Dolly Jacobs: Circus Sarasota co-founder was born into the circus

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Posted: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 9:12 pm | Updated: 9:03 pm, Fri Mar 1, 2013.

SARASOTA – Daredevil Nik Wallenda is the Circus Sarasota performer getting most of the headlines, thanks to his breath-taking high wire walk over Sarasota Tuesday. But also starring in that show is Sarasota's own Dolly Jacobs.

When John Ringling made Sarasota the winter home for his circus back in the 1920's many circus people moved there to make it their home. One of those performers was legendary clown Lou Jacobs. His daughter Dolly grew up in Sarasota, became one of the top aerialists in the world, and co-founded Circus Sarasota.

As Dolly Jacobs flies near the top of the Circus Sarasota tent, she is well aware of the audience below. "My goal is to take them with me. When I'm up there I’m hoping that they are getting just a little bit of the feeling I'm having when I'm up there."

Dolly's mother Jean is one of those watching. And if anyone knows the danger, she does. She was a top New York model posing on a ladder in the circus when tragedy struck. "We had a faulty rigging, and I fell from the top in Madison Square Garden. I could hear them all screaming as I came down," says Jean.

"She came down about 50 feet, broke her back, crushed five vertebrae…that's where I heard Papa went and visited her in the hospital and the romance started," says Dolly.

The lovely model and Lou Jacobs the clown married and moved to the circus's winter quarters in Sarasota, where Dolly and her older sister Lou Anne were born. Lou Anne is now an elephant trainer, and Dolly one of the top aerialists in the world.

Dolly met Pedro Reis -- also a world class aerialist -- when the two were practicing at Sailor Circus. He proposed on July 4th, 1990. "And two days later in his aerial act, the person didn't hook up the rigging properly, and he came down. And I was in the audience watching and he came down as if he had jumped out a 3 story building onto his feet. So the wedding went on hold for 17 years."

Meanwhile, they founded Circus Sarasota and 5 years ago they married. And Dolly says each time she soars into the air, her beloved clown father, and her mother who made such a miraculous comeback from her fall, are her inspiration.

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