Aerialist, Animal Trainer
On a trip between circus dates, sea lion trainer Walter Jennier and his wife, aerialistAny acrobat working above the ring on an aerial equipment such as trapeze, Roman Rings, Spanish web, etc. Ethel Jennier, known as Aerialetta, stopped over at the University Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, for Ethel to give birth to their daughter Jo-Ann on October 11, 1939. Walter then continued his journey to the next town; Ethel remained in Toledo, Ohio, with Walter’s relatives to become acquainted with Jo-Ann and motherhood. Soon they were on their way to join Walter, and Jo-Ann began learning circus life.
She grew up surrounded by a multitude of animals, both wild and domestic, and hosts of circus performers. While she enjoyed their attention, she especially liked to help her father with Buddy, his sea lion, even practicing sea lion riding! Her first appearance in the circus ring was in 1944, at Polack Bros. Circus, dressed in a maid uniform to hold her mother’s entrance cape during her trapeze act. It did not take long until she became tired and sat on the ring curb(American. French: Banquette. Russian: Barrier) The circular barrier that defines the ring, and separates it from the audience., thus ending her early circus career.
In 1945-1946 she attended elementary school in Sarasota, Florida (America’s famous "Circus City"), where she was also enrolled in Miss Byron’s Dance School, studying tap, ballet, and acrobatics. She developed a contortion act with her parents’ help, which she was allowed to perform at the Hunt Circus. At that time, child performers were sometimes not allowed to perform because of the fear of polio in some areas; the cause of the disease was not known, and a vaccine was yet to come. Ethel continued to perform during her summer vacation period, learning swinging ladder, spanish webA vertical rope, or corde lisse, covered with fabric., and eventually trapeze, even though her parents discouraged her from following in their footsteps.
From Swinging Trapeze to Sea Lion Training
After a stint as a showgirl on the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey show in 1966, Jo-Ann started to perform with small "mud shows" like King Bros., Carson & Barnes, and Sells & Gray. Her father, who had retired from performing his sea lion act after he and Ethel divorced, helped her build a swinging trapeze act. Meanwhile, she worked in several aerial capacities in these shows, working concessions and often in the sideshow to earn extra pay. She started doing her swinging trapeze act in 1971, attempting to recreate her mother’s act; although she never achieved that goal, she did well enough to create a center ring act. Since circuses generally needed performers to do more than one act, she asked her father to help her obtain and train a sea lion act—which he did. Thus began the start of her single sea lion act, copying Walter’s original "Walter Jennier and Buddy" and now titled "Jo-Ann and Sunny."
Billy Barton, a flamboyant and well-known cloud swing(English, American) The ancestor of the trapeze: a slack rope hanging from both ends, used as an aerial swinging apparatus. The addition of a bar in the middle led to the creation of the trapeze. aerialistAny acrobat working above the ring on an aerial equipment such as trapeze, Roman Rings, Spanish web, etc., decided to take Jo-Ann under his wing and to promote her trapeze act; he called her Aerialetta II, in reference to her mother’s Miss Aerialetta stage name. With a new persona (she donned a blonde wig for the sea lion act), glamour makeup for Aerialetta, and dynamite music arrangements by Keith Killinger (with music from All That Jazz and Applause for Aerialetta and a medley of 1940’s songs for the sea lion act, including 42nd Street and Ain’t We Got Fun), Barton put an end to Jo-Ann’s mud show days.
They worked primarily indoor circuses and outdoor spot dates. Jo-Ann and Sunny even worked with a troupe of ice skaters that skated on Teflon instead of ice, and played arenas with a theatre-in-the-round design. This was a great environment for Jo-Ann and Sunny’s style of act. Unfortunately, Sunny died in 1979, and with the restrictions now imposed by the Federal Marine Mammals Act of 1975 and the hassle to obtain permits from every and each state, Jo-Ann decided to continue with her trapeze act only. Luckily, she met a partner, William (Bill) Tjagvad, with whom she developed a new aerial cradlePiece of apparatus (generally aerial) composed of two horizontal parallel bars in which a catcher locks his legs to be in position of catching a flyer. (Variant: Korean Cradle.) act that became known as The Phenix Duo, which she added to her trapeze act, and was quite successful. They eventually retired in 1987 and settled in the Tampa Bay area.
There, Jo-Ann started a new career, working with attractions and zoos, from Weeki Wachee Spring’s Bird of Prey and Parrot Shows to the Busch Gardens Zoological Education Department—where she worked with all types of animals, giving shows and lectures along with providing care for the animals. In 2008 she left Miami MetroZoo, where she had been the Children’s Zoo Manager, to become Resident Manager for a biological field research station in Arkansas. She retired from the station in 2016 but continued to reside in Arkansas, where she spends time researching family history and genealogy.