EAST WENATCHEE — There are no elephants or tigers, but most other traditional circus acts are there.
Performers swing from trapezes, balance on the high wire, eat fire and juggle. Clowns draw laughs and the ringleader keeps the show moving.
The difference is, they're all kids. The Wenatchee Youth Circus, in its 67th year, performed Friday and Saturday at Eastmont Community Park.
"We really love bringing live entertainment to small towns that don't have that opportunity very much ... and putting smiles on their faces," said head trainer Brandon Brown. "We love the oohs and the ahhs."
He started performing with the youth circus 25 years ago and has been a trainer for 11 years. Participants practice three to five days a week for three months leading up to the summer shows.
Brown said his favorite part is watching the performers' progress and seeing them put their fears aside to do tricks.
"Some of them come with just a little bit of talent — maybe it's gymnastics or maybe it's springboard diving in school," he said. "I would say more kids come to us with a clean slate, no experience, and we develop them from as young as we can get them. Some of them have more of a natural talent, and some of them we have to find that talent."
Children generally choose the acts they want to learn, he said, but sometimes the trainers try to direct them toward acts based on their talents.
Performers range from toddlers to teenagers. The talent is younger than it used to be — Brown estimated about 75 percent of this year's performers are under age 12.
The late Paul Pugh, who performed as Guppo the Clown, founded the Wenatchee Youth Circus. He was Orchard Middle School principal when Corey Corrick's mother was a student, and he later convinced her to get her sons involved with the circus.
Corrick, who now lives in Missouri, was back in the Wenatchee Valley for the first time in decades to watch nine of his 11 children perform. The kids had heard stories and seen videos from his time in the circus, but this year they got to experience it firsthand.
The circus teaches leadership, social interaction and creates bonds between performers, Corrick said.
"I'm now a vice president, and I have lots of people working for me," he said. "I can tell you, every day I think about skills I got from the circus that still pay dividends."
It also looks good on a college application.
"Lots of kids all over the country play football, baseball, basketball," Corrick said. "Not many of them go do the circus. For me, that was a differentiator. I talked with a recruiter — and I went to a very high-end college — and they said, 'It just made your application stand out. You did something completely incredible.'"
Corrick’s 17-year-old son, Liam, was practicing for the center of Roman ladders and tumbling on Saturday.
"It takes some skill to master it," he said. "You've just got to practice and practice until you get it down."
His 10-year-old sister, Amelia, was a clown and said she also wanted to try Roman ladders, trapeze and high wire.
"It’s just something that looked fun and something I wanted to learn," she said.
This year's circus opened in Entiat last month and is traveling around the state. The next local show will be at the NCW Fair Aug. 23-25 in Waterville.
Wenatchee Youth Circus alumni have gone onto professional circuses, including Cirque du Soleil.
Board President Charlie Brown — Brandon's dad — has been involved with the youth circus for about 25 years. He said it used to feature live music and a drummer, but those have been replaced with a calliope and digital songs. They've kept the traditional flying trapeze act music, though.
Over 40 children are involved with this year's circus. Charlie Brown said they've had as few as 16 and as many as 50 or 60.
The children help unload and put up the equipment, which teaches them collaboration and work ethic, Charlie Brown said.
"These kids, they work hard," he said. "They see this equipment go up, and they are excited because they know they’re going to be playing on it. There is a lot of responsibility in doing all of this, and it makes them feel good that they are accomplishing all of this."