In its most traditional form, we all know the circus; a marquee, a clown, illusion like all, you visualize the woman cut in half in the box. Contortionists, acrobats... Represented mainly in the child's imagination, the world of the circus is a creator of emotions. We all have in mind a show that put stars in our eyes when we were children (or adults)! But do you really know circus arts? So, what are circus arts?

Definition of circus

The circus is an artistic activity; live, visual, sound, street art, it is not gymnastics...

An Artistic Physical Activity that embraces, articulates, mixes... various arts, such as acrobatics, aerials, dressage, balances, clowning arts, manipulation of objects-juggling...

An Artistic Physical Activity that is anchored on technical from fundamental disciplines, such as balances, objects, acrobatics, clowns.

The circus articulates reproduction of forms (know-how techniques-routines), traditional circus, and production of expressive forms.

An Activity of risk, of exploit: IMPRESSION / no EXPRESSION: to scare, to make people laugh... Exploits of a different nature (physical, symbolic).

A collective activity that carries singularity and identity.

A show activity: The circus is written composed, the spectator pays to come.

History of the circus

The word circus means the symbol of infinity and union. At the circus, eyes converge on the luminous circle of the ring; nothing stops the gaze of the spectators. Time and space are symbolically limitless.

The circus in antiquity

Among the Romans, the circus is a vast elongated building whose design is borrowed from the Greek hippodrome.

In Rome, the oldest, the Circus Maximus, has a capacity of more than 350,000 spectators after the work of Julius Caesar. This building is made up of a 634 m long arena surrounded by bleachers to accommodate the public.

Other cities of the Roman Empire have a circus: Arles and Vienne in Gaul.

The circus in the middle ages

At the fall of the Roman Empire, the fairs welcomed the Acrobats and offered them new territories for the development of their activities. The jesters, mimes, acrobats disperse and begin to travel. The artists are itinerant. All the big cities of Europe have a fair; a calendar is set up. You can see tightrope walkers, jugglers, bear trainers... but beware, an overly skilled juggler very quickly adorns himself with the charms of a sorcerer whose prowess risk being consumed at the stake.

The word circus has disappeared since the 6th century and reappears curiously in the 18th century, on the pediment of a London establishment: "Royal Circus."

Birth of the modern circus

It was perhaps in the last shreds of mist floating above the meadows bordering the Thames, on a warm spring afternoon, that a handful of curious people discovered an unusual sight. Presented between ropes and stakes, a man in uniform, a feather proudly stuck in his hat, performs strange acrobatics on the back of a galloping horse.

In 1768 Philip ASTLEY, a young 26-year-old soldier, an excellent horseman, traced a rudimentary track in the earth. Forced to work during the lightest and hottest hours, forced to space out the working hours so as not to exhaust his horse, this rider dressed in blood red, developing his exercises to the sound of the drum and the fife, is in the process of inventing… the circus.

He initially closes his space, then transforms it into a singular establishment where agility exercises on horseback are presented at fixed times, then diversifies his presentations by inserting between the equestrian acts acrobatic, tightrope walker, juggling, and many sure comical.

What are circus arts?

We know little about the new circus, also called contemporary circus, as a sport. Although the circus is above all claimed as an art, there is, in the same way as for sports. Contemporary circus is thus practiced in clubs, associations, or even in the school setting and even at home.

These circus arts bring together several sports and artistic activities divided into 6 disciplines:

Acrobatics on the ground is emblematic because it is one of the ancestral disciplines of the circus universe. The acrobat uses his body to perform figures (contortions, jumps, balances, lifts, etc.) on the ground. This practice is close to artistic gymnastics; thus, practicing circus performers are also often gymnasts.

Aerial acrobatics refers to all acrobatic exercises performed at height. Several aerial apparatuses are present in this discipline, among others: the hoop, the smooth rope, the trapeze, and the fabric.

Balancing is the art of balance. It's about achieving technical feats by stabilizing your body in incredible positions. The discipline can be carried out with specific objects such as the balance ball, stilts, the Rolla Bolla, the unicycle, or even the wire (tightrope walking).

Juggling consists of throwing, catching, bouncing, rotating, or balancing one or more accessories. It is possible to juggle with a lot of objects, some of which are emblematic of the discipline, in particular: rings, balls, Chinese plates, clubs, but also the yoyo, the diabolo, or even the devil's stick.

The main attractions of the circus

Horse numbers

Riding on two horses at the same time appeared in the second half of the 18th century. This number is perfected, the riders perform pantomimes on horseback, somersaults passing from one horse to another, a pyramid in balance on several horses...

Vaulting numbers consist of ascending and descending alternately from a galloping horse.

During the second half of the 19th century, equestrian acts evolved towards classical riding figures or sequences of exercises performed by horses without riders.

The clown

First, an acrobat, he uses his body to make people laugh. From generation to generation, the name of famous clowns like; Foottit, Popov, Grock, and Fratellini is transmitted.

The clown became widespread in the second half of the 19th century, inspired by the tradition of the enfarinés du Pont-Neuf; it is a character made up in white.

Very quickly, the clown has a partner and forms a comic duo: the white clown takes up the scenic traditions of Shakespeare's theater, and the Auguste cultivates his ragged appearance, the excess of his shoes, the extravagance of his coat. The joyful anarchy of the Augustus tries to flourish under the shadow of the white clown's bat.

This duo is completed by Monsieur Loyal, still in his clothes, embodying the management of the circus.

Over time, clowns are once talking, once silent. It is not a question of finesse and subtlety but of making people laugh, quickly and well, with as many visual effects as possible.

The acrobats

They perform physical agility drills. There are two main types of acrobats: "boned" and "barrists."

The "boned" represent a kind of contortionist, and the "barrists" work the high bar. These exercises remain close to those performed by traditional tightrope walkers.

The flying trapeze is a group work; it is a combination of evolutions. The troop is made up of one or more carriers and aerialists, men or women, who multiply the passages and perilous jumps.

The menagerie

In the 20th century, the menagerie was in full glory. It is gradually transformed from a purely equestrian and acrobatic number to an exotic spectacle, thanks to the presence of foreign and ferocious animals. The tamers make their animals perform balancing tricks.