Vincenta Pages is a real tiger lady.
The product of a circus family, Ms. Pages smuggled big-cat cubs into her bed as a child, began working in the cage at 14 and at 20 had left the family circus to join the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
She said stepping into the ring with her tigers never seemed like risky work. Instead, it felt like home.
Ms. Pages appears with Ring-ling Bros. today through Sunday at James Brown Arena, 605 Seventh St.
"I had seen my father and grandfather do it, and it was just a thrill," she said in a recent telephone interview. "When I came of age, I knew I wanted to do it. My parents were very encouraging, always very encouraging, and my sister and I, of course, always wanted to do everything."
For many circus performers, accepting a gig with Ringling is a rite of professional passage. For Ms. Pages, who had grown up performing in her family's circus, it also was a personal rite of passage, the moment a child leaves home for the first time.
"When you go to Ringling, it is the top of your career, but it is tough," she said. "But it is something every kid goes through. It's a little like leaving home to go to college. Of course, my parents don't really look at it that way, because college doesn't mean walking into a cage full of tigers."
Ms. Pages said the vagabond lifestyle afforded by working with Ringling suits her. The real issue is traveling with her tigers, which can be less flexible. She said that in the summer they will travel at night to stay cool and that during the winter they hit the road in the morning to take advantage of the warmer daylight hours. Still, she said, she wouldn't trade her performance partners for anything, particularly lions.
"My dad loves them," she said of the lions. "I don't. I think they are slow and grouchy."
Although she did not inherit her father's love of lions, she said much of what she knows about circus life in general and animal acts in particular comes from him. She still bases her act on a credo taught by her parents, Ms. Pages said.
"My family always said you have to try and stay on top of perfect," she said. "So I'm never really satisfied with my work. Satisfied with the animals? Yes. But never myself.
"I am always trying to get better, to stay on top of perfect."
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
IT'S CIRCUS TIME
WHAT: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today through Saturday, also 3:30 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: James Brown Arena, 605 Seventh St.
COST: $15-$28; (706) 724-2400