For ring master, circus is no big deal

By DEZRI ROCHIN/Montana State News

The Jordan World Circus starts at 4:30 p.m.  At  9:30 a.m.,  the Gallatin County Fairgrounds are deserted except for one truck fully loaded with tarps, what appears to be some sort of scaffolding and a couple of guys mulling about.

Jordan World Circus Ring Master George Hanneford III performs with one of the circus' elephants.

An hour later the smell of popcorn fills the air and three red rings are being put into place by guys with heat blowers ironing out the wrinkles. From the cab of a semi filled with hay and animal droppings from unseen critters emerges Ring Leader,  George Hanneford III. He is a short, very muscular man with an amazing tan and bright white teeth.

He is wearing a red T-shirt and running pants that cover his massive thighs. He looks to be in his early 40s.  Some might say that Hanneford is handsome. His hands are strong with a row of calluses that look like he’s been working on them for years.  He is a pleasant man, but seems a bit apprehensive about giving an interview.

He is soft-spoken and appears to be a touch shy. He is a man of few words. But tonight he will be sporting a black rhinestone tuxedo and will be the booming voice of the Jordan World Circus.

Hanneford stands out in contrast to the other circus people walking around the place. Yet he seems totally at home. This is because the circus is in his blood.

“I was born into the circus. I’m an eighth-generation circus performer.” says  Hanneford. “My family had a one-ring European tent show which performed primarily at fairs with my mother, father and sister. Basically, I grew up in the circus.”

Hanneford learned animal training at an early age, starting with horses. He says, “My parents were horseback riders, so I learned how to work with horses. I also learned from other animal trainers how to work with dogs and other larger animals like elephants and camels.”

He speaks of training camels and elephants like it were nothing unusual.

“Elephants are very intelligent; they are like working with a giant 3-year-old. Once you build a relationship with them, you kind of know what to expect from each other and it makes things easier,” he says.

Since he grew up in the circus, Hanneford has the attitude that it is not that big of a deal.

“It was normal as a child being in the circus. I was born into it so it was just normal, it was natural.” Hanneford’s cousin performs with him as well, and his aunt runs her own circus.

When asked what his favorite thing to do was, he said he likes to do it all. When asked what his least favorite thing was, he said that he hadn’t found anything that he didn’t want to do. Hanneford calls himself a jack of all trades.

“I drive a truck, I am a ring leader, I was a clown, I work with the elephants and other animals, like tigers and such. It’s all part of the job,” he says.

The crew starts setting up at around 9:30 a.m. and their first show starts at 4:30 p.m. with another show at 7:30 p.m. and then they’re cleaned up and gone before sun-up.

“It’s like a marching army, you know, you set up camp and you set up your equipment and everything and then you march on to the next town. You just get into the rhythm of things. It’s just second nature.  Everybody knows what to do and how to do it and when to do it. So you just do it.”

Hanneford is single and has never been married, so the travel does not bother him. He travels three to four days a week anywhere from 50 to 150 miles at a time. There is not the “hanky-panky” one might expect in a circus. He says that sort of thing usually happens in the bigger shows. There are not too many single performers in his show; in fact, he says that many of the performers are families.

“We have about 50 people and they are mostly just little family groups,” he says. They travel together for about 12 weeks at a time.

It’s 4:30 p.m. And the stands are filled with kids eating cotton candy and twirling bright glow sticks in the air. They have just led the elephants, which lucky kids had been riding on, out of the arena.

Hanneford sits next to the announcer, sipping from a water bottle, calm, cool and collected. Just another day at the office –an office filled with animals and acrobats.

If Hanneford was handsome earlier, he was downright dashing in his bright royal blue vest, matching tie and sequined tuxedo.

“Ladies and gentlemen! Boys and girls! Welcome to the Jordan World Circus! Countdown to black!” His voice is strong and deep. Let the show begin.

Edited by Randi Tyler.

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