Under the Big Top in Columbia

Article and photos by Mary Ellen Graybill

columbia setup

A talented group of entertainers, with global roots, set up the Lewis & Clark circus tent this Saturday (yesterday), for two shows in Columbia, under the 462 bridge. A stubborn camel, Lawrence;  lots of pesky, grass-eating goats;  a pony and horse and people behind the scenes that care for the animals and entertainers were basking in the sunshine near the Susquehanna River as this  multi-talented staff set up for the show.

New owners of the circus since April, 2013, Vandeir dos Reis and his wife Lena Dotsenko and their daughter Elizabeth, 8 along with about 27 others travel to small towns week after week to delight and entertain the audiences under the big blue and yellow tent. Vandeir, a Brazilian-American said that the entertainers hail from all parts of the world, including Mexico, Argentina, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan.

Olessya Kurgayeva, 32, aerialist from Kazakhstan, performs with hoola hoops, starting with a couple and ending with a dazzling mass of spinning hoola hoops, without losing a beat.

“It takes a lot of practice,” she said and added that she has been “doing circus work for almost twenty years.”

columbia setup 02

Albert Buchanan oversees the petting zoo and the pony and camel rides. Lawrence (don’t call him Larry!) is a dignified camel.

“He is the most stubborn, but he’s got a good personality,” said Buchanan, a professional chef that has chosen the traveling circus lifestyle, and keeps his two dogs, Gretchen and Jake, with him on the road. They are half poodle and half dachshund and keep him entertained.

But, Lawrence the camel is called into duty to give rides for $5. And he balks unless inspired by popcorn treats or animal crackers.

“He won’t really answer to nothing,” said Buchanan, who said that the entertainers also do double duty, often selling concessions as well as entertaining.

“You have to do everything to make a living; keeps us off welfare,” he laughed.

Other behind the scenes keepers of the animals is Randall Simmons from Easley, South Carolina. He has been with the traveling circus for six years.

“I like to travel and working with animals,” has said with a grin.

Jamie Browning, who mans a children’s jumping tent, also hails from Easley, South Carolina, and has been with the circus for five years.

“It has its good days and bad days,” he said.

But as “roustabout” (A term used in Disney’s 1941 animated film Dumbo, during a musical scene in which a group of African-American labourers pulled circus materials off the train for construction.), he is an important part of the daily operations of the circus.

“A roustabout is a guy that does everything,” he explained.

He took time to visit the Columbia car show and had found some historic Ringling Circus badges.

columbia setup 03Shown above (top left, clockwise): Daughter of the owners, Elizabeth; Olessya Kurgagyeva, aerialist; Randall Simmons, animal caretaker and husband and wife team owners, Vandeir dos Reis and Lena Dotsenko. 

Little Elizabeth, 8, happily shows off one of the goats she tends. “Little towns have a lot of people, and big towns have a little bit of people, (to welcome the circus)” she observed. She said that Columbia, with its 10,000 population seemed like a big town.

Nevertheless, the circus travel appeals to her mother, Lena, because “small towns are more friendly,” as she (Lena) said. Coming from the Ukraine, Lena said that the overwhelming aspect of traveling with her husband’s circus since April has been the many stores in the USA.

“You see so many people and so many different stores in each town,” she exclaimed.

We wish this wonderful circus and its talented cast of entertainers the best weather and good fortune as they make their way from town to town. Thank you for making us laugh, giving us a center of town for the two hours that several hundred people from York county and Lancaster/Columbia environs sat on the bleachers and were swept into the world of amazing freedom of the human spirit-watching others that can almost fly through the air, and do astounding feats of coordination. Thanks for making us admire your creative achievements under the big top –  if only for a day – under the historic 462 bridge in Columbia, Pennsylvania, near the banks of the struggling Susquehanna River.

One comment

  1. and thanks to David Doolittle for donating the use of the land for the past five years for this wonderful Columbia #1 Fire Company fund raiser !

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s