KINGSTON – It started out as a joke.
Rebecca Ostroff had been a dancer in New York when one day she noticed a trapeze at her gym.
"I tried it and I liked it," she said.
A short time later, a friend invited her to try out at a circus show, which she did "as a joke." It went over so well, she said she decided to give up dancing "to run away with the circus."
Today, Ostroff performs a high wire act as part of the Kelly Miller Circus, which gave performances in Kingston and Elburn last week. Ostroff said it took her about seven months to learn her routine before she could perform in front of a crowd.
Based in Hugo, Okla., the Kelly Miller Circus dates back to 1938. John Ringling North II, the grandson of Ida Ringling of the original Ringling Brothers, bought the circus in 2006.
"It's the best show on the road in America," he said, proudly noting that the circus was voted the No. 1 circus in the country last year.
Beginning in Brownsville, Texas on Feb. 8 and ending in Werner, Okla. on Oct. 25, the circus will perform approximately 500 shows in 200 towns across the U.S. in a season.
Ostroff said a group of 95 travels with the circus, including performers, electricians, mechanics, musicians, teachers and cooks. There are also five tigers, four camels, three elephants, two zebras, an assortment of horses and ponies and even a duck.
"We're like a town," she laughed, adding that they stay in trailers equipped with all the modern conveniences. "We're an extended family."
That "family" also includes 17 children who attend a special school the circus sets up on the road. Like everyone else, most of the children perform a variety of tasks.
Ostroff said her husband plays the trumpet during her six-minute act. Her performance concludes with the "iron jaw routine," in which she grips the bar with her teeth.
"We get to work together," she said. "I'm really happy about that."
So were those who saw the show at Kingston Township Park. Besides the two performances under the big tent, locals got to watch the crew set up the tents in the morning with the help of the elephants. They also had a chance to ride the elephants and camels before the shows began.
Proceeds from the Kingston show went to Genoa-Kingston Fine Arts Boosters.