Posted by: Tommy | October 17, 2010


Upon returning from Suzdal on Friday afternoon, we returned to the hostel to change clothes before heading out to the Moscow circus.  Russia is well known for having a fantastic circus and the most famous one is located right next to our metro stop, about a 5 minute walk from our hostel.  Luckily, last night was the 130! Anniversary show and we bought tickets for 300 Roubles ($10). The circus arena is not very large, so our seats were pretty close.  Here’s a picture of the ring from our seats.


The Circus Ring


The festive circus-y atmosphere started as soon as we entered the front doors.  Loud, clownish music was playing throughout the entry way.  Children were running around holding balloons and cotton candy.  And then we saw two things that we would never see in America.  First, the vendors selling toys for children had a large number of life-sized AK47s and almost every 8 year old boy had one.

But the second thing was just insane.  For 50 roubles, not quite $2, you can take a picture with a live leopard.  A live leopard!  Leopards are known for being among the most dangerous mammals alive…and there was a line of children standing around waiting to hold a grown, adult leopard in their lap for a photo.  I cannot express in typed form my shock over this.  Especially when we saw one being non-cooperative with a trainer at a less populated leopard-photo booth later on.  The trainer could hardly hold the leopard with the leash…and this is in the middle of a hallway with hundreds of small children running loose, screaming and shooting fake AK47s at each other.  Needless to say, I’m disappointed today that I didn’t shell out the 50 roubles and get a picture with one.  But I did stand far away and take a picture of a little girl with a grown leopard.


Children and leopards- who smells a lawsuit?



Clearer leopard picture - no child


In addition to the leopard, there was also a medium-sized (and consequently, huge) bear (muzzled) and the cutest little tiger cubs you’ve ever seen.  Anna really wanted me to take a picture with the tiger cubs, and I would have…but one thing that Russians could really learn is the concept of lines.  I stood for 10 minutes trying to get with the tiger cub, but the Russian children are ruthless about cutting and I never got the opportunity.  I wanted her to take one with the bear, since she’s the Yellowstone Bear Safety Student of the Month for August, but she was still terrified.

A buzzer chimed, telling us that we should find our seats for the circus, so we didn’t actually get to take any pictures with the animals.  We’ll settle for the one clear leopard shot that we got.  One nice thing about the circus is that it doesn’t matter that the whole thing is in Russian.  The only people who do any communicating is the clowns, and all of theirs was mime.  I hadn’t been to a circus in probably 20 years, but I don’t remember a better one.

It started out with a horse act, with four horses running around the ring, occasionally spinning circles in time to the music.  Then some hoops were added that the horses would jump over and keep spinning, etc.  It’s hard to explain, but it was cool to watch.  The horses were followed by an outstanding juggling act by 3 men and a woman.  They did rings and pins, they threw them high, did tricks requiring multiple throwers and catchers, they used blacklights and neon rings; it as visually stunning.  The craziest trick they did was have one guy stand on another, then the third, smallest guy climb the already 12 ft. tower to stand up on the top guys shoulders – then all three juggled rings for a while.  I declared right then, after the 2nd act, that I’d gotten my money’s worth.

Next was a woman that had 8 trained wiener dogs that rolled over, jumped over small bridges and were generally very cute.  The small children loved this act, but I thought it was a little boring.  That lead into a balancing act similar to what you’d see in Cirque d’ Soleil, with a man and a woman doing all sorts of balancing stunts that are difficult, but not as interesting as some other things we’d see- or had seen.

ALERT: If you don’t like animal acts – trained bears and large cats- stop reading now.

The next act was definitely my favorite – the bear trainer.  I don’t think you’d ever see this in the States because you have to be absolutely crazy to do it – but the bear trainer was impressive.  He had one really large bear and one medium sized bear (and by medium size, I mean 6 ft, 400 lbs at least).  They started out having the bears walk on their hind legs.  Yawn.  Then get in a wheel that had handles and footholds and roll along the ground in a cartwheel position.  This was interesting, but nothing compared to the bear – riding a scooter.  The female trainer came out and rode a scooter once around the ring.  Then the bear picked up the scooter, got on and rode 3 or 4 times before steering himself out the tunnel.  And coming back riding a bicycle!  I couldn’t believe it.  At first, Anna and I thought it must be remote controlled, but he was actually pedaling!  And balancing.  He rode around 4 times before exiting through the same tunnel.  So far, these were each done by the smaller bear.  We weren’t allowed to photograph during the circus, but of course we found pictures online by someone who isn’t so clear on the rules:


A bear riding a bike?! Amazing!


They also had the bears hula-hooping.  Both bears, big and small, keeping up 5 hula hoops at a time, including some instances of the trainer throwing the hoop to the bear, the bear catching it on its paws and then putting the hoop around it’s neck.  It was fascinating.  The big finale was for the bears to ride around in dune buggies, then leave the ring only to return a few seconds later driving a full-size, pink jeep.  This of course brought the house down.

After the amazing bear act, we saw a few more balancing-type acts, a few turns by the clowns, who were really pretty funny, and then an act by 5 Russian gymnasts on a setup with a trampoline and some bars.

After that was intermission.  We were starving, so we went to the cafe and found a Snickers and a beer, which we shared.  Anna drank most of the beer, I ate most of the Snickers.  In line, we happened to be standing in front of some Australians.  And for the first time in all my travels, I experienced nasty Australians.  Australians are well known among international travelers for being the most fun, friendliest, happy-go-lucky bunch of people.  Except for these 4 women that we unfortunately engaged in conversation.  While Anna and I were excitedly discussing how amazing the bear act was, these 4 were talking about how deplorable the Russian circus was for torturing that poor bear.  I understand their point, but they were very condescending toward us “Americans” for liking that particular act.  They thought it was cruel to muzzle the bear.  We asked if they’d ever seen a bear in the wild, they said no.  We explained that we’d, just this year, been camping in Yellowstone right after a 2 men were killed by bear attacks and we’d seen 25 bears and they were quite terrifying.  You had to muzzle them.  They told us that it served those men right, since we were camping in their habitat.  And we wondered aloud why they had come to a circus – which showed the bear driving a Jeep in its advertisement – if they were going to be offended.  It still gets me a little steamed just thinking about it.

Anyway, when we came back from the intermission, the cat cage had been erected in the ring.


Thank goodness for chain-link fencing


A crazy man and his even crazier partner led the 30 minute grand finale, featuring 2 leopards, 2 black panthers and 3 of the biggest tigers you could imagine.  They had these cats, all of which had very visible fangs (but probably not claws, since that’s what big cats actually use to fight with) climb pillars of varying heights, grab hold of carpeted posts that were then pulleyed to the ceiling and back, jump across large spaces and stand on their back legs.  The sheer danger of being in the cage with so many of these beasts was mind blowing.  There was no way to face them all at once – the trainer’s back was frequently turned.  I’d love to be able to point to one trick or something out of this world that happened, but there really wasn’t one thing.  The whole 30 minutes was exciting.  The cats were beautiful; sleek and dangerous.  The tigers looked brawny but the leopards looked sneaky, like they were always waiting for their opportunity to pounce.

After the finale, we applauded the performers and headed out for a proper dinner.  All in all, I was very satisfied with the Moscow circus.  It was not something I had expected to do here, but I’m glad that we did.



  1. Wow! I would not think of the circus as that interesting and entertaining. It is hard to believe that they could get bears to ride all those vehicles and bikes. If the bears are so tortured, why don’t they just ride right outta there? Maybe they have tried a time or two.

    The leopard picture thing really freaks me out. You are right — not enough lawsuits to stop it but where are the parents? I can guarantee Anna and Jack would have never had their picture with one. Even I said yes, which I would not have, neither of them would have been dumb enough to want to. Strange, strange, strange!

  2. best blog so far!!!! that is awesome… sometimes when riley dances i think hed be cute in the circus but then i realize he wouldnt top the bear riding the bike! thats freaking sweet…

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