Richard Smith | Contributing writer
The circus has come to Salem in 2017 with the arrangement of the 59th Kazim Shrine Circus. The event, taking place in the Salem Civic Center, is part of the effort of the Shriners of Kazim Temple, a fraternity based in Central and Southwestern Virginia. A series of circus acts occurred over the span of five days – from January 25 to the 29. The Shrine Circus is currently the largest in the United States, and it all began in Salem 59 years ago.
In just an hour, one could see a wide range of talents and performances – from animal tamers to magicians to acrobats. In every act, the ability and poise of the performers was on full display. One act showcased the impressive flips and mid-air turns of five acrobats. Even after a lead acrobat, Alexander, failed to pull off a triple-flip trick, he performed to generous applause. Yet later in the day, perhaps more spectacular acrobatics were performed by a solo performer dressed as Spiderman, during which the acrobat walked upside-down from a series of bars – all without the help of a safety net. Magic shows were a feature as well, in which performers, after a second of concealment, appeared to rapidly change into different clothing.
Animal tamers also delivered excellent performances. For one act, a tiger hopped on its hind-legs around its cage. And prior to the intermission, there was yet another act of animal taming in which miniature horses, ponies, stallions, and white camels were led into a circular routine, in pairs; at one point, the miniature horses circled beneath the legs of all the other animals.
Beyond the sensational, the 59th Kazim Shrine Circus had performances that engaged the children in the audience directly. A clown act with a mock wind-up animal provided plenty of laughs. In addition, several light-up toys, snowcones, and coloring books were on sale for younger people in the audience and kids were invited to enter a raffle for a free Kindle. At one point, a light show invited the audience to swing light-up toys to tunes like “California Girl.” The audience – perhaps 3,000 people – was enthusiastic throughout each routine.
The Shriners of Kazim Temple are in association with Shriners International, in addition to the philanthropic organization of Shriners Hospitals for Children. While proceeds for the 59th Kazim Shrine Circus benefit the Kazim Shriners, Kazim Shriners in turn become Circus “Dads,” purchasing tickets to the event and donating them to “the less fortunate in our community.” With around 200 “Dads” overall, the event is quite philanthropic in its ambition. With any luck, the 60th Kazim Shrine Circus will arrive next year and leave just as strong of an impression.