big Tent for the 20th Year

For the 20th year, the Big Top will be raised by the locally inspired Circus Sarasota. Visitors can experience the professional artistry and entertainment of a European-style live show with top-level local and international performers.

While there has been plenty of recent news coverage about the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus ending its 146-year old run, the circus remains very much alive in Sarasota.

After all, Sarasota is the “Circus Capital of the World.”  

For the 20th year, the Big Top will be raised by the locally inspired Circus Sarasota. Visitors can experience the professional artistry and entertainment of a European-style live show with top-level local and international performers. The circus performance will begin Friday, Feb. 10 and run through Sunday, March 5 at the Nathan Benderson Park south of the University Town Center.


Sarasota’s circus legacy began with the town’s most famous winter resident, John Ringling of the Ringling Brothers fame. He is credited with beginning the town’s circus tradition when he chose Sarasota as a winter home for his traveling show in 1927. As a result, Sarasota has been home to generations of circus performers – including clowns Emmett Kelley and Lou Jacobs, and modern day performers Nik Wallenda and Bello Nock - who settled and raised their families in the area.

Adding to the town’s legacy, Cecil B. DeMille’s academy award winning film The Greatest Show on Earth starring Charlton Heston, Betty Hutton and James Stewart, was filmed in Sarasota in 1950. One of the most memorable scenes was the circus parade on Sarasota’s Main Street. Many of the buildings seen in the film still stand today.

Circus Sarasota

Today, local circus descendants with Big Top lineage continue to keep the legacy and tradition alive in Sarasota. Dolly Jacobs, daughter of Lou Jacobs, and her husband Pedro Reis, a former Ringling Circus aerialist, founded Circus Sarasota in 1999 to preserve the circus art form and continue the tradition locally.

Headliner for this year’s edition of Circus Sarasota will be aerialist Nik Wallenda performing death defying feats on the high wire. Wallenda, a Sarasota native, and a seventh-generation member of the famous Flying Wallendas, has performed in the circus since childhood. He has gained fame in recent years by setting high wire records when he walked over Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon and between Chicago skyscrapers.

This is your chance to see him perform in person. Sit on the edge of your seat, and hold your breath while watching Wallenda and his troupe perform perilous feats high above. The act demands concentration, timing, tempo and trust as members of the multi-level team fearlessly walk across the wire.

But that’s not all.

Munch on your popcorn and some cotton candy as world renowned Alesya Gulevich performs an acrobatic gymnastic show using hula-hoops. What you will see is something akin to a “human slinky” while she twirls up to 50 hoops simultaneously.

Or tap your feet to the beat of the international duo Emily and Menno Van Dyke while they artfully combine juggling with tango dancing.

And become mesmerized when Cuban acrobatic artists Leosvel and Diosmani use a 20-foot standing pole as a base performing remarkable balancing feats. They climb, slide and support one another exhibiting their extreme strength, precision and dexterity.

And if that’s still not enough, prepare for the stunning performance of 13-year old Russian acrobat Olesya Fedotova as she deftly performs a hand-balancing act while contorting her body with slow motion grace.

But all is not serious under this tent. Comic Trio Fumagalli delights audiences with magic and funny antics for children and adults alike.

And for additional lighter entertainment, the Pompeyo Family will amuse audiences with their rescue dog show. The clever canines skip rope, climb tall ladders and jump through hoops.

And finally, Dolly Jacobs, the veteran “Queen of the Air” serves not only as the Circus’ founder but also performs in her world-famous aerialist act with Rafael Palacious, gracefully wowing the crowd as they perform high above.

And there’s even more circus entertainment and history to consider:

The Sailor Circus Academy founded in 1949 is one of the top U.S. circus schools (ages 8-18), and is known as “The Greatest Little Show on Earth.” The Sailor Circus performs for the public every spring and this year from April 11 through April 15. Audiences are always impressed and delighted with the young talent, some who continue their circus careers including Circus Sarasota.

Cirque des Voix Circus performers combine their artistry with more than 100 voices of the Key Chorale and the 30-piece Cirque Orchestra for a creative world-class production of circus acts performed to live music. Dates are March 24, 25, and 26.

Ringling Circus Museum

And anytime you are in Sarasota you can enjoy a visit to the Ringling Circus Museum. It is open year around on the grounds of the John and Mable Ringling Museum. Housed in its own building the displays encompass more than 100 years of circus history, culture, artifacts, parade wagons and costumes. Especially fascinating is the hand-made 44,000-piece miniature replica of the Ringling Circus from the 1920s-1930s.

After immersing yourself in all of these circus activities you are sure to agree that Sarasota is the “Circus Capital of the World.”

Florida native Robin Draper is a columnist, author and owner of the award-winning “Blog of the Year” and “Best Travel Blog” website,, a travel and lifestyle blog devoted to the simple and delightful pleasures for Florida living.