Circus Performers Prepare to Take the Stage at JPJ

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The Ringling Bros. Circus is in town this week and NBC29 is giving you a behind-the-scenes look before the show begins.

Cathy Carden has been involved with the circus since she was 5 years old. Both of her parents were performers, and life on the road is all she's ever known. Now she has a family of her own.

"The circus is a close-knit family, and all of the families do travel together. I have my two little boys and my husband, and we travel together. We have a school here at the greatest show on earth and a nursery as well,” Carden said.

Cathy is an animal trainer and says she knew from an early age that's what she wanted to do.

“My dad, you know, bought me a pony as a kid, and I started training with him, and that's basically, I just found that I had a natural kind of calling or ability to communicate with animals,” Carden said.

She trains dozens of animals, and she says each one learns in a different way.

“Horses have a good memory, so a lot of repetition and reward with them. Dogs, of course, it's playtime for them - lots of treats and play, and elephants are very intelligent and they enjoy routines,” Carden said.

Ringling Bros. performers set up all of their own acts. For most, proper construction is the difference between a good, safe performance and serious injury. Carden says her part is making sure her animals are well taken care of on the road.

"The dogs have their own room in that trailer that's all air-conditioned and insulated and is specially designed for dogs,” Carden said.

She says, even more than performing, it's the relationship with her animals she loves most.

"It's mutually beneficial, they get their treats out of it, and I get to perform with them, so it's, that's the most fun for me,” Carden said.

Opening night is Thursday at 7 p.m. at John Paul Jones Arena. The circus is in town through Sunday.