Circus Sarasota Co-Founder Wins Fla. Folk Heritage Award
Secretary of State Kurt S. Browning will be recognizing the accomplishments of Sarasota’s own Dolly Jacobs at the Florida Heritage Awards in Tallahassee this evening.
Dolly, co-founder of Circus Sarasota, is the recipient of a 2012 Florida Folk Heritage Award. The Florida Department of State presents Fold Heritage Awards annually to citizens whose lifelong devotion to folk-life has enriched the state’s cultural legacy. Like the National Heritage Awards, Folk Heritage Awards honor Florida’s most significant and influential tradition bearers for excellence, significance and authenticity.
When we think about the array of cultural resources in Florida, it is somehow easy to overlook the circus arts, despite Florida’s century-old circus legacy. In fact, there are more circus performers living in Sarasota County than in any other single community in the world.
The circus arts are, indeed, “folk arts” worthy of recognition and praise; after all, circus artistry is characterized by expressive performance, requiring technical skill and well-honed talent, often practiced by families, and passed from generation-to-generation. What’s more, the gifted Floridians in this highly-visible performance genre are seen and enjoyed by millions of people not only here at home but throughout the United States and around-the-world.
One particularly accomplished performer who personifies circus artistry at its best is Miss Dolly Jacobs: a world-renowned aerialist, Sarasota born and raised. Miss Jacobs was introduced to her craft by her parents and their colleagues “under the big top.”
Dolly’s mother was a circus performer and her father, Lou Jacobs, is recognized as one of the greatest clowns of all-time. Inspired by her family, the young Dolly Jacobs took gymnastics at the YMCA in Sarasota and participated in the unique Sailor Circus which, at the time, was an activity sponsored by Sarasota High School. She traveled with her parents during school vacations where the thrill of performance provided a jolt of adrenalin and the motivation to pursue the circus arts as her life-long endeavor.
In 1971, Dolly Jacobs joined Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus where she performed as part of the corps de ballet, while fellow-performers coached her in developing her own aerial act on the Roman Rings. She made her solo debut in 1976_ and quickly earned the sobriquet “Queen of the Air.”
From her native Sarasota, Dolly Jacobs traveled to all corners of the globe, winning worldwide acclaim. On two occasions she was invited to participate in the Circus Festival of Monte Carlo, and each time Miss Jacobs was recognized as “Dame du Cirque” and won the coveted Silver Clown award presented by Prince Albert of Monaco.
One of the characteristics of folk art is that it is passed from person-to-person, from generation-to-generation, “in performance.” No one exemplifies that heritage more than Dolly Jacobs who, along with her husband Pedro Reis, founded Circus Sarasota in 1997 with the goal of preserving Florida’s circus arts legacy, while “enriching, educating, and entertaining” audiences of all ages.
The only professional not-for-profit resident circus in Florida, Circus Sarasota presents seasonal performances under the big top, and also collaborates with other arts organizations such as the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art and The Key Chorale. In every instance, Dolly Jacobs provides creative direction and is also a featured performer, entertaining audiences and inspiring future generations of circus artists.
What’s more, under Dolly Jacobs’ guidance, Circus Sarasota has developed highly-lauded community outreach programs in Manatee, Sarasota, and Charlotte Counties.
One program, “Laughter Unlimited,” brings the magic of the circus to those who are in hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The program has been called “a masterful blend of therapeutic interaction” using humor for a serious purpose.
A second program, “Big Top Education” provides circus-themed curricula for local schools with the intent of capturing students’ interests while helping academics come alive. The program has helped many economically and developmentally-challenged students improve their learning skills, while offering many of them the opportunity to enjoy the circus from the seats… and even from inside the ring where the youngsters (some confined to wheelchairs!) are given the chance to perform. Her role as a mentor to young performers has also increased at the nation’s oldest youth circus, Sailor Circus.
In October 2011, Circus Sarasota took on the reins of Sailor Circus with plans to continue and enhance this extraordinary program. Dolly Jacobs is also a familiar face on the Southwest Florida public speaking circuit talking about Sarasota’s rich circus heritage, appearing at many charitable organizations, service clubs, fraternal organizations, and schools.
Acknowledging Dolly Jacobs’ contribution to the circus arts are two awards bestowed by Sarasota’s circus community.
The first was her induction into the Circus Ring of Fame at Sarasota’s celebrated St. Armand’s Circle; it is analogous to an induction in Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. The second honor was her induction into the Circus Hall of Fame at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. And now…to be honored by the State of Florida and recognized as a 2012 recipient of the Folk Heritage Award….
Whether one considers circus performance as a folk art or a popular art… or, more accurately, both… Dolly Jacobs represents Florida locally, nationally, and internationally in a manner befitting the finest qualities of Florida’s distinctive artistic heritage.