Another Nock Takes the Spotlight
Back in 2000 I interviewed Bello Nock and his family backstage at the Big Apple Circus. In the middle of our conversation Bello’s youngest daughter, three year old Annaliese, came bounding into the dressing room. “Want to see what she can do?” Bello asked, grinning.
The little girl grasped his outstretched right arm and straightened her small body as Bello lifted her off the ground. With his left hand he swung her up into a horizontal position in mid-air, then to a vertical and took his hand away. For a full five seconds she stood on her hands on her dad’s sturdy forearm, balanced and steady, her body straight as a board.
Recently I talked with the grown-up, twenty-year-old Annaliese, who says she can remember being three years old. “I have such vivid memories of that time, and what stands out the most is sitting in the seats, watching as a bunch of people were practicing in the ring. I remember thinking in my little two or three year old mind that I would have to stretch if I want to do that myself. So I remember stretching my splits, knowing that I was going to do what they were doing when I grew up.”
In the latest version of Bello Mania, by way of introducing Annaliese’ high wire act, the ringmaster tells us that she learned to walk the wire almost as soon as she learned to walk. Apparently that is no joke. According to the young lady in question she was walking the wire and riding a unicycle at three. “Looking back,” she jokes, “I was probably better at it then than I am now.”
Her parents also remember her on the unicycle at the age of three. “I have never seen a child will herself to stay up on it, the way she did,” her mother Jennifer recalls. “It was like defying physics. That was always her attitude.”
Bello likes to joke that his father never forced him or his brothers into the circus. He just said, “Try it for thirty or forty years and then if you don’t like it go do something else.” It didn’t take that long for Annaliese’s older brother and sister to decide the circus was not for them. “We were all raised and trained the same way. We had the option to train in gymnastics and ballet and any kind of circus arts, but we weren’t forced to,” Annaliese says. The difference between her and her siblings is that she loved it and “the more the better for me.” Her siblings, however, never loved it as she did, and so as soon as they got a older, they tended to stray away from it.
As to the way in which all three of Bello’s kids were brought up, Bello reveals that his wife, at a very young age, said “I don’t want our kids to feel obligated or entitled.” “That hit me like a ton of bricks,” Bello confesses. “So we always gave all three of the kids the option for which way they wanted their lives to go, circus or no. But when you look at family life in the circus, it is nine or ten months out of the year traveling. The kids are always there with you, so what other chances do they have to do other things, but at the same time, that doesn’t mean they will go and do it or do it well.”
“How many times do you see kids performing who have no business being in the business?” Jennifer asks. “That’s worse than the people who had no choice. I wanted out kids to find something they were good at and passionate about. The two older ones have had every job in the circus. Alex has sold cotton candy, been a clown, helped with tech, and ran the camera for two years on Ringling, when they used the TV cameras in the show. Amariah was a fabulous backstage person. She was our stage manager. She’s really great at it. All our kids traveled for their whole lives, and I guess they got a little burned out. Annaliese still loves the travel. The other two are really more like me, because I’m more of a home body.”
“Here’s what it is,” Bello chimes in, “The other two if they had a job they did it, and it was fine. They never sought the spotlight.” By way of illustrating the stresses of constant travel, Bello provides a typical day: “You move to a new town. You arrive at 9 am; the hotel room is not really until 3 pm; the first rehearsal is at 4 pm; and you don’t get a chance to eat. The realities of life on the road and travel, didn’t really click with them.”
“Most eighteen year olds when they turn eighteen want to go and see the world,” Jennifer points out. “Our kids, until they were eighteen, that was all they did, was see the world. Our two older ones just wanted to stand still and live normal stationary lives. That was okay with us. We were sad to lose Amariah because she was so good. On Ringling she was Bello’s right hand man, and on Big Apple, too. She was his dresser, set up the dressing room, made up the light cues and called them. It wasn’t the job so much that she didn’t like, it was she just didn’t want to travel. Now she is running an adventure park for another family in Florida, an outdoor adventure park with zip lines and rock climbing. She just got married, and she’s at home running the business without any traveling. So can you imagine how proud that makes us that she’s doing what we were taught to do, just not traveling?”
But then there’s Annaliese. “If you don’t love the travel, it’s not worth it,” the twenty-year-old explains. “I have always loved it, and I knew that was what I was going to do with my life.”
To help make that happen her parents hired other trainers to work with her. “My entire childhood on Ringling when I was from four to eight years old, I was trained by a Russian gymnast who was on the show, Anna Kaminnik. She trained me in every kind of circus art. But it was all based on gymnastics, so that was really where I got my first work in gymnastics and from there my love just kept on growing, and I kept trying different things. For a long time I always wanted to be like the beautiful girl that does hand balancing and aerial work. I still enjoy that, but just recently I turned to doing more stunts. I never knew I would love it so much, and now I feel like I am addicted to it. I’ve become an adrenaline junkee. I’ve only been doing the wheel for two years now, but that’s my newest and biggest passion. I just really want to continue pursuing that.”
Since the wheel is normally a two person act, I wondered if she would want to work with her father. “I actually have performed with him basically the whole time I’ve been doing the wheel act,” she responded. “I’ve done it a few times with him as Bello with his hair up, but I’ve also done it with him in a hat so no one knew who he was and that was really fun. That’s how we did it at the New Generation Festival in Monte Carlo; he wore a hat the whole time. He was my partner and I just loved it. We have done it both ways, comedic and straight. In Circus Sarasota he was doing the comedy, and I was doing the tricks. In Monte Carlo it was more like me doing the tricks, and he was just basically my motor. I think I like that more. People don’t realize how hard it is to be a comic daredevil. But it’s challenging enough for me without adding the comedy. It makes it that much harder for me when he is doing the comedy, but I feel I can shine better and have less to worry about when it is just a serious performance.”
Recently Annaliese set a new world record for the number of flips she completed in a minute’s time on the wheel. “I started doing flips on the wheel about six months ago,” she says. “I was the first girl ever to do a flip in the wheel, and I wanted to mark that and seal the deal in history as being the first girl, but the Guinness Book of World Records doesn’t do firsts so I couldn’t get it. For them it has to be something that is measurable and something that can be broken, so I decided to call them up and have them come to see how many flips I could do in one minute.” The previous record was three completed by anyone, male or female. “So I wanted to try and break that record. It was all kind of last minute, but we got them to come to the opening night of Circus Sarasota, and it turned out be an awesome event. I broke the record so it was a good time.”
Outside the wheel flips may be next. “I don’t want to rush it,” she insists, “but I do want to do it. I think the first step is fully convincing my dad to let me, but I am sold on the idea. I want to take it to the next level for girls. There aren’t that many girls doing it. There are a lot who assist but there aren’t any who actually do wheel. I don’t know why. I think everyone had always thought of the wheel, myself included, as such a manly thing and something you couldn’t do gracefully. But then I just happened to get on the wheel, and I started to enjoy it, and I didn’t think about any of that. Before I knew it I felt that I could actually do it in a graceful way, and I thought this isn’t just for males. It can be for females just as much. I think it was that no female ever thought to do it. I am lucky because I kind of fell into it without planning to, and now I love it. I love that I am kind of leading the way for females to start doing it, and all these things that guys are doing that girls think they can’t do. “
Although Annaliese’s version of events is that she just fell into it, her mother has a somewhat different version. “In all honesty, Annaliese has always been a lot like Bello in her personality. As the youngest she has always wanted to keep up with her older siblings, so that’s what kind of drove her. She may not have the natural body type for this, but she has worked so hard and willed it and toughed it out.”
Annaliese did not start working with Bello on the kinds of things she now does until she had been grounded in contortion, hand stands, and all those skills that give one depth as a performer. “We owe a big debt to Anna Kaminnik on Ringling,” Jennifer asserts. “She practiced with her for years and years. When she got older, that was when she could apply the skills she had learned from Anna to the stuff that Bello does. That’s when Bello took over, and it was great that she had that base from Anna. Now she loves everything that Bello does rather than things like hand balancing. Because I am not from the circus business, I have had a different perspective on her training. Whereas Bello might have started doing that stuff with her when she was younger. I wanted her to be older before she really got into it. I wanted to be sure that she really made that choice, so in a way we almost kept it from her for a little bit. It was like, ‘If you want it you have to really prove you want it and work for it.’ When Annaliese and Bello started doing the wheel together, we were like amazed.”
Here Bello can’t help jumping into the conversation. “She was doing stuff before I told her to, anticipating what needed to be done. I didn’t have to tell her. It was all of a sudden she was there, and I was running as fast as I could during the first or second practice. I was like where did you learn to do that?”
“In the beginning I was constantly telling Bello you need to stop holding her back; you need to let her go,” Jennifer interjects. “ I would video them together, and I could see that she kept up with him. It’s been fun to see her really find her thing and really go for it. It really must be in her blood because she is so much like her Dad on that stuff, and that’s what she loves.”
As his daughter’s coach Bello says that he is beginning to understand something about himself. “I am a great coach for someone who can bring me what they’ve got, and I will make them better. I’m not really someone who can teach the basics like a forward roll. I’m not that guy. To obtain a certain degree of high success you need four things. A god given talent, access to the work, a great coach and finally something that no one can give you: drive. You show up. I’ve offered that opportunity to a lot of people. I’ve got the place; I’m the coach; and whatever you got I can see it in you. The only thing I can’t do is make you show up tomorrow. Or tomorrow morning at nine o’clock. With Annaliese, she, was already there at eight o’clock, stretching so at nine we’re ready to go. Not showing up with a coffee in her hand at 9:15 saying okay what are we doing today? I’d say where have you been, and she’d tell me she had been out for a run and had already spent an hour on the lyra. That’s inspiring to me as the coach.”
“And,” the proud mother adds, “She has a nice presence and a style. She’s been watching performers her whole life and you can tell; you see it come out. She has the ‘it’ factor, which is important.”
Not to be out done Bello says. “This is what I think makes her unique. Most people if they show you what they got, it’s all they can do. When you’re seeing her perform you’re only seeing a small percent of what she can do. That’s what makes me proud of her. With her there’s more. And that’s cool.”
“She has had that attitude from when she started. Right away she said she didn’t want to do the girl part in the wheel. She wanted to do the wheel. There have been girls who went around the wheel. They walked while the guy got on the little end. In Circus Sarasota she did at least one somersault at every performance,” Jennifer points out with pride.
And to drive the point home, Bello can’t resist adding, “In comparison there are five men who do wheel for a living who don’t do somersaults. And here you have a girl doing it. That’s pretty cool.”
“She really wants to put together an act that is rock ‘em, sock ‘em,” Jennifer has concluded.
Annaliese, who spoke to me separately from her parents, talked about her immediate future. She will be in Amsterdam at Toverland Amusement Park this summer on her own. Her uncle will be there supervising the equipment and performing with her. “But this will be the first time I will be performing without my parents. It’s kind of nerve wrecking. But I am excited about the opportunity to grow as my own performer and see what my style is and what my future with stunts looks like. I am excited about that. I love high wire walking, too, so in the future I hope to do some stunts like sky walks. I want to do the whole thing. I really enjoy doing sway poles now. The first time I started climbing was when we were on Ringling, and I was eleven years old. I started young, but I didn’t work them until two years ago, and I love it. I did that in Monte Carlo competition, along with the wheel. It was a lot of fun. It was an awesome experience.”
She will be in Amsterdam for two months and then back home for a little bit before heading back to Europe for the family’s winter tour and Christmas season, which means lots of the very thing that turned her brother and sister away from the business: travel.
“I love the travel,” she confesses. “I feel like I was born for it. It’s not for everyone. My mom and my brother don’t enjoy it so much. I love every minute of it. I get antsy and bored when I am home for longer than three weeks. I think it is just part of our life style. One of the hardest things for us since we try to do so many different acts, is that we have to train for everything. We train really hard about a month before a show for the specific act or acts we will be doing. And then when the next show comes along, it usually means different acts, and so we’ll train really hard for them.”
As for the coming summer, she says, “My uncle will be with me. Uncle John was a very skilled wheel artist, and he has been working with me and my dad. They have the same style. My uncle is the perfect fit to keep on track to becoming better. I will be practicing all summer on the wheel and the poles. We’ll see what happens. Three shows a day, seven days a week. We are the whole show, me, my uncle and a few other performers that my parents are putting together. Since it’s my first chance to be on my own, I am interested to see what it’s like outside of the family alone on my own. It’s a chance to spread my wings.”
Bello insists he is not worried about his youngest daughter being off on her own, and Jennifer, whose niche in show business is creating shows for her husband, says, she can’t wait to do that for her daughter, “because I think there really is an opportunity to create something, not necessarily with so much comedy, but definitely a female driven kind of danger. I already have stuff spinning in my head.”
In order for father and daughter to work together in the future, “we have to figure out the relationships,” Jennifer explains. “In Monte Carlo he was kind of the villain, but now, you’re putting this girl out there and she’s doing this great stuff on the wheel and then all of a sudden, it almost looked like he was being rude interrupting the girl. It changed the dynamics. So we have had to look at how to use that change of dynamics. What we finally realized is that in a way he holds her back because it has always been Bello’s wheel act, and she kind of holds him back because you have to be careful how you treat a lady, especially your daughter. People might think, ‘If you are proud of her why are you stealing the act from her?’ So it’s actually a good thing for them to split and do their own acts. I think that will be the way it goes in the future.”
And quite a future it promises to be.