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Family circus appeals to all ages

By Kim Walter - kwalter@nvdaily.com

While it consisted of only one ring, modest lighting and sound, the traditional acts one would expect from under the big top appealed to all fairgoers, from infants to senior citizens.

The Zerbini Family Circus put on two free shows a day this week during the Shenandoah County Fair in Woodstock. The family owned and operated event is part of eight generations of circus people, and it was obvious the performers were passionate about what they did during a 5 p.m. showing on Wednesday.

Upon walking into the tent, the smell of cedar chips, the sound of carnival-style music and the display of vibrant colors come together to form a welcoming circus atmosphere.

"Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls and children of all ages," ringmaster Melody Zerbini said as she opened the show.

"I find that serving as ringmaster is a fun job. I get to warm-up the audience and get them to clap and cheer as I introduce the acts and encourage audience participation," Zerbini said.

Zerbini is the daughter of the circus's current owner, 60-year-old Alain Zerbini, who opened his own show in 1994. He has been performing and working with circuses his entire life.

Several traditional acts took place Wednesday, including an acrobat - the "Dazzling Jennifer" - who also balanced a sword on her forehead while climbing up a ladder.

Gustavo, the circus's "resident funny man," put on a laugh-inducing act that involved slapstick humor and sound effects.

"If you want to be like Gustavo the clown, you'll need a colorful whistle, just like his," Melody Zerbini announced at the end of the act while crew members sold the souvenirs. A Zerbini Family Circus coloring book was also for sale during the performance.

The crowd let out a round of "Aw's" when it was time for the "Dog Pound Review." Six dogs, all rescued from the pound, ran into the ring and jumped over obstacles with ease. One dog, Goldie, climbed up a 12-foot ladder to jump into the arms of 18-year-old Justin Zerbini, who trains and presents all the circus's animals.

A camal made an appearance and took a few laps around the ring. Then, with Zerbini's direction, the large animal came to the center of the arena and propped both of her front legs up on a stool. Shortly after, a high-energy miniature horse ran into the ring and successfully made it over a few wooden jumps.

While Gustavo made his first appearance as a clown, his second was not so funny as he played the role of daredevil on the "Wheel of Destiny." The contraption held Gustavo in a small wheel that revolved while the whole device made a large loop that brought the performer from the ground to the highest point of the tent. When he climbed on top of the wheel, the back of his shirt grazed the tent, and one young boy cried out, "This is crazy!"

Gustavo tripped over a jump rope while on top of the wheel and almost stumbled off the contraption. The music stopped and the ringmaster asked if the daredevil was all right. After a brief pause, he composed himself and asked the crowd, "Is everyone still having a good time?"

Everyone cheered and applauded him once he finally returned, safely, to the ground.

One unique act came from Ossie, a Spanish cowboy who danced on a wooden platform while spinning two lassos around his body. The second part of his act called for a volunteer, and he asked for "a very brave man."

After almost a minute, the only hand raised in the crowd belonged to 12-year-old Krista Waters of Fort Valley.

"Are you sure you want to do this," Ossie asked her. Krista nodded and walked down to the center of the ring as her two friends remained in the stands, giggling nervously.

Ossie explained that Krista needed to stand very still while holding a fake, unlit cigarette between her lips. He would then attempt to knock the cigarette out of her mouth with the lasso without hitting or harming her in any way.

As Ossie inched closer and closer to Krista, she began to shake and he cried out, "Keep still!"

Her friends' eyes were wide, and their hands covered their mouths as they waited for the trick to be over. Being the professional he is, Ossie successfully completed the task, and Krista immediately ran back to her spot in the stands and said, "That was so scary!"

After the show ended, Krista ellaborated on her experience.

"I was trying not to move, but I got nervous because I could feel the wind from the rope," she said. "But I'm glad I did it."

Winchester residents Steve and Mary Vann said they were nervous for Krista during the trick as well.

"I was afraid she was going to get smacked in the face," said Mrs. Vann.

Over all, the couple was happy to experience the circus.

"This is the nicest fair around, and this circus fit right in with a good, family atmosphere," Mr. Vann said. "When we come to the fair, we go to the circus. It's something we'll always do."

The Zerbini Family Circus will have three performances at 2, 5 and 7 p.m. on Saturday.

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