Standing inside a 16-foot-wide steel globe while three customized motorcycles race around you at 55 miles per hour would be enough of stunt for the average person, but not for Jodie Urias.
“I will also be pulled to the top of the globe where I will hang by my neck doing a neck spin. Yes, it sounds insane and it is,” she said by phone July 15 from Waco, Texas.
The performer is part of the Urias Family, which has been in the circus industry for about 100 years, and has a 30-year history with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. The circus is in Lafayette this week, and arrives in Baton Rouge next week.
“The new stunt is something that’s never been done in circus history, and so we’re really excited to be the first family to do it, and for Ringling Bros. to be the first circus to present it, that was like a dream for us, because we love this company,” Urias said.
Urias started out as a trapeze artist, and met Erwin Urias, her husband, when they both worked on the same show. He’s one of the cyclists who circles Urias in the globe, along with his brother, Melvin, and Melvin’s girlfriend, Olga Surnina.
Urias had watched the globe act hundreds of times, and when her mother-in-law became ill, she stepped in for her in the act.
“I’d seen her do it, and I knew the family, and I know they love each other and care about each other, and so, there was not that fear factor, but there was that anticipation and that excitement and you know, concern for the unknown, you know, how you get when you start a new job. Some people get that. But I don’t want to really say fear, because I trusted them. I still do.”
The Uriases debuted their new stunt last December.
“The globe act requires precision in the timing, the spacing, everything, so we always do safety checks each and every show, not just once per show, but each and every time the bikes are ridden in the show,” Urias explained.
There’s also practice time after or before the shows. Urias trained inside the globe for months before ever performing with the family in the show.
“It starts little by little. It’s like teaching a baby how to walk. It’s literally step by step. You have to know how to hold your hands, how your body has to be positioned, how to balance the motorcycle in a sphere,” she said.
Urias’ husband has also taught their 10-year-old son the globe act.
“He’s become quite proficient,” she said. “But he doesn’t perform in the show.”
School is the first priority for their son and 7-year-old daughter.
“We have a teacher that travels with the show, and we order a correspondence course through Calvert Academy, which is an amazing home school curriculum, and it’s out of Baltimore, Md.,” she said. “It’s pretty tough, actually, because my kids have been in public school and have done home schooling, so I have something to compare it to.”
The children have about four hours of schooling each day with the teacher. There are nine students in class ranging from kindergarten to high school age.
“My kids don’t feel cheated at all by not going to public school,” their mother said.
In addition to formal schooling, traveling the U.S. is educational for them as well, Urias said.
“Sometimes we’ll visit a museum or whatever, for the kids. It depends on weather obviously. We like to take our kids to places that are unique to that environment, whatever city it is,” she said. “It could be a battleground, it could be a monument. In Odessa, Texas, we went to the Odessa Crater, some place where they can learn about the Earth or that city, or America’s history. Something where we still make it fun but they learn something about each of the places that we visit.
In Savannah, Ga., the family saw monuments and plaques referring to slavery.
“Of course that brought up a gazillion questions from our children, who cannot grasp the concept of why someone would be a slave because of their race. They have grown up in a diverse culture, a background where we’re from different countries, we speak different languages, we’re different colors, we have different faiths, and they can embrace all of that because they were raised, from a young age, to know that every single background could have something special about it. And that’s the way we teach them, is just to embrace the differences.
“? I get to relearn things first-hand with my kids, and that, to me, is just a treasure I cherish.”
The rest of the show
From elephants to acrobats, the one-ring Zing Zang Zoom show has something that interests everyone, according to Jason Gibson, production manager.
“We’re more of a European style show, everything’s very focused,” Gibson said from Waco. “The VIP floor seating is about 10-12 feet from the ring, so you’re right up close to the action. You don’t miss anything unless you step away to get your cotton candy and snow cones.”
The main show runs about two hours, Gibson said, with a one-hour all-access pre-show offered free to all ticket holders for that show.
“You can learn to juggle, you can balance peacock feathers, you can jump rope with some of the performers with the Greatest Show on Earth, you can sit on the motorcycles and get autographs from the motorcyclists who ride inside the globe of steel. You can try to win an elephant footprint from Duchess, one of our elephants on the show. We actually bring out Duchess into the ring and she’ll do an elephant footprint right in front of everybody and we’ll give that away before the show begins,” Gibson said.
Circus goers can also get temporary tattoos or a clown nose at the pre-show.
“It’s all about the interactivity, and they get that personal connection to all the performers,” Gibson said.
The main show features, among other performers, three Asian elephants, Hans Klose and his dozen dogs, illusionist David Da Vinci and the world’s fastest bird, the acrobatic Salsations from Cuba, and Catherine Carden, who uses two camels and five horses, all untethered, in her performance.
“There’s not very much live entertainment out there, and there’s not too many places you can get up close to an elephant. It’s a chance for the whole family to get together and do something that interests everyone. Everybody will take a piece of the circus back with them.