Different Types of Circus Skills and Acts

Circus skills refer to a group of performance techniques, and disciplines circus artists use. These skills often involve physical balance, coordination, strength, and agility. They can be divided into several categories.

Some common categories of circus skills are:

Aerial acts: take place in the air and require strength, flexibility, balance, and grace. Everyday aerial acts include the trapeze, aerial hoop (lyra), Spanish web, and aerial straps.

Acrobatics: involve physical acts of strength, balance, and agility, often performed on the ground or apparatuses such as trampolines or teeterboards. Common acrobatics skills include hand balancing, tumbling, contortion, and partner acrobatics (such as adagio or acrobalance).

Object manipulation: this category involves controlling and manipulating objects with skill and precision. Typical examples from this category are skills like hula hooping, poi spinning, staff spinning, and plate spinning.

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Equilibristics: include skills of performers using their balance and coordination in acts like tightrope walking, unicycle riding, slackline, stilt walking, and rola bola (balancing on a board placed on a cylinder).

Fire performance: includes acts of performers using fire as a central element in their actions. Everyday acts using fire often involve fire juggling, fire spinning, fire breathing, and fire eating.

Clowning: Clowning includes comedy, theater acting, and improvisation. Clowns combine different techniques like humor, slapstick, and mime to engage and entertain the audience.

Animal acts: some traditional circuses may include animal acts that involve training and performing with animals like horses, elephants, lions, and tigers.

Magic and illusion: involves acts of performers using elements of illusion in their shows, using sleight of hand, misdirection, and visual tricks to surprise and amaze the audience.

Here are some of the specific circus skills that circus artists are proficient in:

  • Chair acrobatics : acrobats that use chairs use them as a balancing act for vaulting and contortion. Chairs used in balancing can have notches cut out to be placed at unstable angles.
  • Diabolo is a juggling prop consisting of an axle and two cups or discs. Juggler uses two sticks with a sting between them to juggle the diabolo.
  • Fire breathing : artists who breathe fire hold fuel in their mouth and then breathe a fine mist of it over an open flame.
  • Human cannonball is a circus act where a person is shot out of a specially-made cannon. When the first human cannonballs appeared, these cannons were made to work on a spring. Today these canons are made to work on compressed air.
  • Human pyramid is gymnastic and circus formation. Here acrobats position themselves kneeling or standing in a row, carrying the next row of acrobats, which in turn carry the next one, and so on.
  • Juggling is the manipulation of objects where a person (juggler) throws objects in the air and then catches them. These objects, like balls, clubs, rings, knives, fire torches, or chainsaws, can be harmless.
  • Plate spinning is a skill with which a person spins plates, bowls, or some other flat objects on poles without them falling off.
  • Flying trapeze An acrobat uses a trapeze (the horizontal bar connected to the ceiling with two vertical bars) by jumping from a platform with the trapeze so that gravity makes the trapeze swing. The horizontal bar is tied with ropes to the ceiling instead of bars.
  • Trick riding is the performance of doing stunts while riding a horse. It is the oldest circus show.
  • Aerial silk (or aerial contortion, aerial ribbons, aerial silks, aerial tissues, fabric, ribbon, or tissue) is an acrobatic performance special fabric that hangs from a ceiling. It can be done solo or in a group.
  • Cloud swing is an acrobatic skill performed on a swinging trapeze and tightrope combination. It is done on a swing made of thick rope.
  • Lion taming is the training of lions, but the term can also be used to train and tame other big cats like tigers, leopards, jaguars, cheetahs, and cougars.
  • Knife throwing is, as its name says, the skill of throwing knives. In the circus, knives are thrown around the human target. These knives are balanced and don't have edges – just a point.
  • Tightrope walking (also known as funambulism) is a skill of walking on a rope. There are a few sub-variants of tightrope walking: tightwire, highwire, slackwire, skywalk, slacklining, freestyle slacklining, funambule, and jultagi.
  • Contortion is a circus skill whose basis is the dramatic bending and flexing of the human body. Contortionists are naturally (and because of training) flexible. Some of them can take unusual positions while others can, for instance, place themselves in a small box.

As circus arts continue to evolve and new techniques and disciplines emerge, these are just a few examples of the many circus skills performers utilize in their numerous acts.

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