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Life Under the Big Top


An interview with the Lacey family






November 2012

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, meet the one-and-only Lacey family of the Greatest Show on Earth, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Alexander Lacey, the Big Cats Trainer and Presenter, and his wife, Elaine, travel with the circus year-round with their 8-year-old daughter, Katrina. This unconventional family has been with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for the past 10 months, but have been working with animals and circuses their whole lives.

Alexander grew up with lion cubs as his playmates. His parents owned two zoos in England and got into the circus business when he was just 4-years-old. Having grown up in the circus life, Alexander can't imagine doing anything else.

"The circus isn't a job, it's a way of life, especially when you work with the animals. It's not a job that starts at 9 in the morning and ends at 5. We're here 24/7 all year round. I love it. We all love it," said Alexander.

Elaine had a similar upbringing – her family owned a circus in Ireland. Since Elaine was 6-years-old, she has been performing. She started as a trapeze artist, and now works with Alexander in his act with the big cats.

Elaine and Alexander met when he came to work for her family's circus in Ireland about 14 years ago, and the rest is history. The both accepted contracts to work for a circus in Germany before accepting a spot with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey in America.

At first, the Lacey family was nervous about their move from Europe to America. Katrina, who had never lived outside of Germany, was scared that she wouldn't like her new home in the U.S. Since the move, however, the Lacey family couldn't be happier.

For Katrina, the best part about her new life in America is the travelling school. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has two teachers that travel with the troupe. The teachers hold classes for all of the children who travel with the circus, following the same curriculum and grade levels as regular schools do.

"When we finally came to America, [Katrina] was very nervous about it. I told her she would be going to school and she said she didn't want to go. I told her: 'Well you can go for an hour, and if you don't like it, then we will come and pick you up.' And of course, when we went to pick her up after an hour she didn't want to leave. There are so many kids on this show that Katrina has her choice of friends, just like in regular life! She absolutely loves it.," said Elaine.

Along with school, Katrina also takes gymnastics classes and ballet lessons. Education and enrichment are very important to Alexander and Elaine, so they are thrilled to see Katrina enjoying her classes and getting involved.

For Elaine, the best part of working with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey is that she gets to spend time her daughter every single day.

"For many circus performers in Europe, their dream is to one day work for Ringling Bros. in America, the Greatest Show on Earth. They really look out for you here. When you have kids, they have a great school and a great nursery. It's great because I work in the same place that my daughter goes to school. For a lot of people that aren't in Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, they have to send their kids to boarding school or leave them with relatives. That's just not an option for Alex and I. We eat dinner as a family every night and I think that's the way it should be. You should be with your child every single day and have input in their life," said Elaine.

For Alexander, working with the big cats in an environment where his family is happy as well is the best part of working with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. Alexander's family has been breeding lions and tigers for the past 45 years, and currently Alexander cares for 14 lions and tigers and one leopard. The cats range in age from 2-years-old to 18-years-old and all have their own personalities.

"They are all very different – much like people. What's important is that when people come to see the show, they have to go away realizing what a great relationship I have with the animals and how happy and content they are and what great condition they are in. It's more important for me to present my animals than to present myself."

Alexander loves his animals and often finds himself spending more time with the big cats than his own family, as Elaine playfully reminds him. He plans to continue his family's long history of breeding and caring for the majestic animals and hopes to work with them for the rest of his life.

"Even if I wasn't in the circus I would still be working with lions and tigers because I love it. I love big cats and that's why I dedicate so much of my time to them. It's a lot of hard work to care for animals properly, and you have to sacrifice a lot of your own time for the animals. I do what I do because of the animals," said Alexander.

In the past 10 months, the Lacey family has traveled all around the United States performing in a new city every week. On their days off, they try and visit as many places as they can.

"With the circus, we are traveling all over the country and get to see so many different parts of it. We've only been here 10 months, and I think we've seen more of the country than a lot of Americans have," said Alexander.

This November, the Lacey family and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus are making their way to Indianapolis. From November 29 to December 2, come one, come all to see the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's newest show, Dragons, at the Banker's Life Fieldhouse. Tickets to the show start at $20, and include a "behind-the-scenes" look at the circus animals and performers.

"There's something for everyone at the circus, people really do love the show," said Alexander.


Tags: In This Issue, Local

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