Wenatchee Kids Visit Sarasota, from Apples to Oranges

By Jim Cole

Christmas Day 2014 for three 15 year old kids from the Wenatchee Youth Circus was more than just a few presents under the tree.  It was the beginning of a 10 day circus adventure in Sarasota, FL, hosted by their friend Jacob Swe.  They had met Jacob last summer when he joined the Wenatchee Youth Circus for 3 weeks as a special guest performer from Sailor Circus in Sarasota.   He in turn invited some of his new circus friends to spend some time around his circus.


Daniel McGee, Jillian Davis, and Courtney Tipton at SeaTac Airport on Christmas Day, about to embark on the “Circus Adventure of A Lifetime”!


Leaving the SeaTac airport for an amazing 10 day circus adventure!


Beautiful Sarasota, Florida!

Back home at the Wenatchee Youth Circus, these 3 kids are very talented circus performers!

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Courtney performs on the single trapeze.

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Daniel walks down the inclined wire.



Jillian does the split on the “Spanset” rigging, new to the Wenatchee Youth Circus last year.

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Jacob had performed last summer as a special guest at the Wenatchee Youth Circus.


 The kids arrived in Tampa, and were met by Jacob and his mom at the airport who drove them down to Sarasota.  They had a traditional Christmas dinner at the house that evening, but from that point on, their Christmas vacation truly became a circus adventure!


Courtney & Jillian jumped right in to help tighten the flying trapeze net at Sailor Circus for practice.

 They arrived at Sailor Circus the next day and immediately started meeting the kids and the trainers.  Courtney had been there the year before, and already had got to know some of the kids.  They watched fly practice, and then Daniel got to practice on the low wire and tried the “Wallenda style” balance poles that his circus will be using this year.  Coach Lee Merritt took the time to show him some of the high wire rigging features at Sailor Circus.  Totally different from the portable outdoor rigging they use at Wenatchee!

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The kids watched as their friend Jacob practiced Flying Trapeze with his Catcher Ryley. The Sailor Circus rigging is so much different that what they have at Wenatchee.

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Sailor Circus high wire Coach Lee Merritt let’s Daniel try the stainless steel high wire poles, similar to what will be in use at Wenatchee this year.

 The evening of the 26th was the final dress rehearsal for the Sailor Circus Holiday Shows that was called “The Enchanted Wand”   The 3 Wenatchee kids watched intently as their peers worked to perfect the show for the opening next afternoon. 


The Kids from Sailor Circus in their final dress rehearsal.

 During intermission, Daniel got his circus dream to come true.  He got to meet his hero in person, Nik Wallenda!


Daniel McGee with his role model Nik Wallenda

I have known Nik Wallenda since he was about 6 years old, and had the pleasure of introducing him to Daniel.  Nik and Daniel were already friends on Facebook, and had previously exchanged photos of each other.  Nik immediately said to Daniel “I’ve seen some of your wire walking photos, you are pretty good!”  Daniel replied “Well I’ve seen a few pictures of you also, and you are REALLY good!”  Nik then invited Daniel and his friends out the next morning to watch them practice.  Does it get any better than that?


Nik giving Daniel some advice on footwear for the high wire.


Jacob, Daniel, Jillian and Courtney watch in total amazement as the Wallenda high wire act practices their famous 7 person pyramid! Five of the performers in this act came out of youth circuses.


The famous Wallenda 7 person chair pyramid in practice.


Getting some advice from the “King of the High Wire”!


Nik’s mom Delilah, shows Daniel a wrist curl technique to improve his grip on the pole.

Then it was back to Sailor Circus for two shows.  The Wenatchee kids were given volunteer jobs as seat ushers, and had 8 performances to absorb new ideas!


The kids found the Sailor Circus performance format to be quite different from theirs back in Wenatchee


The Spider Girl was among the favorite acts in the circus.


They paid special attention to their friend and host, Jacob Swe as he mesmerized the audience with his trapeze skills

Then on Sunday morning, it was the girls turn to meet and work with a circus legend.  Norma Fox ..aka La Norma, is one of the most famous circus performers of all time.  She invited the kids over for some trapeze lessons, and to say the least, the girls got quite a work out!


Norma explaining to Courtney some of the warm up techniques for aerial acts.


Norma shows Courtney the way to learn the heel hang, with temporary side ropes to hold on to.


Now it’s Jillians turn, and Norma is teaching her proper swing technique.


Jillian, Norma and Courtney after their first practice.

Then it was back to Sailor Circus for two more performances.  By this time the kids have made many new friends!


Sailor Circus & Wenatchee Youth Circus kids speak the same language…CIRCUS!


The Sailor Circus High Wire act.


The comedy table slide act used lots of talcum powder!

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Jillian, Daniel & Courtney with Sailor Circus trainer Pam Hamilton, herself an alumni of the Wenatchee Youth Circus!

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The girls admired the colorful costumes at Sailor Circus, many of them donated by Ringling.

 In between shows Daniel was allowed up on the high wire, and enjoyed every minute of it with some new friends!

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Daniel getting in some high wire practice at Sailor Circus. Thanks so much to Lee & Kathy Merritt for making this happen!

 Then on Monday, it was off to the Ringling Circus Museum for some “Circus History 101” along with their host Jacob Swe and a new friend from Sailor Circus, Alice Hafner.

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Courtney, Alice,Jillian, Jacob & Daniel pose at the Ringling Circus Museum by the famous “Five Graces Bandwagon” built in the 1880’s.

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Kids being kids on one of the museum dispalys.

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The Wenatchee kids were thrilled to see their circus represented at the Ringling Circus Museum!

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The kids pose in front of an old Zacchini cannon truck, that was built in 1948. It used to shoot two persons out of the barrel into a net.

On Tuesday morning it was back to Norma’s for more trapeze practice.


Norma showed Courtney a new trapeze pose that she immediately liked!

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And to top things off, an autographed photo from La Norma!

In between shows on the last day of the Sailor Circus, Jillian had her Spanset rigging set up in the Sailor Circus Arena and got some practice in.

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Warming up for practice at Sailor Circus!

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Jillian in an ankle spin on the spanset.

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Alice just had to give it a try! She will be going to the Wenatchee Youth Circus this summer as a guest performer. Daniel is below spotting???

 Daniel McGee writes:

“Over my winter break I went to Florida to visit Sailor Circus. I stayed with performer Jacob Swe for ten days. On my first day in Florida we went to see the Sailor Circus’s final dress rehearsal. It was an amazing show and I could tell that they had put a lot of practice into their performances. I liked the fact that their show was a theatrical performance rather than a traditional circus because it was a lot different from what I am used to. In the Wenatchee Youth Circus we have to set up and tear down our own equipment and we travel all around. In Sailor Circus they are set up in a permanent location so they get a lot of practice.

On my second day in Florida, Courtney Tipton, Jillian Davis, Jacob Swe, and I went to trapeze artist La Norma’s house before the show for Sailor Circus. The girls learned a lot from La Norma including how to swing properly on the trapeze. The next day we went back to La Norma’s and we all watched videos from when La Norma was doing the amazing rocket act. The thing I liked best at La Norma’s was the stories that she told. For example, she told us the story about how her rigging broke and she fell from more than 60 feet and the sand she fell in saved her life.

By far my favorite part of my Florida trip was going to watch Nik Wallenda practice the seven man pyramid and it was amazing!!!!!!!!! I could not believe that he works two hours a day, seven days a week training with his family and friends. It was a once and a life experience to go and watch them practice and also meet my hero! When Nik was finished practicing he came over and helped me learn some new tips about the wire. One example of this is to curl your wrists so that you will not drop your pole if you need to re-adjust. This was an amazing trip and I would love to do it again!”



An added thrill for the girls was to meet yet another circus legend, Dolly Jacobs Reis. She has been performing aerial arts for 40 years! She and her Husband Pedro are the directors of Sailor Circus, which is part of the Circus Arts Conservatory.


…But not quite.  Jacob and Alice from Sailor Circus will be joining the Wenatchee Youth Circus this  summer for part of their tour.   Check out additional photos and videos of both Wenatchee and Sailor Circus here on Circus4Youth.  And now you can download your favorite photos in a large size resolution for free!