ONANCOCK -- The spectators at a circus focus on the performance. The performers at the traveling circus that arrived in town for three shows this week focused on the spectators.
"The audience forgets about the things going on in their lives," said Ringmaster Rebecca Ostroff. "They become the act. It's so close, so kinetic."
After several years without stopping on the Eastern Shore, the Lewis and Clark Circus returned Monday and Tuesday to a warm welcome at the Onancock School grounds despite cloudy, rainy skies.
All ages came out to enjoy the one-ring, European-style circus featuring acts like trapeze artists, acrobats, clowns and animal acts, all under a big yellow-and-red-striped tent.
Traditional circus fare including cotton candy, popcorn and funnel cakes, and a midway featuring a petting zoo, face painting and camel rides made for a circus experience reminiscent of bygone days.
While for some the circus marks a fun evening out, for performers like Ostroff, it is a lifestyle.
Ostroff began her performing career as a dancer in New York City. In 1986, a friend convinced her to go to the International All-Star Circus to try her hand at it.
"My friend said I could earn $450 in three days," she said. "That was a lot in those days."Realizing circus work allowed her to fulfill her passion for dance, Ostroff was hooked.
"I decided to get a trapeze and join," she said. "I ran away with the circus officially in 1987."
Since then Ostroff and her husband have worked under many circuses, she as a trapeze and silkscreen artist, he as a live musician. Ostroff began with the Lewis and Clark Circus in 2004.
In March of this year, Ostroff took over as ringmaster of the show, "because I like to talk," she joked.
She says that while circuses have had to downsize, the experience is "similar to how it was in the old, old days."
This year's big top housed performances ranging from the lighthearted antics of Jose Jose, a clown with a zest for music, to breath-holding physical feats as one performer dangled from the top of the tent by only her teeth.
All in all, about 30 people travel with the circus.
"We're like a family. We are a family," said Ostroff, saying her favorite part is "when people come and they love it."