'So glad to be back' in Struthers

The private circus is usedto raise money for various charities.
STRUTHERS -- Leland Clegg is proof you don't have to be a kid to get a kick out of the circus.
As publicity coordinator for the 41st annual Aut Mori Circus, Clegg helps oversee the three-day, two-ring spectacle held in Struthers Field House. As he supervised the first performance Friday afternoon, which drew more than 2,000 people, Clegg was openly enthusiastic about the event.
"I love the entire show -- the elephants, the ponies, the dogs," said Clegg, 87, who has worked with the circus since its first year.
The circus, which raises money for various charitable organizations such as Tod Children's Hospital, continues today and Sunday. This is the second year the show has returned to the indoor Struthers location after a two-year stint at the Canfield Fairgrounds. Clegg said the outdoor venue was not ideal for the event and cut into attendance both years.
"We're so glad to be back," Clegg said, adding the timing of most schools' spring break could have a negative impact on ticket sales this year.
What it is
Aut Mori, a private circus, is a collection of separate acts hand-picked by the circus executive committee each year.
"The acts are playing together for the first time today," Clegg said. "When they're done here, they'll go their separate ways. We never have the same show twice and we try not to repeat acts [from year to year]."
Friday's nearly three-hour show included a mix of performances by dancing bears, stunt horse riders, a human contortionist, trapeze artists and, of course, plenty of clowns.
Aleysia Goulevich, a Russian hula-hoop champion, delighted the crowd by spinning 50 glittery hoops around her body simultaneously. Big Bo, "the World's Smartest" elephant, played harmonica, trumpet and drum, while dressed in a sparkly cowboy uniform -- complete with a hat.
Entertainer and animal trainer Johnny Peers of Sarasota, Fla., demonstrated plenty of zany antics with his troupe of 16 canine performers. The dogs, most of which Peers rescued from animal shelters, were a big crowd-pleaser.
"The big brown [dog] is my favorite, but don't tell the others," joked Peers, who has been an entertainer for 35 years and won cable channel Animal Planet's "Pet Star Show" two years ago.
Don't forget the clowns
Chloe Housteau, 4, of Boardman was a fan of Peers' "Muttville Marauders" but said her favorite part of the show was the clowns, "cause they're funny."
"I played a trick on one of the clowns, because it's April Fools' Day. I told him he had a bird on his head," said Chloe during intermission, as she waited in line with other children for the chance to pay to ride a pony or elephant.
Jennifer Moore of Boardman enjoyed a hands-on circus experience as well. The preschool instructor was at the event with 30 pupils and several other teachers from Discover My World preschool. She became part of the show when the clown Fioder selected her from the audience to join him in the ring for an impromptu hula-hoop performance and dance.
"He just came up and grabbed me to join him," Moore said, laughing. "It was fun. I'm thinking about joining the circus now."

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