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Entertaining is a passion for those who join the circus

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-03-27

For performers Koichi and Kayoko Nagahara the circus is not just a job, but a way of life. The same goes for clowns Rocco Paris and Kelly Van Cleave.

The husband and wife team of Koichi and Kayoko have been with the Kinoshita Circus for 24 years. Kayoko joined when she was a 17 year old kid, and Koichi entered when he was 22 years of age. They met while in the circus, and have been together ever since.

"Back then it was much more strict," said Kayoko. She explained how a newcomer had to watch and learn much on their own. Living conditions and benefits also have become much better since the time when Kayoko and her husband first entered the circus.

They have spent much of their entire adult life as circus performers, and despite the early hardships they still can not think of any better career than the one they have. "I love my job. The circus has always been very mysterious and magical for me," said Koichi. The very friendly gentleman performs more than one act during the show, including a routine together with his wife and two chimpanzees, and a breathtaking solo trapeze act.

Late in the show, high above the circus ring, Koichi climbs up to a giant swing, where he performs some awesome feats of balance and concentration. Swinging back and forth, he is actually at one point in his act, standing straight up on the small bar, and using his hands for only balance. For Koichi, it is the entertainment and the hard work that is important to him. "I think that all the things in the circus that I can not do are amazing," said Koichi.

Kayoko, on the other hand, loves the affection of the crowd the most. "The applause here in Okinawa is great," mentioned Kayoko. It is the second time to Okinawa for both Kayoko and her husband, and both agreed that it is a nice place to come.

In between the many circus acts are the very familiar clowns that most of us associate the circus with. They make us laugh and help create a special feeling about the circus for both children and adults. Both Kelly and Rocco have been clowning for 13 years. After spending four years at Ringling Brothers they moved on to smaller circuses, including a three and a half year stay in Europe. "It's nice to be at a smaller circus, where the focus is on us. The responsibility falls on our shoulders to make people laugh," explained Rocco. Kelly also agreed that the closeness to the crowd of a smaller circus is much nicer. "At Ringling Brothers you get to travel a lot, but it's corporation work. You're just like a cog in a machine. Here we get much more feeling and reaction from the audience."

Sitting in their trailer in between shows, both Rocco and Kelly are completely relaxed and energetic about their performances. They love their work, and also take pride in their talent. "Clowning is really an art, but people don't look at it this way. A clown is the guy, who will pull his pants down and "moon" the president. Clowning is anarchy," explained Rocco. They both respect former clowns Buster Keaton and Angel Munoze, and both agree that "Mr. Bean" is a true modern day clown. Watching their performances, you begin to understand the meaning behind Rocco's statement. The clown is more than just a guy who looks funny. He is the part in all of us that is held down by social restraints, which is why we find them so hilarious. The art of being a clown goes much beyond tricks at a birthday party. The true clown performs from his heart, and the great ones can project these feelings to the audience.

Kelly was twenty three when she decided to be a clown, after realizing that "the clown was about everything that I am interested in." Rocco explained his start in clowning by saying, "It's in my blood. I have a natural talent. Few people ever find their true "calling", but I have."

It is the first time for both Kelly and Rocco to see Okinawa and mainland Japan. They arrived in the mainland last year and enjoy working here. Speaking about the Okinawan audiences, Kelly said, "What happy people these are. The first few audiences we had were practically coming out of their seats!"

While the rest of us perform the daily tasks of our jobs, we can be assured that there are some people that make their living by entertaining us, so that we may delight in that small part of our lives that has become much too short - enjoyment. It is what the circus performer does best.

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