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Qspective: Even in a digital century, the circus is exciting to see

The last time I had been to a circus was when I was about the age my son Mathew is now - 10. It was the Ringling Bros. Circus in Madison Square Garden, and for some reason, the only thing I really remember about it was not the elephants or the lions or the clowns or the acrobats, but the Tall Man who talked about how dangerous it was for him to go into a subway car because he might hit his head into the ceiling fans which at the time (in the early 1960s) were not covered.

It was a different experience when last weekend I went with Mathew to the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus, which rolls into Forest Park on Woodhaven Boulevard, south of Myrtle Avenue, beginning with the first show at 5 p.m. Thursday, July 26 and continuing through the last show at 8 p.m. Sunday, July 29. (For tickets call 1-888-332-5600 or visit www.tickets.com.)

Thankfully, the circus did not include any tall men, small men, or any other what used to be called "freak shows." Putting human beings on display because of physical differences is not my idea of entertainment.

There were, of course, the animals - the usual acts with lions and tigers jumping trough hoops, elephants giving rides to little kids, and ponies and miniature horses giving rides to littler kids. There was also a young woman in a flowing white gown doing an act with pigeons with flowing white feathers.

But when the lion tamer - Ted McRae, one of very few black circus performers in the nation - had these kings and queens of the jungle kneel down, roll over, stand on a mirror-ball, and jump through burning hoops, I couldn't help thinking that if there is such a thing as animal dignity, these creatures had given it up.

There was no reason, though, to think the animals were abused in any way. Chuck Werner, senior marketing director for the circus, said this week that the lions and tigers are trained with rewards of food, and that the tricks they do are simply "choreographs of what they do naturally, like jumping or rolling over." He said the creatures in the circus are not tranquilized. "We don't hide our animals. They can be seen 24 hours a day, and you can see how they're treated."

They also can be seen closer up than at venues like the Garden. The three-ring Big Top seats about 3,000 and is usually filled; even in the uppermost bleachers you're just a few yards from the rings.

The Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus dates back to 1870. It's nice, really, in this 21st century of virtual everything, that thousands of people will still come out to see men and women walk a high wire, swing between trapezes, be shot out of a canon, ride in a clown car, and have lions, tigers, birds, and even housecats do their bidding.

"Ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages..." It's still exciting to hear.

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