The Smithsonian Folklife Festival’s Blog features a series of interviews exploring the lives of people in the circus and their experiences on the road. The name of this series, “The Three-Ringed Life,” reflects the three social arenas: the personal, the professional, and the space in which the two intersect. When seen together, the three rings create a narrative as vibrant and varied as a three-ring circus.
Elena Panova is a Russian-born aerialist currently living in the United States. She was active in the circus for twenty years, starting her career in 1985 with the Moscow Circus, then in 1991 she went to New York City to work with the Big Apple Circus. She settled in the United States and continued to tour the world. Although now retired from the spotlight, Panova continues to teach and inspire the next generation of circus performers as the aerial department director at Circus Center San Francisco.
At the 2017 Folklife Festival, Panova can be found teaching a swinging trapeze class in the Festival’s Circus School and participating in discussions on the Circus Stories stage.
Main Image: Elena Panova at the Cirque d’Hiver-Bouglione during the 1997 Festival Mondiale du Cirque de Demain in Paris. Photo courtesy of Dominique Jando