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Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
A clown tries to toss a piece of popcorn into the mouth of an audience member at Circo Hermanos Vazquez. The Spanish-language circus was started in Mexico.

When Jose Vazquez was small and people asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he said, "A circus performer." That's not an uncommon response from children, but Vazquez's family actually owns a circus.

Circus is all about family; it's not just for families — many of the performers are fourth- or fifth-generation, and the entire crew from the elephant handlers to the concessions dealers live like a family, traveling together for 10 months a year.

El Circo Hermanos Vazquez is in town through June 16 in a series of giant purple tents south of the Utah State Fair Park. The Circus Vazquez is a Spanish-language circus started in Mexico and tailored specifically to Hispanic populations in the U.S.

"A lot of Mexican people don't have fun at the circus because they don't understand it. We bring something from Mexico to our people here," explained Roberto Espana, circus manager.

Jose Vazquez, 18, is among the fourth generation of his family to run the circus. He's currently a juggler and animal trainer and will someday take over the U.S. branch of the show. Both of his parents were performers, and several of his cousins are clowns or animal trainers in Mexico.

"When performing, everyone is focused on you, and you learn to like that," he said.

Alain Alegria, 31, is a fifth-generation trapeze performer who started as a teenager. He said the screaming and tenseness in the air as he performs is electrifying.

Vazquez began training to be a juggler at age 11 and has been performing ever since. A few years ago he also began learning to be an animal trainer and currently works with the horses, zebras and camels. If his company expands the trapeze act, he'd like to learn that as well in the future.

In an American Eagle T-shirt, jeans and tennis shoes, Vazquez looks like any other young man, but he's performed around the world. Princess Stephanie of Monaco was in the audience once. As a child, when he said he wanted to be a circus performer people would laugh, and other children would hum circus songs when he'd walk past. But now all the kids he went to school with have seen him on television, both in Mexico and the U.S.

Alegria said he loves being able to travel.

"It's the only job where you have a vacation and play all the time," he said. "You meet people, places and cultures around the world — it's the best work."

The circus definitely travels. During the 10 months a year of performances, Espana said, the 102 employees in their 40 trucks and trailers only stay in one place for one to three weeks.

That's why circus people usually marry each other, Vazquez said. The only people they see regularly are the staff, but that isn't a guarantee for an easy match. Even if you start dating a fellow worker, at the end of every season the staff changes. The Vazquez family has worked hard to make their its show one of the top five in Mexico since 1969, and whomever Vazquez marries will have to understand that commitment, he said.

Avile Baltazar brought his 3-year-old daughter to the show on Saturday. He loves the circus, he said, especially the clowns, and has seen the Vazquez circus before. He can speak English but waits for the Circus Vazquez to come to town so he can see it in Spanish featuring performers who know his culture.

The show skipped Salt Lake City last year, and they heard about it. The local Hispanic population values a circus that caters to its tastes and traditions, Espana said.


E-mail: akirk@desnews.com