Dolly Jacobs, Founder & Vice President
Dolly Jacobs was born into circus life and wouldn’t have it any other way. Her father was Lou Jacobs, the legendary clown for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus® for over 40 years. Dolly’s mother, a model in New York, quickly transformed her career to become a circus artist as well. As a girl, Dolly trained with the Sailor Circus in Sarasota learning a variety of the circus arts. In 1976 at age 16, Dolly launched her career with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus® as an aerialist. For eight years, she toured the world, establishing her own well-deserved reputation as a daring and creative circus aerialist, thrilling audiences with the “Roman Rings” and earning her the title “Queen of the Air”. From 1984 -1988 (except 1986) Dolly was the star aerialist with The Big Apple Circus, further underscoring her exceptional talent and creativity throughout the world. Dolly was one of a handful of circus artists invited to participate – twice – in the International Circus Festival of Monaco – each time winning the Dame du Cirque (Lady of the Circus) award along with being awarded the coveted Silver Clown in 1988. In January 1997, Dolly was inducted into the Circus Ring of Fame at St. Armand’s Circle and in January 1998 the Ringling Circus Museum Hall of Fame, both in Sarasota, Florida. In 2015 Dolly became the first circus artist in history to be awarded the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, the highest arts award in the US, recorded in the Library of Congress in Washington DC.
“I feel truly blessed to be able to do what I’m most passionate about while I’m continuing the legacy of circus arts, and, I am honored to be doing this with the best partner anyone could have, my husband and co-founder, Pedro.”
-Dolly Jacobs, Founder & Associate Director
Pedro Reis, Founder / President & CEO
Pedro Reis was born in Cape Town, South Africa and began his circus training at a local YMCA when he was 12. He developed his skills on the flying trapeze and later helped establish the first circus school in South Africa. As a circus artist, Pedro created “The Survivors” in 1982, a thrilling, high-flying act that toured Europe, making its American debut with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus® in 1984. In 1987, Pedro became a solo artist, performing with The Big Apple Circus at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida and The International Circus Festival of Monaco. Throughout his career touring Europe and the US, Reis was invited to perform before a number of dignitaries including His Royal Highness Charles, Prince of Wales; His Royal Highness Philip, Duke of Edinburgh; the Royal Family of Monaco; and President Ronald Regan.
Mr. Reis is the proud recipient of a variety of awards. In 2004, Reis received the Sarasota County Arts Council’s prestigious Arts Leadership Award. In 2009, Reis was inducted into the Circus Ring of Fame on St. Armand’s Circle and was also inducted into the Circus Hall of Fame at the John and Mable Ringling Museum. In 2014, Reis was appointed to serve on the Florida Council of Arts and Culture, a 15-member advisory council appointed to advise the Secretary of State regarding cultural grant funding and on matters pertaining to culture in Florida. But, one of Pedro’s proudest moments is becoming an American citizen.
Combined Experience, Passion & Dreams
While Dolly and Pedro’s paths crisscrossed throughout their lives, it was in 1994 that they co-created and toured their aerial pas de deux, “On Wings of Love”. And, then in 1997, Dolly Jacobs and Pedro Reis combined their experience, passion, and dreams to create The National Circus School of Performing Arts (later renamed Circus Sarasota and then The Circus Arts Conservatory in 2013), a one-ring European-style circus presenting professional performances from around the globe – Florida’s only professional, not-for-profit circus. Over time, and with encouragement and support from the community, the nonprofit grew from just performance to establishing three other important aspects of their dream for The Circus Arts Conservatory: educational outreach, community engagement, and legacy.
The educational branch of The Circus Arts Conservatory is the Educational Outreach Program. This system integrates the circus arts into a number of regional elementary school disciplines using hands-on and experimental methods to “learn by doing”. This technique is applied to science, technology, language arts, communication, math, theater, and more, receiving praise and support in the area’s schools from teachers, administrators, parents, and students.
The Circus Arts Conservatory is also committed to engaging in outreach programs to further benefit the community. The Humor Therapy Program was developed by circus artists in an effort to connect with people in local care facilities to bring the joy of circus arts to those in need at hospitals, nursing homes, rehab facilities, and more.
Bestowing the history and circus arts to youth ages 8-18 creates a circus legacy to which both Pedro and Dolly have devoted their lives. Established in 1949, the Sailor Circus Academy creates a permanent, professional circus school where students are encouraged to achieve professionalism and excellence in the circus arts while embracing all performing arts. Their mission is to provide a circus that represents the circus arts at the highest level and one that is linked to the community through performance, education, and integrated arts programming. Bringing the magic of circus to more than 200,000 people thus far, the circus arts legacy is safe with Dolly and Pedro, and continues with the next Sailor Circus generation.
Recognized for its leadership in both artistic programming, sound management, and fiscal practice, The Circus Arts Conservatory received the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Award in the Arts Organization of the Year category in 2005. In 2012 and 2015 the Chamber awarded Circus Sarasota and The Circus Arts Conservatory respectively with its Small Business Cultural Organization of the Year Award.
Dolly and Pedro are truly following in the footsteps of Dolly’s father, Lou Jacobs and others, establishing their own place in history, while honoring all the greats who preceded them.
“I feel truly blessed to be able to do what I’m most passionate about while I’m continuing the legacy of circus arts,” says Dolly Jacobs. “And, I am honored to be doing this with the best partner anyone could have, my husband and co-founder, Pedro.”