Change in the Circus, There Is, Really
Would You Believe It, Women Wear Flowing Gowns In the Sawdust Ring. And Even on the Trapeze
Others Appear in Opera Cloaks or Knickerbockers - Throw the Same Old Kisses, Though.
The new woman has invaded the circus ring. Twice a day she is, or thinks she is, the center of attraction in the sawdust-scented arena at the Garden, says the New York Sun. The woman ringmaster, that is to say, ringmistress, is a marvel. You ought to hear her crack her whip. There isn't a man in the show who can equal her. She literally plays an accompaniment to the band music with her 12-foot lash. She wears boots, white riding breeches, black coat, and high silk hat She has a beautiful swagger.
The woman rider in this particular act wears a blue satin skirt and a blue satin bodice. She would doubtless feel out of place in skirts among other women in the ring, were it not that her skirts are so insignificant in their proportions. Then, too, there is the clown—or must one say the clown-ess?—to keep her company. The clown-ess also wears skirts, but they are so short that the ringmistress is patient and condescending with her and seems to listen to her jokes, which is more than any one else does.
But the "supes" or "hands" are the most interesting from the new woman standpoint. There are half a dozen of them. They are dressed in brown; their high hats, coats, knickerbockers, leggings, and shoes are all brown.
Even the good old-fashioned circus has undergone changes. What, for instance, has become of that plump creature in pink tulle skirts—we all know her of old—who rode her prancing steed, with her pink slipper pointed sky-ward, and with the blood rushing to her blonde head? She was always blonde in those days. There isn't a single pink tulle skirt in the present circus. One feels as If one had lost an old friend.
There are plenty of new friends to take her place, however. Extremes have to be evened up in some way. The skirts, which have been taken off of the performers in the new woman ring, must be put on some place else. One pair of these riders appear in wide Maud Muller hats and flowing silk gowns. Their specialty is serpentine dancing on horseback. Like great shimmering butterflies, they poise on tiptoe with extended arms holding up their wide skirts. They seem to fly around the ring. Another latter-day pair of women riders represents a man and a woman in evening clothes. They occupy one horse and one ring, while two jockeys-a man and a woman-occupy another. The first pair performs a regular equestrian courtship, and finally, when their emotions become apparently too strong for the saddle-or bareback-they leap from the horse and performe a triumphal dance in the ring. Then they relieve their feelings by chasing each other across the ring and leaping with mad bounds from the ground to the back of the horse.
Yes time has wrought many changes. Surely the "circus ladies" did not formerly make their entrances and exits clad in voluminous opera cloaks. They do it now. They walk down the arena with as much dignity and apparently as many clothes as if they were going to the Patriarch's ball. It is quite a shock to see men in tights walking beside them. One expects to see the opera-cloaked ladles wave their flowing wraps and say, "Go away, bad man!" But they don't. They slip off their sorties du bal, and there they are in tights themselves.
This evening costume mania extends even to the trapeze performers, and one young woman goes through her acts clad in a high evening bodice and long skirts. These skirts are ingeniously fastened down about her knees, which may be a trifling cramping for the young woman, but is a source of thankfulness to the spectators. Some way or other a whole cloud of young women in tights will not "phase" an audience, which, nevertheless, has cold shivers of apprehension over a single performer in skirts.
Skirts! skirts! and yet again skirts! They are the leading feature of the feminine half of this years circus. Even the girl tumbler wears them. She and her two fellow performers are dressed as the summer girl and the summer young men. The two men wear tennis suits, the girl wears a broad straw hat and a dress with skirts. Think of somersaulting in a Gainsborough hat and petticoats! But she does it, and by that same ingenious arrangement which holds the skirts of the trapeze performer in place she comes up smiling every time. The two men toss her backward and forward as if she were in reality a tennis ball, but her petticoats continue to be discretion itself.
There is another change from old times which seems to go with these skirts and opera cloaks. The old-time programs bristled with such names as "Vera, the Living Wonder;" "Zora, the Miraculous Marvel." and so on. But it is all different now. The big pink programs are filled with names, "Miss Lizzie Johnson," "Miss Emma White," "Miss Dunbar," "Miss Asbey," and so on. The prefix is never forgotten. Even the little Japs appear as Miss Ishio and Miss Sheika, and the presumably Italian lady who performs on the slack wire is down as Miss Arrigossi. There are only two of the good old-fashioned names which do not trouble themselves with prefixes; those are that of the clowness who appears as "Evetta, the Only Lady, Clown on Earth," and that of "Alar, the Human Arrow."
But amid all these signs of change it is pleasing to notice that one old custom still survives. The circus lady still throws kisses, and they are the same old throw and the same old kisses at of yore. No one pays attention to these chaste salutes. No one ever did. But if they were discontinued the circus would never have just the right flavor.
To any one who has been behind the scenes at the circus the whole performance takes on a different color. One realizes so much the hard business side of it. Those airy-fairy creatures, who pose and flutter and leap and dive, and then throw us smiles and kisses aa if they had done it all out of pure hilarious pleasure, are known to us as sensible, hard-working girls and women. In half the cases it is the girl's brother who performs on the same horse with her or in the same trapeze act. In the other half it is her husband. These family relations are nowhere more rigidly adhered to than they are in the circus.
From: The Cleveland World (Cleveland, OH), April 19, 1896, n.p.n.
CHS webmaster J. Griffin, last modified September 2012.