Ringling Bros. ‘hairialists’ fall 35-45 feet during show. Some thought it was part of the act.

Eight performers in a Ringling Bros. “Hair Hang Act” remained hospitalized Monday morning after falling 35 to 45 feet in front of a crowd of circus-goers in Providence, R.I. Their injuries, and those of several people below, were described as not life-threatening. They had been hanging by their hair from a metal structure designed to look like a “human chandelier.”

An audience member’s footage shows a circus apparatus falling to the ground with more nine acrobats still tethered to it. (Reuters)

The nature of the injuries was uncertain. One of the injured waved to the crowd while being hauled away in a gurney by first responders. Parents in Providence’s Dunkin’ Donuts Center, many at first uncertain whether the fall was part of the act, rushed their children out of the show after realizing that a serious accident had occurred. According to the Providence Journal:

Othello Smith, of Providence, and his family left the building shortly after the accident because they didn’t want their young children watching the aftermath. “One of the performers was crying,” he said. “It looked pretty bad.” Smith said the performers were doing an aerial act, where they were spinning on ropes or cables. “They just dropped,” he said. “It happened so fast you didn’t really believe it happened.”

But then they hit the ground. “Their necks went forward – it was awful,” said audience member Sydney Bragg, 14, according to ABC News. “They kept the lights off so no children could see. When the lights went on, we could see them lying there. They started lowering the screens to cover it up.”

First responders in the center ring on May 4. (AP Photo/Rose Viveiros)
First responders in the center ring on May 4. (AP Photo/Rose Viveiros)

According to the Journal, a circus announcer told the audience that accidents can happen in live performances. He thanked the first responders and announced that the show, which began at about 11 a.m., would not continue. Stephen Payne, a spokesman for Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling Bros., said that the metal-frame apparatus from which the performers were hanging came free from the metal truss it was connected to, the AP said. Here’s how Ringling Bros. describes the act in its publicity materials:

The circus is the place where real legends appear, it’s the place where excitement is taken to unheard-of levels. In Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Presents LEGENDS, we are proud to bring back The Medeiros Hair Hang Act like you’ve never imagined it. This larger-than-life act features not two, but eight female performers from countries around the world including the U.S., Brazil, Bulgaria and Ukraine. These “hairialists” perform a combination of choreography and cut-ups including spinning, hanging from hoops, and rolling down wrapped silks, all while being suspended 35 feet in the air by their hair alone! In this hair-raising act, audiences will even see the weight of three girls held aloft by the locks of only one of these tangled beauties. This one-of-a-kind act is the brainchild of husband and wife team Andre and Viktoria Medeiros. Together, Brazilian-born Andre and his Bulgarian-born wife Viktoria have devised and improved the mechanisms and methods making possible the myriad of maneuvers this troupe will perform for audiences. It is Andre’s attention to every detail, even welding the three different rigs that the girls hang from, that keeps his troupe safe and sound each and every time the act is presented.

According to the AP, a 32-year-old Ringling aerial performer died in 2004 when she fell some 30 feet during a performance in St. Paul, Minn. The Associated Press reported at the time that it was the first fatal accident involving Ringling performers in at least a decade.

Fred Barbash, the editor of Morning Mix, is a former National Editor and London Bureau Chief for the Washington Post.
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