8-year-old acrobat fills his days with back flips for Ringling Bros. Circus Kid

March 19, 1994|By Kelly A. J. Powers | Kelly A. J. Powers,Special to The Sun

The first thing Almas Meirmanov does in the morning, even before getting out of bed, is do a handstand, then a split, a tumble and a back flip.

Sounds like pretty normal stuff for a rambunctious 8-year-old boy.

But Almas is hardly just an ordinary young boy. He's a full-fledged member of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and his morning regimen -- conducted in the 15-foot by 6 1/2 -foot train car where he lives with his parents -- is actually his first practice of the day.

Practice, practice, practice; it makes the act better, says his partner and father, Nourbol.

Making the act better is what dominates Almas' life. He is three months into his first tour as a performer with the world's biggest circus. The circus is his life, Almas says, and though he travels with his parents, the circus is also his family.

The Ringling circus family has more than 65 child performers this year, reflected in its theme, which asks parents to "Bring Your Kids to See Our Kids!" More than half the kids are traveling without their parents; almost all are from other countries.

Almas is from Kazakhstan, formerly part of the Soviet Union. One day, when he was 3, Almas did a handstand on his father's hands. Nourbol, a lifelong circus acrobat,knew then that Almas was a natural. It took five years of practice, however, before father and son perfected an act good enough for Ringling Bros.

After breakfast each morning, Almas takes a bus from the train to his school. Now parked prominently in the parking lot near the entrance of the Baltimore Arena, the Little Red Schoolhouse train car is in constant use throughout the day. All the circus' kids attend.

There are nine kids in Almas' class. They speak a different languages, but lessons are conducted in their new, commonly shared language, English. Almas has about three hours of school each day.

Outside of school, Almas' pursuits are similar to that of any other 8-year-old. He frequently zips around the train yard on in-line skates or a skateboard. That's if he's not practicing with his dad, which he does a lot, often wearing his favorite outfit to practice, a purple Spiderman warm-up suit.

In fact, most of Almas' day is spent at the arena, practicing or performing. Mr. Meirmanov describes their act as "gymnastic equilibrium," an elaborate form of hand balancing.

Most impressive about the act is how the two work together. On Wednesday (the day the circus opened in Baltimore), Mr. Meirmanov shouts "Up!" and with an intense look of concentration that belies his young years, Almas takes a deep breath and does a handstand on his father's hands. Then, he flips in the air.

"Almas decides when to flip," says Mr. Meirmanov, through interpreter Olga Krapivina. "I only ask Almas to get ready. When we are working together, we are just two people working together. Not father and son."

Before their two-year circus tour is over, Mr. Meirmanov and Almas will have traveled the country. Mr. Meirmanov says this is an investment in Almas' future. Ringling Bros. is considered top-of-the-line and a superb entry on a resume. Performers often move on to more lucrative shows in Europe of Las Vegas.

Ringling Bros. officials would not comment on the salary Almas and his father receive, but one industry source says most performers in Ringling Bros. average $250 a week.

"I had some worries and doubts about Almas' working in the circus, but now I am more relaxed about it,"says Mr. Meirmanov. "That is because we have managed to do what was expected -- our act. Almas is good, and he has future."

While Almas is a circus professional, he is also a child subject to protection under child labor laws. In Maryland, children under age 14 are allowed to work only through special permit. In the three years since the circus has come to the state, however, no special permits have been filed with the State Division of Labor and Industry.

"They are violating state law because they don't have a permit," says Donna Collier, administrator of the child labor department. "They may be going by federal law [which requires no permits], because they travel from state to state. But the law that is most protective usually takes precedence."

A circus official says they operate under federal law and wasn't aware they needed to have a local permit.

"It's a living, sharing, working and playing mix type of atmosphere, like a farm or a family business," says Rodney Huey, vice president of public relations. "We're not a factory."

Between practice and show time, there are a few hours for Almas to hang around with other kids. And there are plenty -- in addition to the 65 performers, there are at least 50 more children of performers.

Almas and his friend, Tamir Ulana, from Mongolia, shout, smile and run around. They practice a hand-slapping routine, then run to an empty mat and begin an improvised acrobatic routine, fearlessly flipping and jumping.

They could be any kids on any block. Except that when these kids play, it's always with an eye toward improving the all-important circus act.

As Almas and Tamir attempt to juggle balls, Mr. Meirmanov looks on and smiles: "Maybe for a future act, yes?"

Soon enough it's showtime. Almas is dressed and marching in the opening procession of elephants, zebras, horses and people aglow in costumes of sequins and sparkles. Almas says this is his favorite part of the show because it's when he meets the audience.

About an hour into the show, Almas and his father enter the ring and perfectly perform their act. They take a bow, then Mr. Meirmanov slings his arm around his young son and they exit. Until tomorrow.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.