When I was a young mother, living with my then-hubby and son in Tallahassee, FL, my youngest brother began his college career at FSU. He had attended high school in Italy, so, back in the US, he was anxious to “fit in” and have some good extra-curricular fun.
A few of my brothers and I had been active in community theatre and drama clubs during our Jr. High and High School years, and Ray had been one of the four of us who had enjoyed this pastime. So, since FSU had a dynamite theatre department, he decided he would audition for some roles. At the time, they held auditions for all the productions at the beginning of the semester and Ray landed a few bit roles. He decided these would not keep him sufficiently busy, so he decided to take one of the unique FSU offerings. The FSU Flying High Circus.
I laughed when I heard about this. My brother had never struck me as a gymnast or any particularly sports-inclined kind of kid, but what the heck. As a supporting sister, I went, when invited, to see “Home Show” under the big tent that year.
The first thing I had to do was try to control my laughter when, after watching the very cute, very fit female members of the circus enter, I saw the guys enter. All had a similar build. Muscular, very fit, and while the girls were wearing pretty little flashy costumes, the guys were wearing sequined embellished stretchy pants…and no tops…Now, this was not particularly funny until I saw Ray, tall and skinny, with a very distinct “farmer’s sunburn” he had acquired as they set up the tent. His physique was completely different from the others, and, well, to me, he just looked funny.
Nevertheless, cheer we did, and in a few short minutes I began to be amazed at what my brother could do. He and three other guys did an incredible gymnastic balancing act. He and his female partner performed a mind boggling routine on the double trapeze, a routine the circus folks referred to as “sex in the air.” He and three other guys performed a routine wherein they used a female performer as a jump rope, and threw her through the air to each other in some curious game of keep away. He juggled and he performed a slack wire routine. All of these were serious crowd pleasers and he executed them flawlessly.
Over the next few years I watched him and his partner bring back stunts from the FSU Flying High Circus days of the 50’s which included roller skating and Ray swinging his partner around by the ankles, bringing her face closer and closer to the ground, until she literally was able to light a match on the floor….a match she held between her teeth. And to think Ray had never even roller skated before he got the idea to bring back this particular act!
The act that remains in my brain all these many years later, though, is the one he performed on that slack wire. He walked out on the wire (about 6-8 feet off the ground), carrying a ladder and some clubs. He placed the ladder at about a 45 degree angle on the slack wire. He then proceeded to climb up to about the third rung of a four rung ladder. If you can imagine, he is now actually balancing on the rung of a ladder which has him about 45 degrees away from the wire itself. He then began to juggle….I saw him do this routine juggling tennis rackets, regular clubs, and fire clubs.
I remember thinking then, how on earth could anyone do this. And especially my brother…never known as Mr. Coordination! Nevertheless, he did it and he did it well!
He gained much from his experience in the FSU Flying High Circus. He was selected to get paid as a performer/instructor at Calloway Gardens, GA every summer while he was at FSU. He was featured in Southern Living Magazine,
International Gymnast (I think that was the name of the magazine) and several others. He and five of the other guys were hired and flown down to Miami to perform in a British Productions movie, starring Loretta Swit, in roles as stilt-walking clown pallbearers….ummmm….maybe not her finest work (LOL). He got to travel to the Bahamas to perform. And he performed on the Mall in Washington, DC. However, the thing I think he gained most was the confidence in himself. Even after he graduated, went into the Navy as an Officer, and served in Desert Storm, each year he was able to, he returned to FSU for “Home Show.”
Eventually, he was stationed in Jacksonville, FL, where he and one of his friends from those FSU circus days decided they were interested in being a bit more than friends. They have been married now, for over 15 years, and have two beautiful children. Ray now builds hotels in CA, and, from what I can tell, continues to juggle family, work and life in general with amazing results…of course, I suspect his wife helps make sure that any clubs he might accidentally drop, are saved! They are a great team.
Life is like that, I think. It presents us lots of opportunities to achieve and demands that we become skilled in the delicate balancing act, as we juggle each new trick tossed our way. We can lie down and decide it is too hard, or not worth the effort, or we can embrace the challenge and accept that, occasionally, we might need others to help us achieve that balance.
Oh, and another thing Ray learned from this experience was how to sew! Yep, the performers had to make their own costumes….hence the cute girls in cute outfits and the guys half dressed that first night….the guys had not been successful in completing their tops!
Next time you see a collegiate circus, consider the total effort that goes into achieving the show. And you will begin to understand the fabulous lessons this particular “pastime” can provide.