Meet Viktoria Grimmy, Fifth-Generation Circus Performer

The renowned aerialist discusses her journey from Ringling Brothers to "The Greatest Showman."

May 1, 2018 9:44 am
<> at Slate on April 25, 2013 in New York City.
<> at Slate on April 25, 2013 in New York City.

It would be too easy and too cliche to open this story saying that my fascinating subject flies through the air with the greatest of ease. It would be unfair to her tremendous talents, because although she does indeed take to the sky like a magnificently plumed and ethereal tropical bird, making even the ungraceful amongst us feel as though her aerial acts are attainable and simple, she is also a skillful dancer, contortionist, hula hooper and juggler … all on the stage of one of the most nostalgic platforms in history … the circus.

Viktoria Grimmy is a fifth-generation circus performer with a family tale worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster … much like The Greatest Showman in fact … which she just happens to perform in.

Viktoria’s lineage was a highly regarded performance family in Russia, escaped the communist regime to the US, started from scratch, joined the renowned Ringling Brothers Circus and built up their names and their acts on true grit, hard work and impeccable skill sets. The details of the story are full of scheming scorned lovers, daring flights from oppression, inspiring dedication to performance, passion, tears, love… and probably a little bit of fairy dust.

Raised in the circus, Viktoria struck off on her own at 13 to become an aerialist against her father’s wishes. A perfect coming of age story for the Walter Mitty in all of us. Of course, like any good fairytale, when she realized her dream on the grandest of stages, complete with a bonafide reigning prince, it was her father who was by her side with eyes full of proud tears.

She didn’t stop there, Viktoria has twirled, shimmied and soared across the stages of everything from Broadway shows, cruise ships, Super Bowl commercials, touring musical acts, big Hollywood blockbusters and of course her beloved big top.

Since I love to inject a dash of history into my stories that lend themselves to the subject at hand I have a bittersweet insight into the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The famous traveling entertainment company started in 1884 and created magic for its audience for well over a century before lowering its curtains and folding its tents for the final time in May of 2017 … but before the grand finale, they made history one more time. They debuted a female ringmaster, the first in 146 years. Even though this was a first, female performers like Viktoria have always been some of the circus’s biggest stars.

And now ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, without further ado, I present to you the talented, the beautiful, the sexy, the absolutely magnificent Viktoria Grimmy! Cue the music and the confetti!

Viktoria Grimmy during the gala performance in Monte Carlo. (Viktoria Grimmy)

Your family has a fascinating story of coming to the U.S. from Russia, and even starting their own circus. Can you elaborate on this incredible backstory and tell us about your family … because it sounds like a fairytale?

Viktoria Grimmy: Ah! My sweet family! There are so many amazing details leading up to being lucky enough to escape Russia! Starting with my father! My pop is one extraordinary man!

He absolutely always looked for the bigger, better life for his family. Ever since he was a child, he would secretly listen to jazz in the closet, because during those days that was the music of the “free land” and it was severely frowned upon. I think that if anything it enticed him to want to move to the land of the free even more!

He was lucky enough to perform in the same show as my mother (which is how they met). After he caught her rigger sawing the cables of her aerial act in the middle of the night, due to her turning his love requests down (ha!), he accidentally punched him in the face, and needless to say … she swooned!
There was a very long hard road to get our family out of a communist country. The moment the wall came down, an amazing Jewish organization called Nayana helped my family escape!

They were only allowed to bring what they could carry, including two kids! And with the horrible financial exchange rate at the time, we came to the states with dreams and $600 bucks!

By the time my father and mother left the motherland, they were both very highly regarded professionals.

My father had coached a few people to go on to win in several international competitions, and he himself was one progressive man! His belief of wanting more personally and charisma is much more important than a quadruple somersault. And I very much agree!

He left a country where his name was very meaningful. I cannot imagine doing this now! As a big, strong Russian man, he did everything to provide for us! Getting a job with no English and graduating in a “circus” in Queens, NY was a bit tough! So he drove a fruit truck! My mother cleaned a gymnastics gym in return for us to be able to have a facility to practice in!
Ultimately, my father’s huge smile and ability to always be friendly with everyone ended up getting us amazing opportunities, We performed in Russian restaurants, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, resorts in the Catskills. There the booker for Ringling Brothers spotted my family’s show (which consisted of just the four of us!) and that’s how we start touring with Ringling! My little sister Maria was born in the second year in Ringling!

“My mother and her fabulous/crazy aerial Contraption. It say “soviet circus” on the side. This act later was turned into the Soviet circus’ pin! Russians and them pins!” – Viktoria Grimmy

You grew up in the circus and you are a fifth-generation circus performer! Your childhood is like something out of a movie. Tell us about your formative years and how they shaped you and your passions.

VG: Oh boy! What a great question! I truly feel like every project and person I’ve met has made me the person I am today. Only for the good! I let the bad shit roll off my back!

I feel like my parents are 80 percent my foundation. They beat so much love into me and always reminded me that performing should only be fun. So I carry that absolutely everywhere I go.

The other 20 percent is really starting to tour and work on my own and being magnetically attracted to people. My best friend Shannon Beach, whom I met on the Britney Spears tour in ’09, is a great example. She was the head aerial captain and had the patience and grace I can only compare to my mother. Which is outstanding!

My friend/coach would lie to me and tell me my friend Marina Tomonova just won gold in a competition to get me to get super jealous and want to be better than her, but I remember even as a kid, being so insanely excited and not jealous what so ever. It ended up that she did win many medals in competitions and is a lead in Zumanity … and is the hottest sweetest person ever!)

I think the rest is research really!

It was always said around the house growing up that stealing someone’s act just shows you have no creativity, and it’s a shame. So I was always excited to create my own path, my own costumes, my own acts, etc.! So for me, that’s my passion!

Always to continue what I’m doing with my heart in the right place!

Do you remember your first performance in front of an audience?

VG: Ah! I was just under three years of age! So unfortunately no!
One of my earliest childhood memories is leaning up on the screen door to keep it open while my parents unloaded the van with all our props after a very, very late evening show, and I was half asleep doing this. I remember they praised me so much for this gesture, I remember how lovely that felt, so I kept doing things to keep them praising me! Haha!

You also competed in circus festivals. What does that entail?

VG: Ok, so there are several, well, actually many circus competitions, but the top two are the Monte Carlo Circus Festival  (That has been run by the prince for many years) and Cirque De Demain Festival in Paris, France. (Which is a more modern style presentation). It actually translates to “Circus of Tomorrow.”

Since I was very small, all I would dream about was to be invited to compete in the Monte Carlo Festival! I once wrote out on a piece of paper probably a few hundred times “I am going to Monaco” because I heard sending the energy might heighten my chances!

A very long story short(ish)! … My father would not let me perform or practice any aerial acts. When my father caught that man attempting to jeopardize my mother’s life, he ended up giving her an ultimatum-either him, a family and a life in the USA….or continuing to perform in the air.
It was incredibly hard for my mother, her act was the symbol of the “Soviet Circus.”

Like they actually made a pin of her because she and her act were so unique.
But he couldn’t handle the thought of her ever getting hurt.
So that was the end of her act.

When I decided to continue my training in aerial-you can imagine how unhappy my father was. He wouldn’t hear me out at all.

So at 13, I bought my own bus ticket. And left to New Hampshire where my friend/coach was coaching gymnastics (though he was also a great circus artist). No matter how many times I called, my father didn’t speak to me for almost two months. Super fast forward to me being invited to compete in Monte Carlo-we all couldn’t believe it! For the competition, I’m required to bring a “rigger.” So I choose my father of course!

The entire experience was just unbelievable, I kept walking around that gorgeous city. I couldn’t believe I was there! The night before, I didn’t sleep I was so excited!

When the competition show and gala show are over, if you’re lucky, you are awarded lots of different lovely prizes, aside from the actual places!
I was given three different things!

Considering I don’t speak French, I wasn’t sure what they were, so I very happily accepted them and thanked them. We turned around and walked out of the ring and my father ran up practically crying congratulating me. I was so confused why he was so happy! I thought I received an appreciation award from the mayor and another special prize. I had no idea I got Bronze! That was a very exciting moment in my life!

“My pop and I after training! My dad would make me eat an egg whole, shell and all! And we would chase them with Coronas!” – Viktoria Grimmy

You do so many things from aerials to dance to contortion to juggling to hula hooping … oh, my! Do you have a favorite skill?

VG: Wow! You did your research! I wish agents whereas diligent as you! I absolutely love trying and starting new acts. However, the thrill I get every single time I perform my silk act is hard to beat. Maybe the first time I kissed my man, that might be a close second. Hehe.

Can you describe, using the five senses, the feeling of flying through the air in the midst of a circus act?

VG: Absolutely vulnerably liberating and in the most empowered control. It’s like skydiving, but knowing you’re in the safety of your own two hands! The sounds that come from the audience only amplify the euphoric feeling!
And speaking to the audience members after our shows is a huge bonus. Everyone experiences my act in their own way, some are scared, some don’t understand how I look like I’m having so much fun while holding on with bare hands and no safety lines more than 30feet in the air. Usually, it’s laughing about how happy I look, which good God makes my day!

What is the most magical thing about the circus in your opinion?

VG: Circus can be absolutely anything you want it to be, which is why it’s so magical.

In our current show, we just want to entertain people, allow them to forget about their sorrows and current climate change and politics and anything else unpleasant. The circus is always meant to make you happy one way or another! Whether it’s laughing at a wonderful comedian, excited for the flying trapeze performer to catch hands with his catcher, or giggling at the poodles doing silly tricks … it’s mainly about enlightening someone’s life!

However, there has been a current (two decades) trend to be more “real.”
Life isn’t always rhinestones and romance, and there are some amazing companies doing some incredible work where show-goers that need a fully emotional show, filled with a bit of drama and realness and maybe a good cry, can definitely find a show also.

So ultimately the art of the circus is to be able to reach into the soul of everyone and take them out on the ring or stage with them, so you yourself are here performing with me.
I find that quite magical.

Viktoria Grimmy attends the after party for the Broadway opening night of “Pippin” at Slate on April 25, 2013 in New York City. (John Lamparski/WireImage)

You have such a strong yet feminine energy about you. What does “sexy” mean to you?

VG: My favorite topic! Sexy is everything! Flirtation and admiration only makes people happy and I want to be flirty and give that flirtation back. I feel like that all revolves around being sassy and sexy. I think it’s all about how you deliver your inner sexy god or goddess. You can wear an Eskimo suit and still be sexy and feel sexy! Sexy is feeling oh so good in your sexy skin. Sexy is making someone else feel comfortable and sexy. Sexy is being grounded and confident and just being you. Sexy is oh so sexy!

My dad always told me to flirt with the audience, and boy do I do it! My right-eye-wink is on point these days! Ahhh! Ha!

Spin me right round baby!!! (:

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You have also done it all….circuses, Broadway, cruise ships, Super Bowl commercials, touring with Brittany Spears, big Hollywood blockbusters. Tell us about some of your favorite career highlights.

VG: Oh boy, that was hard for my humble heart to read.

Those are all truly amazing, and every single one meant so much to me, but nothing compares to my man, Michael, and I pounding in 40 three foot stakes into the ground, erecting our own tent, setting up the rigging, lights, flooring, decorations…and stepping into the ring with everything exactly how we want it.

That hard, hard work just tastes so good.

#FriYay #TotalEntertainment @totalentertainmentnyc

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Any particular moments or jobs that have really challenged you or stood out in your career?

VG: Oh my, even though there have been incredibly vulnerable moments in the creation of Pippin, nothing compares to the challenges I face in our duo show. When every detail is something you answer for, you become highly involved in event moment of the prep, set up, show, take down, etc. …
This by far has been the most challenging quest I’ve taken, and every moment I’m so thirsty for more!

Costumes…or even body painting… are such a huge part of a great show. They help bring the magic. Do you like to be involved in the design of your costumes?

VG: DO I LIKE?!  Um, Yes. Yes! I adore it! I remember voicing to Dominique Lemieux how short our timing is for making the quick change costumes for the set date, and she so wonderfully just said, “Ah! It’s part of life!” She is fantastic!

Waking up on the sunny side of the bed ?

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I’m trying to imagine the training that goes into the skills you have. It’s not just the standard gym workout. How do you train?

VG: This question I usually push on to my man, Michael, because he eloquently is able to say how much I “hate” gyms.  I just do whatever my body needs that day. Do I need to grab my sneakers and run in the fresh air? Yes? OK! Do I need to sit in a sauna stretching for two hours with lots of water breaks? Ok. Do I need to eat a pizza and mac and cheese for there days? ALWAYS YES! Ha! Call me crazy but we need to be a bit more in tune with our body’s needs.

I’ve tried for years to push when I simply didn’t feel like it. It’s easy to get into a slump, but I am always reminded of how wonderful I feel when I feel alive, and I feel alive when I MOVE!

You have traveled the world and I’m sure been moved by your experiences. Any standout, life-changing travel moments?

VG: 100 percent. I mention this moment frequently. I went on a humanitarian trip with a friend, Ernst Van Der Pol. It was something between being on a very public contract to going “off grid” to going to a very heavily casino influenced show, that made me realize how insane all this really is. Until you wait for it to rain, and warm up a bit of water to rinse the salt off of your body, you haven’t lived.

Well that was fun!!! #TheGreatestShowman ❤️❤️❤️

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What was the experience like of working on the film, “The Greatest Showman”?

VG: In a nutshell … amazing. As a circus performer … tough. I loved every moment of the experience. It was such a treat to work with super superstars! I am so thankful that people like Michael Gracey, Huge Jackman, Zac, Zendaya and Michelle even wanted to represent the circus! They reminded people of how wonderful and extra glamorous the circus can be, and I’m genuinely thankful for them! To be part of such a grand movie about the circus in my generation, and more so, to have been able to share the experience with Michael, was absolutely a pleasure. I am so very thankful!

What are you currently working on? I read about The Great Dubois’ Show and that sounds … well, awesome.

VG: Ah! This is very special to me! And very long time coming actually! When Michael and I first met over ten years ago, we were so excited to find each other…who were as in love with the circus and learning and creating something new. It didn’t hurt that he had gorgeous blue eyes, and a heart the size of a blue whale’s. So our show, The Great DuBois’, is a two-person circus/variety show.

We literally do anything we want! And hope people love it!
A lot of our heart and soul in the show is about either doing something very unique or paying homage to amazing acts that haven’t been done this century!

We just really love performing, and want to entertain everyone, and hopefully give them a personal experience they haven’t experienced with the grander scale shows!

Everyone has a message they put out into the world through their words, actions and lifestyle. What is yours?

VG: Stay true to yourself. Regardless of anyone’s opinions or thoughts of what you should and shouldn’t do, if you are what is real in your heart, I promise you will be 100 percent happy. And that’s all that really matters folks!

What future life goals do you have for the next five years?  Any big bucket-list items, travels, career goals, etc.

VG: Currently I’m addicted to getting our show going in performing art theaters! I’m coming to find out that it will be a few years before it’s in full bloom, so in the next few years, I would LOVE to recreate a few of my own acts! I want to never take off my heels in our show!

Michael has some amazing ideas about intertwining our show with old world class and style, and merging it with modern technology to amplify the classic beauty! (Hopefully!)

Old Head shot day is so yesterday! New Head shot for Romeo! ?#ThosePaws!!! ?MD

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Any questions you wish journalists would ask you?

VG: No! I feel every journalist has her/his own style that comes through their questions.  I always love exactly what a certain journalist is interested in, so I never feel like, “I wish she would have asked this.” I would, however, love to voice something, If that’s alright of course.

Animals.  Extremely touchy subject.  Extremely controversial in the circus and humanitarian world. But I would regret not saying my opinion especially on a platform such as yours!

I adore animals. I really, really love mother nature.  Circus folk really adore their partners…the animals. My father and mother would wake up at 4 a.m., before making a cup of joe, to go feed and clean 12 horses.
There is no doubt that people care for their amazing exotic animals well. (And the people who don’t, are about the same level as racists are).
However, A human isn’t meant to contain an elephant chained to the ground. A human cannot contain a tiger or lion or panther.
We are here to make the world a better place, not hurt anything.
Being a humanitarian, I stand for this earth before I stand before exploitation for entertainment. I just love animals very much, and wish we could preserve and save them all!

It is a tradition that circus folk never bid each other “goodbye.” Instead, At the end of each performance, they prefer to say, “See you down the road.” In honor of the 146 years that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey brought joy, laughter and awe to its audience, we do the same. See you down the road.

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