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Alison Gowans
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The library's big summer performance series is underway. In the coming weeks, there will be music, magic, storytelling, live animals, and even interactive dinosaurs, all of it free and open to all ages.

Among the performers will be Martika Daniels, who will bring her interactive circus show to Cedar Rapids on June 17. She’ll have two performances, one inside the Downtown Library, and one outdoors on the Urban Plaza, where she’ll add fire to her act.

“I love to do fire eating. I’ll talk a little bit about the science of fire and how the fire eating works,” she said. “When I do fire spinning, I talk about how the fire props I use in the show originated from different countries and how they were used, like poi from New Zealand.”

Blending education into her act is integral to what she does, Daniels said.

“I love traveling. My dad raised me as a traveler, so wherever I go I get to teach people a little bit about different cultures they may never have thought about,” she said. “I give the backstory to each prop I’m using – I want people to understand that this has history behind it.”

She fell in love with the circus as a child living in Germany, where her father was stationed with the Air Force. He would take her to see the circus in different European countries. She read everything she could find about the circus but didn’t see many books that featured Black girls like her. That’s what inspired her to write a picture book of her own, “The Amazing Martika,” about her journey to become a circus performer.

“I have people say, ‘I didn’t even know this was possible.’ Seeing kids like me in the audience and knowing they have that representation is so amazing,” she said. “Seeing that fire in someone else’s eyes is just amazing each time.”

Circus performing wasn’t her first career – she had taken a hula hooping workshop at a festival in college and taught herself from there, but she was mostly doing small gigs on the side while working as a parasitologist in a laboratory. When her laboratory closed, she decided to take a chance and see if she could make performing full-time work.

“I decided to give it a year and start my own business. It definitely was hard and a lot of work, but after that year I just kept going, and it’s been about eight years now,” she said. She hopes kids and adults alike who come to her show feel inspired to pursue their own passions, whatever they may be. “I hope they take away that they are capable of doing so many things when they put their mind to it,” she said. “No matter how old you are, go after that passion, that fire. It’s never too late to go do it.”