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Family Life Under the Big Top


Traveling the country as part of "The Greatest Show on Earth"



November 2013

Plenty of parents of young children feel like their lives are a circus.

For Alex and Irina Emelin, family life literally IS a circus. And they wouldn't have it any other way.

The husband-wife duo are one of the featured acts in the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, whose 10-month long "Built to Amaze" tour rolls into Indianapolis in December. The Russian pair and their two daughters are enjoying their tour of America, and the thrills of living out their destiny under the big top.

Childhood dreams

Alex and Irina grew up with circus life in their families. Alex had an uncle who was a circus clown. At that time in the Soviet Union, Alex explains, your only opportunities for international travel were to pursue a career in sports, ballet or circus. Alex remembers a pivotal conversation with his uncle. "He told me, 'Alex, it's so nice! It's so interesting to see the world.'" Alex chased that dream through circus school in the Ukraine and straight into a successful professional career.

Irina's father was a well-known animal trainer who taught her the tricks of the trade. She began her own monkey act as a young girl, and met Alex during a tour where he was performing as a clown. Alex and Irina married, and spent the last 15 years building up acts that combine their strongest skills. The act that landed them this chance to be in the "greatest show on earth" includes "a lot of surprises, a lot of comedy magic, and a lot of something new!" says Alex. Irina says the audiences go the wild for their animals, which include rabbits, snakes, ferrets and dogs. "Sometimes I can't believe our dogs can do this!" she admits.

Family life

Many of their fellow circus families travel from show to show on a circus train. But Alex and Irina prefer to travel in a home on wheels, which Alex describes as their "beautiful, beautiful trailer." With a new city every week, Alex says his family has seen more of America than many Americans. Their daughters, Alexandra, 14, and Valentina, 4, attend a school and nursery that the circus provides. They are not only starting to master English, they are studying Spanish as well.

"It's everything like a regular school but it travels with us," explains Alex. "The company cares about family." Irina agrees, saying that compared with other circus environments she has experienced, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey has served up any working parent's dream. "I'm so happy because here, it's not just a school or nursery somewhere," says Irina. "It's always in our building. Any time I can come in the nursery or school and check my kids."

The next generation?

Will the next generation of Emelins follow in their parents' footsteps? Both Alex and Irina hope so. "I can't help my daughter to be a lawyer, or a journalist," explains Alex. "But I can help her here. It would be easier for my kids to make a life here. It would be very nice if my kids stay in the circus."

Alexandra is a competitive gymnast, and her skills could easily transition into circus life. What about 4-year-old Valentina? "Our little one will be an animal trainer!" Alex predicts, noting his youngest daughter's similarities to her mother.

Life on the road and under the big top isn't for everyone, but for this family of performers, there is nothing else that compares. "This is not my job. This is my hobby," says Alex. "And when you have a hobby, you're never tired."

The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus "Built to Amaze" tour will be at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis from Thursday, December 5 through Sunday, December 8. Ticket prices range from $20.00-$78.00.


Tags: Featured Article, Featured Article, In This Issue, Parenting

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