EAST MANATEE -- From their earliest memories of childhood, Julio and Gloria Gaona cannot recall a time that their lives didn’t include sawdust, greasepaint and rhinestones on tights.

What’s a kid to do when they are born into a circus family?

For Julio Gaona, the circus roots go back seven generations. He was born near Guadalajara, Mexico, and started performing on trampoline at age 3. He grew up traveling with the circus around the world, including with Clyde Beatty Cole Brothers Circus, Garden Brothers Circus and others.

Gloria Gaona was born in Canada of Colombian parents, and grew up in the Old Grove Park neighborhood of southern Manatee near Lockwood Ridge Road and what is now University Parkway. Her circus heritage goes back two generations.

She will tell you she has been balancing on her head and hands virtually from the time she learned to walk. Later she learned trapeze, and has toured with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus and others.

From her days as a child performer, she has a pair of tiny purple slippers, which her mother put away for her.

Today, the husband-and-wife team work as The Flying Gaonas. While they are business partners, they didn’t always share the same faith.

Julio Gaona admits to partying to excess in his younger days. But his wife played a key role in making praying, rather than partying, the focus of his life.

“We prayed my husband into the kingdom,” Gloria Gaona said, adding that they now start each day with a devotional.

“Our faith grew here through this pastor,” she said of Christian Retreat’s Phil Derstine. “He has reached out to a lot of circus people.”

Now in their 40s, the couple have set up The Flying Gaonas Gym Flying Trapeze and Circus Arts School at Christian Retreat, 1200 Glory Way Blvd., off Upper Manatee River Road.

They offer group and private classes, birthday parties, corporate events, private performances and specialty camps. And they will also share a bit of their faith along the way.

June King, 73, a Christian Retreat resident, attended one of the Gaonas’ classes.

“They are sweet, wonderful people and they do love the Lord,” King said.

King got up on the trapeze, with the reassurance of Julio down below and a safety line.

“I love to be adventurous and I always liked heights,” she said, noting that she got acquainted with a stationary trapeze and learned to drop to mats down below, before moving up t0 the highest trapeze where she did flips and dismounted onto a safety net.

“It was wonderful, exciting, very liberating,” King said.

The classes are available to virtually anyone of any age, although the Gaonas advise that anyone with back, arm or hand problems should just watch, rather than try to fly on the trapeze.

The couple say they want to pass on their circus knowledge to others, and encourage an appreciation for the art.

“Like when you go to the opera. Either you love it or you don’t, but when you come out you’ve learned to respect it,” Julio Gaona said.

One of the lessons Gloria Gaona likes to share is that to be successful at anything requires dedication, discipline and hard work.

Fees start at $45, or $10 for a tryout swing. For more information, visit or call (773) 398-9881.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.