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Circus Arts Disciplines

Here is a non-exhaustive glossary of circus terms compiled using resources available at the School Library.

  Acrobatic Chair

Acrobatic Chair

The Acrobatic Chair is straight and solid enough to allow the balancing acrobat to accomplish various balancing and acrobatic moves on the ground. The balancing artist may use the Acrobatic Chair singly or by stacking one or more. The Chair Pyramid is a circus discipline wherein the artist uses a large number of chairs stacked one upon the other, and then performs balancing moves at the top of the structure.

 
  Aerial Cradle

Aerial Cradle

Fixed aerial apparatus that consists of a rectangular metal framework, often affixed under the cupola of a circus tent, in which the carrier kneels to assist the flyer in performing various aerial acrobatics.

 
  Aerial Rings

Aerial Rings

Aerial apparatus employed by gymnasts composed of two suspended metal circles. While either stationary or swinging, the ring artist may use them to perform turns, swivels, drops and balances.

 
  Antipodism

Antipodism

Sometimes called Foot Juggling, this ancient juggling discipline was once practiced by the Aztecs. It involves, once the juggler is lying on a trinka (a low sloping armchair), juggling various items with the feet, such as cylinders, barrels, carpets and other objects.

 
  Balancing

Balancing

Ancient acrobatic discipline dating from the most ancient of times that requires the balancing acrobat to execute various moves and acrobatics while balancing on the hands or head, either on the ground or on virtually any type of apparatus. The principal apparatus used in balancing is called canes, two metal bars set at varying heights with small blocks on the top upon which the balancing acrobat can place the hands to perform the balancing moves.

 
  Banquine

Banquine

Acrobatic discipline executed at ground level by two carriers who, using their arms, catapult a flyer to stand on the interlaced hands of the carriers, a position called banquette. The impetus allows the flyer to perform acrobatic leaps and return to the starting point, the ground, or the banquette of a second team of carriers.

 
  Bicycle

Bicycle

Discipline in which the acrobat executes acrobatic balances or tricks using a bicycle in an original fashion, quite removed from or exaggerated in comparison to its usual function. In the New Circus movement, the bicycle often serves as an allegory for the horse.

 
  Chair Pyramide

Chair Pyramide

Circus discipline in which balancing artists use a significant number of stacked chairs upon which they perform balancing moves at the top of the pile or stack. The chairs are both straight and durable, and may also be used for the Acrobatic Chair discipline.

 
  Chinese Hoops Diving

Chinese Hoops Diving

Specialty originating in China, consisting of a set of wooden or metal hoops of varying diameters that are balanced one on top of the other on the ground, through which the acrobats propel themselves while performing various acrobatics.

 
  Chinese Pole

Chinese Pole

Apparatus of Asian origin consisting of one or several vertical metal posts fixed into the ground and generally 3-to-9 metres in height, along which acrobats move, climbing and executing various moves and acrobatic jumps. An offshoot of the Chinese Pole is the Swinging Pole, similar except that rather than fixed into the ground it is suspended by cables at the top to hang roughly 60 centimetres from the ground. The Swinging Pole allows the acrobat to inject more dynamic and diverse moves into the number due to the swinging movement created by the pole.

 
  Cloud Swing

Cloud Swing

Aerial discipline consisting of a slack rope attached at both ends to form a swing roughly 6 metres long. As it swings, the acrobat performs holds, turns and other aerial acrobatics. Used in the seventeenth century by Tightrope walkers, this discipline predates the invention of the Trapeze.

 
  Clowning Art

Clowning Art

Clowning can be traced back to the English comedies of the pre-Shakespearian era. Originally a comic country buffoon character, a kind of equestrian and acrobatic burlesque artist, the clown later became the generalized comic grotesque character appearing in pantomime and circus shows. Clowning employs dramatic arts, mime, farce and burlesque to create sketches intended to make audiences laugh. The first famous pantomime clown was Joey Grimaldi (1778-1837).

 
  Contortion

Contortion

The practice of extreme physical flexibility, thousands of years old, which allows the contortionist to accomplish exaggerated  positions using extreme stretching, flexing and bending of the arms and legs. The practice of Contortion can be divided into three categories: backbending, frontbending and dislocation. Backbending has its origins in travelling shows while frontbending originates in Asia. A contortionist may practice more than one type.

 
  Cyr Wheel

Cyr Wheel

Acrobatic disciple derived from the German Wheel invented by Quebecer Daniel Cyr, cofounder of Cirque Éloize and composed of a simple metal circle in which the acrobat moves. Using his own impetus, he is able to turn unceasingly while executing acrobatics. As opposed to the German Wheel, the Cyr Wheel's structure allows more fluidity in the rotations, which accents the dynamism of the discipline.

 
  Dance Trapeze

Dance Trapeze

Discipline evolving from the Aerial Hoop using a simple trapeze attached at one end alone, upon which the acrobat performs choreographic and acrobatic movements. The Dance Trapeze may be static or swinging, used at a height or lower to the ground. The Dance Trapeze executed closer to the ground allows the acrobat to add impulse using the feet, perform choreography, vary the speed, etc.

 
  Devil Sticks

Devil Sticks

Juggling specialty made popular in the early nineteenth century by Indian artists Medua and Mooty Samme. It consists of using two sticks to manipulate a baton roughly 80 centimetres in length, usually tapered in the middle.

 
  German Wheel

German Wheel

Of German origin, this apparatus is comprised of two large metal circles joined along the perimeter by a series of short bars, inside which the acrobat stands and uses his own impetus to propel the wheel, whirling and performing acrobatics while defying the laws of gravity.

 
  Hand to Hand

Hand to Hand

Demanding acrobatic discipline performed by two or more acrobats on the ground in which the carrier executes various moves involving strength, balance, elevation and flexibility by carrying the flyer on the hands or sometimes the head. There are two forms of Hand to Hand:  Dynamic Hand to Hand and Static Hand to Hand.

Static Hand to Hand often is executed in a smaller space, because the carrier and flyer perform only moves involving strength and balance with no great need to move through space. The feats of balancing and strength are presented in a slow manner, so that the audience can fully appreciate the skill and endurance of the acrobats.

Dynamic Hand to Hand makes use of the entire performance space with much larger movements and a faster rhythm to some moves, since the carrier provides the propulsion via a push of the arms to the flyer, who is able to perform different acrobatic jumps landing on the shoulders of the partner, another carrier, or the ground. Several individual types of acrobatics, synchronized or not, are often added to the number. Because of certain qualities and the fact it is practiced by two acrobats, Dynamic Hand to Hand is similar to Banquine.

 
  Icarian Games

Icarian Games

Discipline evolving from acrobatics and Antipodism that involves, once the juggler is lying on a trinka (a low sloping armchair), in propelling a flyer through space, who then executes various balancing moves and risky jumps. A second team of carriers and flyers may join the number to perform various hazardous jumps and to allow the exchange of flyers.

 
  Juggling

Juggling

Art requiring dexterity and agility dating to the most ancient of times. Juggling may be practiced individually or in a group, in the air or on the ground, and consists of throwing various objects in the air that may be of almost any type: rings, balls, pins, etc.  The object is to keep them in motion at all times, with the juggler re-launching each as it falls. Juggling frequently is practiced in combination with other circus disciplines, such as the Unicycle, Tight Wire, Rola-Bola, etc. There are sub-categories of Juggling: Balancing Juggling, that consists of a balancing objects such as bowls, glasses, balloons, etc., often stacked on the head, chin or feet; and Manipulation, which consists of keeping in motion various items like hats, sticks balls, etc. on different parts of the body.

 
  Korean Board

Korean Board

Discipline similar to the Teeterboard that was invented by artists from North Korea. It consists of a rocking board upon which two acrobats stand and then are catapulted in turn, continuously performing vaults, spins, and other acrobatic jumps.

 
  Ladder

Ladder

A simple ladder that the acrobat climbs and maintains in an upright position through constant movement of the hips creating a perpetual side-to-side motion, and then performs mounts, balances and other acrobatics at the top. A Ladder number may be combined with certain Hand-to-Hand or Juggling moves in order to increase the level of difficulty.

 
  Perch

Perch

Acrobatic accessory coming from the Far East consisting of a metal or wooden bar that is carried by a carrier or fixed on the ground, up which an acrobat climbs to execute balances and acrobatics at the top. The Perch may also be combined with other circus disciplines, such as Tight Wire, Hand to Hand, Teeterboard, etc.

 
  Rola Bola

Rola Bola

Invented by a Frenchman, Vasque, in 1898 this discipline consists of standing and balancing on an unstable assembly of boards supported by cylinders roughly 25 centimetres in diameter.  Rola-Bola may be combined with other circus disciplines, such as Juggling, Hand to Hand, etc.

 
  Rolling Globe

Rolling Globe

Large-diameter, up to 1.5 metres, wood or plastic sphere upon which the performer walks while executing acrobatic feats. Some jugglers also use the Rolling Globe in their numbers to increase the level of difficulty.

 
  Russian Bar

Russian Bar

First employed by Boris Isaevy in 1958, this acrobatic discipline is executed on the ground by two carriers who support, either on the shoulder or arms, a flexible bar upon which a flyer stands upright and performs a variety of precarious moves.

 
  Russian Cradle

Russian Cradle

Apparatus composed of one or two gantries equipped with platforms fastened to the ground at variable heights facing forward, upon which stands a carrier, or one on each end as required, attached to the platform at the waist. This position allows the carriers to propel one or more flyers, who then execute various aerial acrobatics. This apparatus is often added to installations along with Flying Trapeze numbers.

 
  Russian Swing

Russian Swing

Discipline originating in Eastern Europe consisting of a large oblong-shaped swing that is propelled using the natural movement of the mechanism and the weight of two or three spotters who push it. The flyer standing at the end of the swing launches into the air and executes acrobatic leaps or vaults as high as 20 metres or more over the ring, returning either to the ground or to the shoulders of carriers.

 
  Silks

Silks

Aerial discipline derived from the Aerial Rope made up of a large length of fabric folded in half to form two fabric panels hanging vertically from a hooking device, inside which the acrobat rolls and contorts to execute various acrobatic moves and tricks. As with the straps, the fabric makes it possible to perform large rotations the length of the ring, granting the acrobat remarkable grace while in flight.

 
  Slack Wire

Slack Wire

Related to the Tight Wire, the difference being there is a slack tension to the cable or rope so as to create a curved line between the two mounts. The acrobat moves along the wire and by rocking executes a series of moves, balances, jumps and dance steps.

 
  Spanish Web

Spanish Web

Aerial apparatus consisting of a cotton rope stranded or braided to a 3-to-5 centimetre diameter that hangs vertically upon which the acrobat executes various acrobatic tricks and moves. The Spanish Web may be used with a loop into which the acrobat can insert either the hand or foot to accomplish various feats while rotating, with the help of rotational push provided by an assistant on the ground.

 
  Static Trapeze

Static Trapeze

Discipline using a simple Trapeze hung at various heights upon which one or two acrobats execute moves and acrobatics without using the trapeze's swinging movement. The Static Trapeze employed by two acrobats strongly resembles the Aerial Cradle, as the carrier attaches himself to the trapeze by the bend of the knees, enabling the flyer to perform various aerial acrobatics.

 
  Straps

Straps

Acrobatic specialty of Asian origins, consisting of two thin parallel straps several metres in length, along which the acrobat rolls and unrolls using the wrists and arms to execute rises, falls and acrobatics, all the while suspended. The straps also make it possible to perform large rotations the length of the ring, granting remarkable grace as the acrobat rises.

 
  Swinging Trapeze

Swinging Trapeze

Discipline using a simple Trapeze hung at a great height upon which the acrobat balances and performs various moves and acrobatics.

 
  Teeterboard

Teeterboard

Collective number involving several acrobats wherein one or two pushers leap onto one end of a rocking board from atop a pedestal and catapult flyers into the air. The flyers perform acrobatic feats before returning to the ground, to the shoulders of a team of carriers, or to a perch or chair. For some time this discipline was a specialty in Eastern European countries.

 
  Tight Wire

Tight Wire

Apparatus consisting of a metal cable suspended horizontally between two mounts upon which the acrobat moves and executes a series of moves, balances, dance steps, leaps and acrobatics.  Tight Wire is generally performed at a low height, often metres from the ground, distinguishing it from another tightrope walking form, the High Wire, which is performed at a great height.

 
  Trampoline

Trampoline

Discipline evolving from gymnastics that first made an appearance in circus shows at the beginning of the twentieth century. It consists of an elastic film of varying sizes stretched between supports on a footed frame, upon which acrobats execute various acrobatic moves and jumps. The trampoline is often used with other acrobatic disciplines to augment the height of the flyers' leaps.

 
  Trapeze

Trapeze

Aerial acrobatic apparatus consisting of a round horizontal bar suspended from both ends by two vertical cords that attach it. Several versions of the trapeze exist: Flying Trapeze, Swinging Trapeze, Dance Trapeze, Static Trapeze, Washington Trapeze, Double or Triple Trapeze, etc.