The trapeze artists fly, the clowns juggle, the elephants stomp and the audiences cheer — all to raise money for a good cause.
The Naja Shrine Circus is back in Rapid City from Friday through Sunday at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.
The circus, which also has performances in Faith, Hettinger, N.D., Deadwood and Philip in July, is Naja Shriner's largest fundraiser, especially for the Shriners Hospitals for Children. Scott Sharp, circus chairman, said that it feels good to raise money by bringing joy.
"All of the funds go to operational costs of Naja Shriner, for operations, payroll, facilities," Sharp said. "And over the years acts have gotten better. I think we put on a better show than we ever have."
Sharp should know: he remembers the circus, which has been around for 66 years, from when he was young.
"What I liked the most about it were the live animal acts," he said. "And what drove me to become a Shriner was seeing the fellowship of the other Shriners. They were all friends."
Sharp added that his aunt had polio and a Shriner Hospital helped out.
"I thought I'd join to pay them back,"he said. "It's the best decision I've ever made."
This is Sharp's first year as circus chairman, but he's spent 21 years working as a clown.
"It's like being Santa Claus," he said. "You get to meet and greet children, hand out candy, take photos with them. Some of them are scared, but they warm up to you."
Sharp said that this year's acts are more thrilling than ever for spectators, with three returning acts — the elephants, the tigers and the trapeze artists — and all-new performers for other 20 acts.
"We have a new Wheel of Destiny this year, where there are two wheels and the whole thing rotates and people walk on the outside and inside of it," he said. "We have a new clown comedy tour, an amazing acrobat and Chinese jugglers."
Sharp said that the new performers came from Jordan World Circus and that it's normal for Naja Shriners to contract with different circuses in different years. He added that the circus always looked forward to going beyond Rapid City and into towns like Hettinger, N.D., and Philip.
"We try to get everyone involved," he said. "It's nice to bring the circus out to small towns that don't usually get something like that."
No matter where the circus is, however, Sharp notices the same effect.
"The best part is seeing the smiles on the children's faces and meeting new and old friends at every circus," Sharp said.
To purchase tickets, call 343-4076. Children under one year of age do not need a ticket if they sit on laps. No strollers. Cameras are allowed, and there will be rides and more available prior to each performance and during admission for a fee.