While some children — and adults — dream about performing in the circus, 20-year-old Ivan Vargas is actually doing it.
Being a clown is more than just a hobby for Vargas, it’s all in the family. He is a sixth-generation circus performer on his father’s side, and fifth-generation on his mother’s.
Born in Madison, Wis., Vargas said he knows nothing of his hometown. He said that two days after he was born, his family was back to traveling with the show.
At a young age, Vargas’ parents, Alejandro and Lolis, gave him an option. He had to choose between staying in Florida and living the traditional life or traveling and performing in the circus.
“I want to be in the circus. I was born to do this,” Vargas told his parents.
At the time Vargas’ parents were working with Ringling Bros., Vargas enrolled in the Ringling Bros. school and began taking classes with children from all over the world.
Vargas said if you didn’t attend school, you couldn’t perform. He learned the basic subjects such as math, science and history. But Vargas said there is one difference between the traditional education and the one he received.
“My (physical education) class was performing for thousands of people,” he said. “All those places you get to read about, I get to travel to those places.”
Vargas has traveled all over the world to places such as England, Brazil, China and France. However, he said his favorite place to perform is the historical Madison Square Garden in New York City.
For 11 years, Vargas has been working as an acrobat. He has performed on the trapeze and done handstands on elephants. He has worked with horses and dogs.
In the past two years, Vargas has been working as a clown, and he said he feels he is getting good at it. Vargas said clowns are an essential part of the circus because they break barriers between the audience and the performers.
Vargas’ mother said he has grown “tremendously” since his first performance. Vargas said he was very nervous the first time he performed, but when the lights hit him and he heard the audience it felt amazing.
Vargas’ mother said she understands what it feels like for him to perform because she has had the same feelings. “That’s all he ever knew. That’s all he ever saw around him,” Lolis said about her son as a performer.
She said she enjoys having her entire family perform in the circus. She met her husband while performing in the circus, and they helped raise Vargas and his sister in the circus as well.
“We enjoy it and we treasure that. Nowadays, it’s so special to spend time with your family,” she said.
Lolis said she has performed as a flying trapeze artist on the high wire and ridden elephants. She works now as the head of the wardrobe department.
Born in Mexico, Vargas said her father moved them to San Antonio, Texas, to get a proper education. She lived the traditional lifestyle but still practiced in the circus. She said she told her father, “You took us out of the circus, but you didn’t take the circus out of us.”
She understands her son’s love and passion.
“It’s in my veins and it’s in my blood,” she said. “I love the circus.”
Both Vargas and his mother are currently working on the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s show, “Zing, Zang, Zoom.” The circus performance is magic-themed.
It includes a disappearing elephant, a man that turns into a tiger and a variety of magical circus performances. Vargas said she and her team have worked with designers from California to help develop 500 costumes with about 1,000 accessories that will enhance the magic for the show.
An hour before the start of the show, Vargas and the rest of the clowns performing in the show will meet with guests and teach them tricks in Ringling Bros. Clown College.
“Zing, Zang, Zoom” will be coming to Columbus for seven performances at Nationwide Arena.