Circus Definitions

Circus Definitions

Circus is a very broad art-form, and its disciplines are many. If you are looking for a circus or variety artist for your next event, but don’t know what you are looking for; feel free to browse our database of definitions. If you are still not sure, Contact Us on of our event specialists. If you require a visual aid to understand the definition, please click on the title and it will show you in a pop up frame.

Individual or partner skills involving strength and dexterity, including body rotations, twists, flips, balances, jumps and turns. Can be performed on tumbling mats, trampoline, tight wire or trapeze.


Partner acrobatics, using counterweight, balances, lifts and dance movements.


Circus acts performed in the air, on a suspended apparatus such as a trapeze, rope, cloud swing or aerial ring.

Aerial Ring/Aerial Hoop/Cerceaux/Lyra

A steel hoop or ring suspended from the ceiling, usually about the size of a hula hoop, on which to perform aerial acrobatics. Usually has either a bar across the top and a hand loop or a hand or foot loop attached. Can be used static, spinning, or swinging.

Aerial Sphere

A sphere made of perspex, suspended above the audience. The artist performs inside it with dance based moves. it has a hard opening seam and usually the artist performs underneath the sphere or inside it.

Bounce juggling

Juggling which involves balls being deliberately bounced off of a floor or wall. The types of balls used are Silicone balls, though lacrosse balls and tennis balls can also be used for bounce juggling.

Bounce Rope

Similar to tight wire, but instead it involves a length of rope which the performer walks across and performs tricks on. There is an amount of bungee in the system which provides the performer with a rope that bounces, making it different to tight wire.

Bowl Kicking

An act in which the performer balances a base bowl on their head, and bowls are kicked one by one from the foot onto the stack on the performers head.


A specific style of clowning. A grotesque style of clown.


A rubberized cord from which performers do aerial acts. A cord similar to what is used in bungee jumping. It is used to propel a performer into the air.

Casting/ Partner Stunts/ Toss The Girl

A duo act involving a catcher and flyer, where the flyer is thrown into the air and then re-caught by their hands or feet by the catcher. Also a term and act that cheerleaders perform

Chinese Pole

Vertical steel poles on which performers climb, slide down, hold poses and jump between. The poles are generally between 3 and 9 metres in height and approximately 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Also there are free standing poles as well as poles that are drilled into the floor


A large u-shaped loop of rope suspended from rigging points in the truss and used in aerial acts. Bears resemblance to trapeze. The apparatus can be used statically or swinging in motion.


The art of performing as a clown. Character clowns have exaggerated facial features, and are sometimes called hobo or tramp clowns.

Contact juggling/ Body Juggling

Juggling involving the ball keeping contact with the body. It is primarily focused on fluidity of movement. Can involve one ball, or up to eight balls.


An acrobatic art that involves a performer bending their body into hyper-flexible, extraordinary positions. This skill can be combined with hand or head balancing, and can also be performed on aerial apparatuses.


A platform from which a performer hangs by their knees and performs throws and catches with a flyer, similar to double static trapeze. The platform can be static, swinging or standing.

Cyr Wheel/ Simple Wheel/ Rue Cyr

A giant steel hoop. Resembling a machine that may have sprung from the mind of Leonardo da Vinci, the Cyr Wheel is used to execute figures and display acrobatic prowess. Performed either by the wheel spinning static or rolling around, it can also be used by manipulating the hoop around the body.

Devil Sticks

A piece of manipulation equipment involving three sticks; two thinner hand sticks are used to tap the third (slightly larger) devil stick back and forth in front of the body. Using this action as the basic movement, many other tricks can be performed, sometimes using two devil sticks at once.


A traditional Chinese circus apparatus, shaped like an hourglass with a metal axle in the middle. The artist manipulates this top-like equipment by a piece of string with handles at each end.

Double Trapeze

A static trapeze act executed with two performers on the one trapeze, in which they work together to create positions and bear each others weight. Can also be performed swinging, in which case the act is called Swinging Double Trapeze.

Flying Trapeze

An aerial apparatus involving a flyer (swinging on a flybar) and a catcher (suspended by a static cradle, swinging cradle, casting frame or swinging trapeze). The flyer performs aerial skills from the flybar to the catcher, and from the catcher back to the flybar. There can be multiple catchers or flyers. Usually performed over a safety net.

German Wheel/ Rhoedenrad/ Wheel

A giant wheel, which resembles a mouse wheel. Performers manipulate themselves through the bars and perform acrobatic feats in the wheel. They also perform tricks such as coin rolls in which they roll the wheel on an angle and resemble a coin rolling towards the ground

Ground Acrobatics

Acrobatics performed on (or in close proximity to) the ground.

Ground-to-air Acrobatics/ basket toss

Acrobatic skills that involve the performer being lifted or propelled into the air. The performer returns to the ground and may be thrown in the air a number of times during the act.

Hand Balancing/ Handstand

An act in which the majority of skills involve the performer balancing on their hands. Can be completed on the floor or with the use of props such as a handstand platform, handstand bench, and handstand blocks.

Happy Cooks

Originally a traditional Chinese act involving plate spinning, juggling food and kitchen utensils and clowning.

Hat and Cigar Manipulation

An act involving a cigar and hat, with performer holding the cigar in their mouth while balancing the hat on the cigar, face and other body parts. Balance, object manipulation and comedy/character skills are usually key elements of this act. This act was traditionally known as Gentlemen’s Style manipulation.

Head Trapeze/ Washington Trapeze

An aerial act in which the performer balances upside down with their head on the trapeze bar, while swinging on the trapeze. The trapeze is supported by wire cables rather than ropes, and the apparatus will often be lifted and lowered during the act.

High wire

A tight wire raised several metres above the ground. A very traditional circus act.

Hoop Diving

An act involving performers diving, jumping, twisting and somersaulting through and over hoops which are stacked on top of each other. The hoops are flat and wide, made of steel, wood or plastic, allowing them to balance on top of one another.

Hula Hoops

Circular plastic hoops approximately 80cm in diameter, used to twirl around different parts of the body. Performers can manipulate one or multiple hoops at the same time.

Icarian Games/ Risley

Human foot juggling, in where a base is lying down on their back or in a special chair, supporting one or more flyers with their hands, feet and/or other parts of the body


The skill of keeping a number of objects in the air at the same time, by continuously throwing and catching the objects. Juggling requires good hand-eye coordination. The performer can use different methods to throw and catch the objects. Examples of objects used for juggling are clubs, rings, balls, scarves, knives, fire clubs, chainsaws, fruit, etc.


An acrobatic/manipulation act where the performer climbs and balances on an unsupported free-standing ladder by using a rocking motion. Juggling, balancing objects on the performer’s head and performing handstands are often combined in a Ladder performance.


The act of manipulating objects. In circus, this term covers juggling, contact juggling, diabolo, devil sticks, hat & cigar manipulation, poi, staff twirling, meteor, yo-yo’s, etc.

Pitching/ Basket Toss/ Bunking

Sometimes called bunking, this ground-to-air group act involves propelling a performer into the air to perform single or multiple tricks. The bases hold hands (crossed) to create a platform for the flyer to stand on before/after the trick. The flyer can go from the floor to the group, or be pitched from group to group. Pitching acts can also involve tumbling, acrobatics and adagio.


A manipulation apparatus consisting of a ball and chain, one held in each hand by finger-loops, allowing the performer to swing the apparatus around their body very quickly. The balls can be replaced with wicks to allow the performer to perform Fire Poi, creating striking illusions as the light creates patterns around the performer’s body.

Plate Spinning

A performer spins a row of plates each resting precariously on top of a thin flexible pole. The performer starts at one end, and rushes back and forth to keep them spinning and make sure the plates don’t fall. Often performed as part of the ‘Happy Cooks’ act. Plate spinning can also involve holding multiple poles in the hands while spinning a plate on each one.


A human pyramid is a type of stunt/ act in which several participants stand or kneel together in a row or other formation, forming a base for another tier of participants who stand or kneel on their shoulders, backs or thighs. Successively smaller tiers of participants may be added, each tier supported by the one below it. Lighter participants are placed at the top of the formation, while the strongest participants form the base of the pyramid.

Rolla Bolla

An act involving the performer balancing on one or more cylinders while standing on a flat board, often performing other feats such as skipping, juggling, handstands or balancing objects on their head.

Russian Bar

An apparatus made of three fastened vaulting poles strapped together to create a flexible beam. This group act involves a minimum of two bases balancing the beam on their shoulders, and one flyer standing on the beam, with the flyer bouncing and performing aerial tricks and landing on the bar or sometimes on a pyramid.

Russian Swing

an odd contraption with a swinging platform. It has multiple artists. They jump off the swing, performing twists, spins, and flips, before landing on a mat.


Physical comedy which uses slapping, kicking and use of comic timing. Could involve running into a door, appearing to get hurt, and exaggeration. Famous slapstick comedians include Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy and the Three Stooges.

Spinning Bowls/Meteor

A form of manipulation apparatus, originally from China, involving a length of rope with weights (or bowls) attached to either end. The performer spins and manipulates the rope quickly and throws the apparatus in the air, performing tricks while it is airborne and catching and flicking the rope using different body parts. When using bowls, they are filled with water and the centrivical force pulls the rope taught and the bowls of water are pulled outwards which holds the water in the bowls. Tricks must be executed well in order for the water not to spill.

Staff twirling

Similar to baton twirling, the staff is manipulated around the body and thrown in the air. Can be used with fire, where the ends are lit.

Static Trapeze

A trapeze bar which is ‘dead-hung’ and does not swing. The aerialist performs a wide range of movements including balances, drops, hangs, and strength and flexibility manoeuvres on the trapeze bar and in the ropes supporting the trapeze. Can involve one or two performers.


Timber or metal apparatus that is attached below the knee which the artist walks and performs tricks on. Stilts come in different heights and can be up to several meters high.


An aerial apparatus consisting of two narrow bands made of close-woven material fastened to the truss. By wrapping the strap ends around hands and wrists, the performer performs holds, twists, rolls and manoeovres, requiring extreme strength and precision similar men’s rings in gymnastics.

Swinging Trapeze

A weighted trapeze bar which often has cable inside the supporting ropes for extra strength. A swinging trapeze will have varying weight and length of ropes. Can be performed solo or duo.


Similar to a seesaw, this apparatus involves a 350mm board, with the performer standing on the lowered end, and the other performers jumping onto the upper end, sending the flyer into the air. Teeterboard can involve anywhere from 2-10 people. Sometimes the performers jump from a tower onto the board, creating greater power to propel the flyer into the air and enabling bigger tricks. The flyer can land on the floor or atop a pyramid.


A cable stretched tightly between two points. The performer will ‘walk the wire’ and perform other difficult jumps, leaps, balances and acrobatics.

Tissu/ Tissue/ Fabrics/ Silks

An aerial apparatus made from a length of fabric in various colours and with varying amounts of stretch. Similar manoeuvres to rope are performed by the aerialist, who climbs up and down the fabric, wrapping sections around the body to hang, drop and slide during the performance.


An aerial apparatus with a small round bar suspended by ropes or metal straps from the truss. This genre can include static, swinging and flying trapeze, and can be performed solo, double trapeze, triple trapeze or as a group act.

Tumble Track/Fast Track

A strip of mat enabling a performer to do a sequence of tumbling.


A generic term to describe combinations of ground based acrobatic tricks. Tumbling can include cartwheel, round off, somersault, backflip, handspring, backflip, back/front sault, and somersaults with single or multiple rotations and twists.


A one-wheel bicycle with a small seat (or sometimes without a seat) upon which the performer rides forwards, backwards, performs jumps and other balancing skills. Unicycles come in different heights and different sized wheels.

Web/Spanish Web

A rope hanging from above, used to perform aerial acrobatic maneuvers while spinning. The rope is usually spun by another person, the ‘Web Setter’, who remains on the ground holding the bottom of the rope. Can also involve use of hand and foot loops at various heights.

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