Cultural differences, circus by circus: Australia versus Slovakia

After many years of circus drought, I’ve been to the circus twice this year, in two different countries. In most ways, these circus visits were really very similar. But in others they were really quite different.

Entrance to the circus in Trnava, Slovakia

The first circus was actually a Hungarian circus visiting the town of Trnava when we went to Slovakia to visit our dear friends. Z told me her daughter loved circuses and had begged to go, and thought that my son and I might enjoy it too. So off we went.

As far as circuses go, it was pretty good. But I don’t have any pictures of the first half of the show – do you know why? Because there were these massive cages and bars obstructing the view because their circus featured a mangy collection of lions and elephants and zebras that may just dart out and attack us (probably in an attempt to escape, I’d say!). Of course, I understand that having a circus full of animals is still normal in many parts of the world and obviously this is the case in central European countries like Hungary and Slovakia but I really did feel sad for the animals. My Slovak friend, without me saying anything, told me the same thing, so perhaps the local feeling is changing too.

Two acts in one? Random aerial artist dancing above a parade of horses. Lots of whips involved.

It was far from all bad though, and I wish I had a video to show you of the most amazing acrobat I’ve seen – a man who must have been over 50, perhaps even 60, who could do the most amazing jumps and tricks on those huge trampolines, and so much more. He really put me to shame!

Arriving at the circus in Perth

Anyway,a couple of weeks ago, here in Perth, I went to the circus again. I wasn’t especially keen but the circus made a point of setting up its big top directly adjacent to my son’s daycare centre so it wasn’t like I could ignore it (or his pleas to go).

Dog pushing a pram … my son loved this!

The biggest difference started with the very first act (which, in fact, was a bonus before-the-show act, while people were finding their seats – since we’d been sitting in a steaming hot tent for half an hour it was very welcome). Out came the dog trainers – and a sweet collection of various breeds of dogs – and they told the audience about the training process and how they’re very focused on checking the animals’ behaviour and figuring out whether they are comfortable and happy in the environment or not. I felt much more at ease here, and there was no cage barrier to save me from unhappy lions!

This circus went on to feature some horses, ponies and more dogs, and that was all. And they all looked in much better condition. Phew. Apparently (and to some degree understandably) there is still plenty of opposition to having even them in the circus, but personally, I felt comfortable with it.

Are you a circus-lover? Any good tips for circuses to see around the world?


  1. Hi! I haven’t been to any circuses, but I went to the Moscow circus in Russia last year and it was amazing. In principle, i’m uncomfortable with animals in circuses but apparently the authorities are cracking down on the condition of the animals, to make sure they’re well cared for, etc. They had bears, lions, etc… as far as I could tell, they looked healthy and well cared for, but it’s so hard to know! It was an amazing show, but it’s a difficult issue. Thanks for sharing your views!

    • Oh I’m so envious that you were in Moscow last year – I love that city! I never saw the circus there, though. And yes – a difficult issue. If the “tricks” are really just extensions on natural behaviour (like the one I went to here in Australia) then it doesn’t bother me so much but … yes, tricky. Thanks for your comment!

  2. When I was growing up in Russia I would only go to the circus if there were animals there, no scary clowns or boring acrobats for me back then. Things changed a lot since – now I would not come anywhere near any circus which has animals in it. And my favourite of all are Cirque du Soleil for their theatrical performances and Slava Polunin’s Snow Show, just because he is a very cute clown!

  3. I know what you mean about circuses with animals, and I’ve been to a few shabby ones in my time. I think my fave circus these days is Cirque du Soleil, because it is just like entering a dream. Loved your descriptions of the circus though, and the little poodle pushing the pram was priceless! One circus I took the kids too when they were little in Hong Kong had yorkshire terriers in a swinging roundabout, their little ears flapping in the breeze is my endearing memory, it had us laughing hysterically as they went round and round, seemingly enjoying the ride!

  4. I used to live across the road from the football oval where the circus used to set up. They would use the lane way behind our house to load up the elephants. Amazing to hang over the back fence and watch elephants! I think it really depends which animals are in the circus. I imagine there are some animals far better suited to that life than others. And obviously how they are treated too.. But I’m with jo, you can’t go past circ du soleil

  5. Pixi Robertson says

    To develop an informed opinion on the question of animals in circus, it is absolutely necessary to do real research AT the circus. Arrange to meet and talk with the trainers and carers, meet the animals if possible, see their living quarters, etc. Most trainers are more than happy to show you around and often provide opportunities for members of the public to attend training sessions. But, please, don’t just barge onto the circus lot without arranging a meeting, that’s just plain rude. And please be aware that most videos showing acts of “cruelty” and “neglect” are actually rather dodgy and either show scenes that have been choreographed and staged for effect or are old, out-dated footage from Asia. Most importantly, don’t swallow all the propaganda that very cleverly tugs at your heart-strings! Australian circus is regulated at Federal, State and local council level with very stringent conditions applicable. Australian circus leads the way in animal husbandry practices for circus animals world-wide. Ideas and standards for exercise yards and air-conditioned/heated sleeping and travelling wagons, etc, have been developed independently of regulations and are now also common practice in overseas circuses. Whether animals belong in circus or not is a very big question that needs lots of informed debate, not just knee-jerk reactions. Yes, Cirque du Soleil is pretty amazing but, remember, they have actually had a show featuring horses! And if you love Cirque, maybe you could try supporting your local, homegrown Australian travelling circuses. You’ll find plenty to love there, too.

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