Kenyan acrobats to take stage at Rock County Fair in Janesville, WI


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Kenyan acrobats to take stage at Rock County Fair in Janesville, WI
Kenyan acrobats to take stage at Rock County Fair in Janesville, WI

Amina Kalama ignored the naysayers. “They all said being an acrobat is not for a woman,” the 25-year-old from Kenya said. “Whenever you tell me I can’t do something, I’ll do it.”

A few years ago, Amina joined her family’s national touring group, the Kenya Safari Acrobats, against the advice of some traditional-thinking Kenyans.

Today, the acrobats would fall apart without her.

Amina is the highly trained athlete who holds up four men on the bottom of the gravity-defying human pyramid. One sits on her shoulder. Another sits on top of him. Then, one perches on each of her shoulders.

Watch for her among the six-member troupe every day during the Rock County 4-H Fair, beginning Tuesday, July 23. The acrobats from Kenya and Tanzania bring an international flavor to this year’s fair. They also reflect the diversity of free entertainment on three stages and the grandstand. Everything from a 19-piece big band orchestra to a polka band to young Latino dancers will be featured.

In addition, people can buy tickets to two grandstand shows for Hunter Hayes and Trace Adkins.

“We’re trying to bring in things that are unique and different,” said Scott Davis, vice president of the fair board. “This is probably the biggest fair entertainment lineup that you are going to see in southern Wisconsin. We’ve put forth a lot of effort to have something for everyone.”

He called the acrobats amazing.

“They have one of those team-building shows,” he said. “They all have to rely on one another or someone will fall. It’s incredible.”

In addition to the human pyramid that comes at the end of the performance, the acrobats tumble, do balancing acts and hurl through hoops, all to a lively Benga beat. In addition, they perform limbo dancing using a crossbar of fire. The bar drops a notch each time an acrobat clears it. Eventually, the bar is only a few inches above the stage floor.

Karen Kalama, owner of the group and Amina’s mother, explains that love of performing keeps them going, especially on sweltering days.

“In some places, we perform five times a day,” she said. “All of us love everything we do.”

If they tumble during a difficult balancing act and are not hurt, they pick themselves up and keep going.

“We’ve had people fall off chairs,” she said. “Sometimes that happens because of the wind. We’ve also had people collide during a hoop dive. But nothing serious has ever happened.”

The performers practice every day to stay in top shape.

“If we have a break for a couple of days, we will work out in our motel rooms,” Karen said. “Sometimes, we are up at 3 a.m. to do conditioning exercises, including a lot of stretching.”

Much of the year, the group travels across the United States to festivals, fairs and amusement parks. Members entertained at the Kalahari Resort in Wisconsin Dells earlier this summer. They have performed at many large theme parks, including Disneyland in California and Disney World in Florida. They also have been featured on the television show “America’s Got Talent.”

Halfway through the season, the acrobats still have 36 more venues to go.

“Sometimes, I can’t remember which room I’m in at the hotel,” Karen said, explaining that the hardest part of their job is being on the road most of the year.

The group has a base in Greensboro, N.C., but returns to its home in Mombasa, Kenya, in December.

“It’s bittersweet,” Amina said. “I enjoy being home in Kenya, but I would rather be on the road performing. I enjoy everything about performing from the second the show starts.”

While in Kenya, Karen searches for new talent. Young acrobats often find their way out of poverty by training to be performers, sometimes in China.

Amina is inspired by audience members who clap, laugh and offer a simple Swahili greeting, “jambo.” Swahili is the national language of Kenya.

“Most of the time after people see our show the first time they will come back again,” Amina said, “because we have such a great time performing.”


Kenyan acrobats to take stage at Rock County Fair in Janesville, WI

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