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Circus Vargas pre-show makes kids part of the act

Everybody wants to get into the act — especially when that act is in the circus.

Jon Weiss knows just how you feel.

“There’s something about the circus people remember,” says Weiss, who definitely recalls the first — and second — time he saw one, from the “nosebleed section” of New York’s Madison Square Garden.

And by the time he had to decide the path he would follow (“it was either the military or the circus”), Weiss knew which way to go: straight to clown college.

“I never knew I could make a living, a life,” in the circus, Weiss admits.

But here he is, in his red-and-black harlequin tailcoat, striding around beneath a star-bedecked blue big top, welcoming audiences young and old to Circus Vargas, which continues its Las Vegas run through Jan. 4.

The audiences are mostly young — at least before the show starts.

That’s because, during the circus’ pre-show segment, “your kids get a chance to get in the ring,” Weiss tells the grown-ups.

“Stand up, kids — come on down,” he instructs. “Line up behind the lovely Laura,” alias Mrs. Weiss.

An eager horde of youngsters stampedes to the ring’s edge.

“We’re gonna do the limbo — see how low your kids can go!” Weiss announces as audiences continue to take their seats.

He and Laura stretch a rope out so the kids can duck underneath — although some of them are so short they can walk under the rope without adjusting their posture in the slightest.

After limbering up with the limbo, it’s time to learn a genuine circus skill: balancing.

“Every circus performer has the ability to balance,” Weiss explains before the pre-show.

And Weiss ought to know; he earned the nickname “Iron Chin” for his ability to balance anything, from a dollar bill to a 16-foot stepladder — which he does, for a brief moment.

But the focus remains on the kids, who are busy learning to balance something a lot less cumbersome than a stepladder: a swaying, iridescent peacock feather.

Weiss offers expert instruction on balancing it — on their finger, on their hand, even on their nose.

“Watch the top of the feather,” he coaches. “It’s easier.”

Some of the kids catch on right away. Others are too distracted — waving to their parents in the audience — to pay attention. Eventually, however, most of them get it.

“Ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause for your kids!” Weiss booms as the young performers file out of the ring, Laura high-fiving them as they return to their seats.

Speaking of kids, Weiss’ three kids all work the circus.

One son runs the sound. A daughter performers as a hula-hooper. And 15-year-old Max is following in his father’s oversized footprints, making his Circus Vargas debut as — what else? — a clown. (One who’s having trouble keeping his big red nose in place on his face this particular night.)

As the Village People’s disco hit “YMCA” blares in the background, Max launches an oversized ball into the crowd while his dad gets the audience members to spell “YMCA’s” title letters, cheerleader style, in time to the music.

“Turn the music up — let’s go!” he encourages them. “We’re in Las Vegas, baby!”

Vegas happens to be the hometown of another Circus Vargas performer, 21-year-old Patrick Marinelli, who showed off his magic on “America’s Got Talent” — and adds trampoline and aerials to his Circus Vargas skill set.

A fifth-generation circus performer, Marinelli lives in Las Vegas — technically.

He and his parents and brother “come here two times a year,” he explains — “after the Fourth of July and in December.”

Even at home, however, “I stay in my RV,” his home away from home on the road, Marinelli explains. “I’m just used to it.”

Marinelli’s family has been with Circus Vargas for 10 years, but their credits range from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey to Circus Circus — in Reno and Las Vegas.

At first, Marinelli wasn’t sure he wanted to follow the family’s circus tradition.

A boyhood fascination with late “Crocodile Hunter” star Steve Irwin inspired Marinelli to “be on the Discovery Channel and do exactly what he did,” he recalls.

“When I was little, I really wasn’t into circus,” Marinelli admits. “I didn’t do much. Even when I started, I was just the cute little kid who ran in. I didn’t take it seriously. When I turned 11, I wanted to stop.”

But more dedicated circus training “gave me a whole new” perspective, he says. “My dad was asking me if this is what I want — that’s how it kind of started.”

Four years ago, Marinelli added aerials to his trampoline expertise, which he’s been honing since age 6. Three years ago, he took up magic, in part because “my uncle liked magic and thought I had the passion and charisma for it.”

Indeed, Marinelli’s magical moves during the show — making a fellow performer vanish, surviving unpierced as a series of spikes seem to pass through him — elicit gasps of “Whoa!” as young audience members exchange how-did-he-do-that smiles.

Never underestimate the power of circus magic, whether it’s Marinelli’s mystifying routines or kids balancing peacock feathers on their noses.

“The interesting thing, if I was to go in a room with adults and kids and asked if they could balance, most people would say no,” Weiss notes. And Weiss would tell them, ” ‘There you go, putting limitations on yourself. Anything is possible.’ “

Weiss takes that advice to heart; he and his wife Laura “both came through cancer battles,” he explains, crediting their recoveries in part to an organic diet that gives “your body every ability to fight.”

He also credits the family atmosphere of Circus Vargas with aiding in their recovery, which could never have happened “anywhere else,” Weiss says. “It’s family.”

And that family designation applies to the families in the ring — and the families in the audience.

“You never know where your life’s going to go,” Weiss muses. But “the ability to make a difference — the ability to create a memory — is a huge feeling. A huge feeling.”

— Read from Carol Cling at reviewjournal.com. Contact her at ccling@reviewjournal.com and follow @CarolSCling on Twitter.

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