Detour on an Elephant: A Year Dancing with the Greatest Show on Earth, by Barbara File Marangon. Ogham Books International. 200 pages. Trade paperback $15.95.
Port Charlotte author Barbara Marangon has written a delightful, lively memoir that traces her experience as a showgirl/dancer/elephant rider with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus “Blue Unit.” A ballet dancer who had performed with groups in New York and several European cities, in 1977 Barbara was in need of a change. In her mid-twenties, she decided that the circus could provide that change.
In April of 1977, having recently returned from dancing in Austria, she made her way to Madison Square Gardens to audition for the circus. After being accepted, she spent six weeks at the end of the year training at the Venice, Florida winter headquarters. During that period, Barbara began to understand and become part of the circus culture, one quite different from anything she had known before.
Assigned and trained to ride an elephant, Barbara would be provided with a very special view of the circus environment. She would also form a deep, if temporary, friendship with her partner, a huge-headed elephant named Peggy.
Once the tour began in early 1978, the circus train was Barbara’s home. It was a world unto itself. The Blue Unit traveled from east to west, stopping in both large and smaller cities. The train ran on freight tracks, and it often stopped in rather seedy neighborhoods. Throughout her travelogue, Barbara takes time out to describe the various arenas – their history and capacity, and also the major performers who had played at each one. Each stop is memorable for one reason or another.
Living with clowns, bareback riders, trapeze artists, animal trainers and daredevils is likely to provide one with a new view of the human species: a new view of what’s normal. Barbara’s insights into the circus way of life, its mixture of community and specialty loyalties, are penetrating and gripping.
The author interlaces her circus memories with two other strands of story-telling. One is circus history. From conversation and from research, Barbara Marangon pieces together many of the highlights of this venerable business, entertainment, and lifestyle. The other is her earlier professional life, first as a ballet student and later as a performer. Flashbacks, spurred by incidents in her circus life, take readers to Munich for auditions and then performance in a film of Othello; to the Stadttheatre in Klagenfurt, Austria where Barbara was part of the dance company for a season; and to various dance experiences in New York City. . . .
To read the entire review, as it appears in the June 11, 2015 Naples Florida Weekly and also the Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Marangon