One of the most daring circus families in the world, the Wallendas, has held a prominent place in the circus and in Sarasota for the greater part of this century. The high-wire performers have dedicated their lives to creating world-class acts that entertain and amaze audiences of all ages. Tino Wallenda, the oldest living Wallenda still performing, is the grandson of Karl Wallenda, founder of the famous family act. A lifelong Sarasotan born in SMH when it was just a two-level wooden structure, Tino began performing at age two, with his first act on the wire at age seven. 

“By the time I was 12,” he recalls, “I had the primary training I needed and made my first appearance on the high wire as part of the family act. By age 17, I became a full-fledged member of the Wallenda team.” In addition to their fame for being talented and daring, the Wallendas are well known for performing on the high wire without a net which may sound extremely dangerous and scary to the average person, but the Wallendas are definitely not average people. “While there have been some injuries over the years, we train to stay on the wire, not fall off of it,” says Tino. “Our routine is something we practice over and over and it’s been that way since my grandpa started in 1920, so we feel very comfortable and confident in what we do.”

Images Courtesy of Tino Wallenda

The Wallenda’s net-less act first began almost a century ago when Karl and his troupe, who were based in Germany, were performing with a circus in Cuba.While they were there, John Ringling, who was about to move his circus to Sarasota, made a point to go see the act because he had heard how incredible their performance was. But everytime he tried to see them, the circus management would keep the Wallendas from performing because they didn’t want to lose the act to Ringling. Finally, Ringling snuck in to see the show and immediately hired the Wallendas. When the family arrived at Madison Square Garden in New York, they unpacked and set up their equipment only to find that the management from Cuba did not send them with a net. “Grandpa lived by the motto ‘The show must go on’ as most circus performers do, so they performed and did incredible feats without a net,” shares Tino. “The audience stomped their feet and whistled. The Wallendas thought that was insulting as stomping and whistling was disrespectful in Europe, so they thought they were a flop. They were actually the opposite–the audience loved them. The Wallendas from that point on performed without a net.”

The circus has been ever changing from its inception, from Tino’s perspective,but it’s the life that he and his family  live and love. “We are now into the 8th generation” the father of four and grandfather of nine (with three grandchildren that have already been in on the family act) shares. “Performing on the wire is not what the thrill is about for us. The audience’s enjoyment is the thrill. We are not necessarily daredevils or stunt performers–we do what we do for the love of the fans.” With a summer tour that includes stops in St. Louis, Wallingford and Norwalk, CT, the Wallendas still perform every chance they get. They still live out of a circus trailer when they travel and are always happy to return home to Sarasota, which Tino believes to be the circus capital of the world.