May 23, 2004 by

Dessi Espana

50 comments

Categories: Extraordinary People

despana.jpgDessi Espana, an aerial acrobat, died on May 22 after she fell 30 feet onto a concrete floor during a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus show in St. Paul, Minn. She was 32.

España was twirling upside-down, hanging by her legs from long chiffon scarves tied to a metal bar when either the silky cloth or a mechanism holding the cloth in place failed. Chiffon acts traditionally do not use safety nets. España later died at the hospital from her injuries.

Because the show must go on, a group of clowns began performing to distract the audience from the accident, which occurred 25 minutes into a three-hour show. It was the first fatal accident during a Ringling Bros. circus in a decade.

España came from a family of Bulgarian performers. As part of the Kehaiovi teeterboard act, the troupe earned two places in the Guinness Book of World Records, a decoration from the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture and the Silver Clown Award. At 13, España broke a world record by swirling 75 silver hoops simultaneously around her body. She broke her own record twice, with 88 then 97 hoops. The latter feat was broadcast on the “Live With Regis and Kathy Lee” show.

Dessi married Mexican trapeze artist Ivan España during a Ringling Bros. show in 1992. She occasionally performed in his motorcycle act — standing in the center of a steel sphere as he and other cyclists rode around her. Their children, Zore and Sian, were also training to become circus entertainers.

50 Responses to Dessi Espana

  1. Stacy

    I was there when the accident happened for my sons 4th birthday. It was very hard to watch, you could hear the clasp hit the floor as well as her. She was upside down when she fell and landed on her head. She didn’t move and no one really seemed to know what to do. I think it was more disturbing that they continued the circus and acted as though nothing had happened rather than canceling it as everyone would have understood. Every other act they did we were all even more nervous about hoping something didn’t go wrong. I can’t get the image of her falling and hitting the floor, I have been trying to block it out but I just can’t. I feel so bad. I was just expressing my concern to my mother about 30sec’s prior to the fall that their were no nets under these people and thought it was rediculous. And it made it even worse when something had happened.

  2. romero flores

    she was a kind lady and was always nuturing towards her children,and was plesent to be around with. romero flores in toledo 111 s summit st toledo oh 43602 .

  3. Heidi Horvath

    I worked with Dessi in the circus in 1995. I was a dancer and she was doing a ring act at the time. I am devastated. I find it heart breaking, a beautiful person as she, with such talent, who never used a net or saftey, relied soley on her pure strength and talent, died in such a tragic way. My husband, who never new Dessi, said at least she died doing what she loved. Thank you for your sympathy dear, but she should continue doing it for the next 25 years with her children by her side. It’s just not fair! Love to Ivan, Geri, Senora Espana and the entire family! You’ve all made an impact on my life and I miss you dearly!

  4. shawna

    I WAS THERE WHEN THE ACCIDENT HAPPENED WITH MY ELEVEN MONTH OLD DAUGHTER. I WAS EXCITED TO SEE THE ACT. I HAVE SEEN DESSI WITH THE HANNOFORD CIRCUS AND ON TV AS WELL. I ADMIRED HER BEAUTY, STRENGHTH AND GRACE. THIS IS SUCH A TRAGEDY. SHE IS CONSTANTLY IN MY PRAYERS, AS WELL AS DESSIS FAMILY AND FRIENDS. I AM DEEPLY SADDENED OVER WHAT HAPPENED. DESSI IS IN MY PRAYERS. EVEN THOUGH I NEVER MET HER SHE HAS A PLACE IN MY HEART FOREVER.

  5. patrick lally

    when will these performers learn?
    cmon…leaving two kids behind to fend for themselves. im an athiest so there wont be any prayers coming outta me thats for sure. i just dont understand why?
    in nyc the same circus had three mishaps last month without nets…youd think these foolish people would leran?
    but my sympathy to the family but mr….please use a net….these kids need their father at least

  6. Christy Chan

    My thoughts and prayers go out to the Espana and Kehaiovi families. Dessi’s sister Geri and I were very close as teenagers and I know how much she adored her sister. Geri if you read this please know I love you and will always ber here for you. Love Christy C.

  7. lou

    The death of any one is tragic, especially a young mother. When god says it is your time no matter what you are doing or how safe you try to be you can not post pone it. I’m a circus performer and did highwire my sister also but she didn’t die performing it was from giving birth. I beleive we are put on this earth to accomplish something and when we have done it then it is time to move on, to a better place. My heart and love go out to the Espana family, especially to her children which will always feel the lose as my nieces still do til this day. Put your faith in god and he will see you through. Dessi’s children are her legacy and they will love and honor her forever. Her spirit lives on in them and their children to come.

  8. Richard

    I’m amazed that Ringling Brothers wouldn’t stop the show! I know that show biz tradition dictates that the show must go on, BUT!…this is an exception to the rule! My heart goes out to Dessi’s family and hopefully something good will come out of it. As Charlton Heston said in the “Greatest Show On Earth” movie, “Flyers have always fallen. They will fall again.”

  9. Petia Koceva

    Dessi was my classmate at 18 scool “Kiril & Metodi” in Sofia,Bulgaria,i remember her as shiney,beautifull and frienly person,she and her kids don’t deserve such a stroke of fate like this!!!! Now Geri (her real name Gergana) should carey about her 2 nephews…please don’t afford this kids to be play in circus-save at least theirs lives. Oooo poor Dessi,she was so beautifful,that she could be a fashion-model,a occupation that is much safety than circus performer! We the friends here in Bulgaria miss her so much,goodbye suity Dessi…we pray for you.May she rest in peace. Petia,from Sofia

    • Terrie Lay

      I was researching online the Kahaiovi Troupe because I am looking for Ivan (Evon) Estoinev from Sofia, Bulgaria. I know how to say it but not spell it correctly. He was with the teeterboard troupe at Ringling in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s when Dessi was just a little girl. He was a little bit older than Dessi. Do you know him? He was my good friend and I think of him often. If you know him, you can email to me. Thank you.

  10. Eric S

    Bye Dessi…Im glad that I had a chance to meet you and Ivan. I will always remember you and cherish the fact that I performed in the same circus show with you in Vegas. God Bless you.

  11. Cori, Taryn, Kieran

    Our thoughts and prayers to your family. We cried when we read about Dessi Espana. My daughters and I are learning silks. It is a wonderful form of art and exercise and we hope to continue to practice tissu/silks.
    So that similar accidents can be prevented, I do hope the circus will release information on the error in rigging that caused this accident.
    I hope the family will be able to recover from this terrible tragedy and continue to do what they love most.
    God bless you.

  12. Andrea

    I was blessed to have worked in a show with Dessi, her Sister Geri and the Espana’s in Pusan, South Korea a few years ago. She is truly a beautiful person both inside and out and she will be missed by everyone whos life she touched. My thoughts and prayers are with her family. God Bless you Ivan, Zoe, Geri, Noe, Senora Espana, Vivian and family! All of the Pusan cast are thinking of you!
    – Andrea

  13. Ashley

    I’m so shocked. I myself had never met Dessi. But I did see her perform. I loved her performance. I wish I could have met her. But to all of those who have known her, my prayers are with you. And to her family and friends, I am truely sorry for your loss, and may God with you always, Dessi aswell. God bless, and remember the goodness of a mother, is carried out through her children. Dessi may not be there in body, but she will watch over her loved ones in spirit. God bless, we will never forget you Dessi. You were a gem, and a joyful, free spirit. May you rest in peace.
    -Ashley

  14. Marissa Parra

    I am twelve years old, and I was nearly in tears when I heard the news. My dad is a promoter, and he met the Espanas while he helped take them to Mexico. Though I only met the Espanas once during a visit to their house, it doesn’t take much to know the Espanas are a wonderful loving family. It is such a tragedy, it’s still hard for me to beleive what happened. My heart realy aches for Zore and Sian, I wish there was someway I could comfort them… Dessi was just the sweetest person,she was beautiful, inside and out, truly…. my love is always with her. My heart to Senor Ivan and his kids Zore and Sian, Senor Noe, Senora Vivian, and all of the rest of the family…
    Sincerely,
    Marissa Parra

  15. Pamela

    The Barnum and Bailey Circus thinks that we, the ticket holders, want to see acts that are risky- like not using nets. No dear people, that is not what we want. We would enjoy the circus so much more without having to worry that a performer might plummit to their death.
    I’m so sorry about Dessi’s death. It’s so sad and was so preventable.

  16. Ari

    In life, we strive for three things…love, freedom and the pursuit in happiness. Dessi was a great example of all three. I grew up with her, she was a very special part of my life for over 25 years. Since children in the old winter quarters in Venice, Florida; I remember playing with Dessi Kehayovi, Seffi Slavovi, Kris Kristos, Buffy Williams… and all the other circus children. These people were my friends throughout my childhood and still to this day, we all have ties together. I remember the days when Gunther use to chase us out of the hay loft and the many Christmas’s we had in my family’s home in Sarasota. Our home was always know as the “base”…it was where many of the Bulgarian performers and many other nationality performers would enjoy many a barbeques and holidays. I have endless memories of our parents telling us…”quite down…go run outside…don’t do that..etc.” My heart aches, she was more than friend, she was like a sister I never had. My brother and I will always remember her laugh, her beauty and her life. It seems like yesterday, and then in an instant she is gone. But always lives in our hearts and memories. For Zore and Sian, always know mom loves you. Keep her in your hearts forever and let the beauty in her live in you. For Ivan, I wish I could take some pain away from you, but it will pass. No one can tell you how to feel…you’ll have to let time heal you. My love to your family. To the Kehayov family our endless love as given to you all through the years. Geri…I remember when you were born and how happy Dessi was to hold you…I remember that day like it was yesterday…how happy and thrilled she was to have a sister. I know the special bond you both share and will continue that bond in an angelic way. Her spirit is in you…be just as happy as she was and never look back. Dessi loved her life, her husband, her children her family…and the circus life. She left us in a tragic way, but she was a performer…fearless, graceful, enthusiastic and as beautiful she was on the outside, her beauty was 10 times more on the inside. I love you with all my heart my friend. I miss you.
    Ari

  17. Angelina

    Dessi Espana was the most beautiful, kind, loving person you would ever meet. She was the Princess Dianna of Circus and now she is the Guardian Angel of the Circus. Her inner beauty was just as breath taking as her outer beauty. I will miss her but I will always remember her gentle kindness.

  18. Michele

    I have been gone from the show for many years now and when this tragic accident happened I did not realize that Dessi Espania was the little Dessi Kehayovi that I knew on the show many years ago. I knew her and her family well as I was married to a Bulgarian and my heart now aches. May our prayers and thoughts reach her family and the extended circus family – we love you Dessi.

  19. Lisa Woodman

    Yesterday (June 22, 2004) was the one month mark after Dessi’s death. The pain is just as sharp as the first moment that we learned she had left us and she is missed most terribly. The loss of her presence grows more poignant each and every day. I wish I could tell her so many things…things that you think you will have forever to say. I would tell her that I admired her and loved how she always showed such confidence without being cocky. How she made any event or any occasion more special and somehow magical. I would tell her that when she talked to you, she made you feel like you were the only person in the world…and she really listened and genuinely cared. I would tell her that I really loved her and enjoyed immensely watching her grow up from a young, hopeful, idealistic teenager into a beautiful, mature, and accomplished woman to be reckoned with. I would tell her how VERY proud I was of her. And that her love for her husband and her children was so tender and beautiful to see.
    God, how I wish you would have let us have her longer…much longer.
    –Lisa

  20. chad ridge

    I am not sure what to say…Dessi was a loveing careing person. even now as i think about it I cry. The one thing the Espana Famley has shown me is love and I think and hope that the love is comming back to them at this time that they need most. I LOVE YOU ALL
    CHAD(SPANKY)RIDGE

  21. Nelly

    Goodbye, Princess!
    God bless your Soul!
    We all love you and will miss you!
    My prayers for Georgi, Ani, her children, all her family!

  22. emily christoff

    george, anna, evan, and all members of your joint and wonderful families. my mother phoned me only today and told me about about dessi. i am so sad but happy that i had the privilege of meeting and knowing her and all of you dear people. with tears clouding my vision, I am heartbroken for you all. you all are in my prayers. And long ago a scottish poet once wrote to comfort those who have lost:
    “If I should die and leave you here awhile,
    Be not like others, sore undone, who keep
    Long vigils by the silent dust, and weep.
    For my sake – turn again to life and smile,
    Nerving thy heart and trembling hand to do
    Something to comfort other hearts than thine.
    Complete those dear unfinished tasks of mine
    And I, perchance, may therein comfort you.”
    If there’s anything i or my family can do please
    just ask, we love you, we will never forget dessi
    or you….we are here for you.
    emily

  23. Alissa

    Get a clue patrick lally, your life can be snuffed out just as quick if not quicker. therefore you should look beyond this realm and call out to your maker before it is too late for you. Dessi is in Heaven now. God keep her in His warm, loving arms until she is reunited with her family.

  24. MA. DE LOURDES LOPEZ SAUCEDO

    AHORA QUE VINO EL RINGLIN A MEXICO EN MARZO DEL 2005, TUVIMOS LA OPORTUNIDAD DE IR, Y A MIS HIJOS LES ENCANTO TODO, LES COMPRAMOS EL VIDEO HOME, Y FUE DONDE SUPE DE ESTA LAMENTABLE PERDIDA, YO NO LA CONOCI, PERO SE QUE TENIA HIJOS Y POR ESO ME CONSTERNO MUCHISIMO. SE QUE AHORA EN EL LUGAR QUE ESTA ES UN GRAN ANGEL PARA SUS HIJOS Y SU FAMILIA Y LOS CUIDA. ADEMAS TIENEN A TODA ESA GENTE MARAVILLOSA QUE TRABAJA EN EL CIRCO AL IGUAL QUE SU ESPOSO QUE SIEMPRE HONRRARAN SU MEMORIA PARA QUE ELLOS SIEMPRE ESTEN ORGULLOSOS DEL LEGADO DE SU MADRE. CON MUCHO CARI

  25. Luis Enrique Rios and Family

    We went to the show in Guadalajara Mexico last March 2005, and after watching the DVD we learned what happened. I am glad nothing happened here, but I was concerned the girls didnt have any nets, I did notice without knowing of this terrible accident. It would be wise to place nets, having them doesent minimizes the talent they have. I would never like to see any accident anywhere, specially fatal.
    Lopez-Rios Family Guadalajara Mexico

  26. Dina Gourley

    To the Kehaiovi and Espana families- I am truly sorry for your loss. I toured on Ringling blue unit over 20 years ago & remember playing with Dessi, Stefi Slavova, Chris Kristos, Kevin Gautier & many others. It’s always a shock when someone so young & with such a bright light is taken from us. Although it has been many years since I was her, I will always remember Dessi. Love & prayers go to the people she left behind & the many hearts and lives she touched.

  27. Andrea castano

    to the kehaiovi family and the espana family
    i am really sorry for the loss of dessi i remember her i really did not know her well but i meet her at st.pitersberg and it was like januray and i said hi to her and she looked so nice and peaceful and we talked for a lil bit about the show.And that may that i heard that deesi had fell i burst into tears i just prayed to god that he will take good care of her and the next day i woke up and everywhere i saw on the news that she had died!. i was so said that i told myself god has his reasons and i give all my heart for zore and sian and dessi you are a queen you did alot of hard work all your life everyone is really proud of u! we love you dessi*

  28. dolly oropeza

    una gran perdida para el mundo del espectaculo ciruense…dessi siempre te recordare como una exelente profesional,madre y amiga…

  29. Maria Eugenia

    Trabaje con Dessi en un Circo ,y soy amiga de la familia ,es una gran perdida ,Dessi era una persona Dulce como ninguna y excelente madre ,siempre te llevaremos en el corazon ..estas en el cielo .

  30. Antonio Mladenov

    I don’t know where to begin.I heard about the accident the week it happened but didn;t know much until I did some research.I have never met her in person. But tears rushed up my eyes to see such a beurtiful yong caring mother to die.
    I am going to pray each and everything night.
    I am so deeply sadden.

  31. Jo-Anne

    What a beautiful woman. I miss and think about you, oh, so often. I still carry your picture in my wallet, although it’s been so long since I’ve seen you. You are in The Lord’s Kingdome now, where you will be reunited with your family one day. I pray for them all, and know beyond a show of a doubt your love fills their lives to fullest.
    God Bless your whole family, dear Dessi. We all miss you.

  32. Lisa

    Dessi,
    You are here with us now as much as ever. Everything that was magical about you is present everyday in your beautiful children. We love you and miss you.

  33. Suzi Naworal

    I bought the HOMETOWN EDITION dvd that was a dedicated to this beautiful lady. I googled her name to see how she passed and found all these wonderful comments. My grandson of 18 mos. is mesmerized by this wonderful dvd I bought. Thank you Ringling Bros. for offering this to us at such a wonderful price of 5.00 at your circus. And to the family our deepest sympathy to you. A very rewarding life your loved one must have known entertaining us for years and now we can share her with our families. She will be remembered always with us. We will be there every year when the “CIRCUS COMES TO TOWN.” Thanks to all the Performers for making our day such a wonderful experience. “Celebrity Seating” (well worth the price) is the only way to go WOW what a personal treat to be up close and personal with all these WONDERFUL stars.

  34. Kimberly Rodriguez

    Dessi was a beautiful person! I had the pleasure to work with her many years ago. My ex husband was the catcher for the Espana’s. She was so kind and loving. When she walked into a room she made it shine you had a hard time taking your eyes off of her because she was so beautifull inside and out. She was very kind to my son he was just a baby and she always picked him up and gave him huggs and kisses. I was not there when she became a mother but I am sure she was the best mommy in the world. I just learned of her death and my heart broke for her and for her family. God bless you Dessi my heart my prayers and my thoughts will be with you always as well as with you Ivan and your children. You are a strong man no words can make you feel better but I hope that you will find it in you to be the man that you are. Life will never be the same without her for anyone especially you and your children but if anyone can make it through this you can. Be strong for your children and just remind them every day what a beautiful mom they had and what a woderful father they have. My prayes for you all.
    Kimberly Rodriguez

  35. Johnnathan Ybarra

    us performers do this for a living, if my parents didn’t do what they did how would i eat when i was little kid? it is our job,and most of this acts are performed the way they have to be,she passed away leaving her kids not by choice, its the cycle of life, its bound to happen to all of us and nothing can prevent it, and all you can do is call us performers foolish? shame on you,if you don’t have anything nice to say,don’t say nothing.

    R.I.P Dessi.

  36. Buzz Macinzie

    I saw her act several years ago. She was spinning around at the end of a rope holding on with her teeth near the top of the tent. She was not using a net. I remember thinking that it is just a matter of time before she goes splat. How stupid it was not to use a net! That death was just unnecessary.

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