by Art Levy
Updated 2 months ago
» After seven generations of circus performers in my family, my parents told me that I didn’t have to follow in their footsteps. I just had to try it out for 30 or 40 years.
» My parents came to America in the 1950s, one to headline and one to star in the Ringling circus. Father was a daredevil. I’d say he was the Russell Crowe of circus: A very tough guy. Mother was the ballerina, which is why I was in tights taking ballet lessons at 8. The taught me grace and finesse. Father was the one who said, ‘Get up there!’ But it was mother who said, ‘Point your toes while you’re up there because that’s what makes the difference.’
» The biggest misnomer is a daredevil just tries something and sees what happens. That’s absolutely not it. You have to practice it, hone it, perfect it, and then if you can do it 100 times out of 100 times at home when no one is watching, that’s when you do it during a performance.
» When I was growing up in Sarasota, you couldn’t throw a rock and not hit a circus performer.
» It doesn’t matter how much money you make, how much fame you have, what your abilities are. A show is only two hours long. How you live the other 22 hours a day is way more important to me.
» My daughter, Annaliese — she’s 20, and she’s the next generation. She performs in the Whirling Wheel of Death, although we prefer to call it the Whirling Wheel of Wonder. She’s in Guinness World Records for doing the most somersaults inside the wheel in under a minute. She did four. She does sky walks. She does trapeze. She’s an aerialist. She’s probably done everything but get shot out of a cannon.
» I have fun no matter where I’m at or what I’m doing. Whatever comes at you, good or bad, grin it, bear it and keep going.
» My father was friends with Evel Knievel and Karl Wallenda. I can remember one day they had a lunch, the three of them sitting at a table, and I was just young and smart enough to sit in a corner listening. They talked about fame, money, what they could do, what they would do next. It was in a friendly way, but they were going at each other. Evel Knievel said, ‘I’ll be more famous than either one of you guys if I have to break every one of my bones.’ Karl Wallenda spoke out of the side of his mouth. He said, ‘Ya, ya, I’ll be more famous even if I have to die trying.’ And I can remember my father — in his deep Swiss accent — saying, ‘I love this business, but I’m not willing to break my bones or die for it.’ My dad died pretty young, but of natural causes – not a single broken bone in his body.
» There are very few people you can recognize by their silhouette alone. I’m one of them — because of my hair. I have iconic hair.
» Florida does tourism well. It does it better than Paris, France. It does it better than Switzerland. It does it better than just about anywhere else.
» I fit into a lot of worlds: Clown, circus, daredevil, stuntman, comic, show producing, teaching. You know why? I don’t believe in boxing someone in. If you feel like you can do it, you can do it.
» Could you have chalked me up as a kid who was hyper? ADD? Full of energy? Yes to all of the above. Attention and an audience — that was me. It was a good thing I had parents who didn’t put me on Ritalin. Trampoline? Yup. Wire? Keep practicing. They found resources for me to burn off that energy.
» Don’t bite off more than you can chew, but dream big.
» This may sound very egotistical, but I’m a very driven person. If I hadn’t become a performer, I would have been an Olympic swimmer, and I would not have quit until I had a couple of gold medals.
» The decline of the circus — numerous circuses have closed or are closing in America and around the world — I’m sorry to say, but it’s not anyone’s fault but their own. You have to be willing to adapt and change. You have to remain relevant. Stay true to your core, but pay attention to what’s changing.
» I could eat steak or spaghetti with clams, either one of those, seven days a week. Also, I’ve never passed up a creme brulee — never, ever.
» The most important job any of us will ever have is being a parent. Being a parent is a high-wire walk.
» I’m sorry if this sounds cold, but if you know that everything has been done — all the planning and all the practice — whatever happens, happens. That’s life. If it’s your day, it’s your day.
» As my wife’s grandmother said — she’s from Germany — ‘We get too quick old and too late smart.’ I say those words every single day of my life.