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.

Ground acts


Gymnastics-like acts involving strength and dexterity, including body rotations, twists, flips, balances, jumps, turns, and handstands. These acts can be performed solo, in partners, or as an ensemble.

Adagio / Hand to Hand

Partner acrobatics and acro-balancing, using body counterweight, balances, lifts and dance movements. Adagio has since evolved to also include Hand to Hand Acrobatics, a type of performance in which an acrobatic base and flyer balance on top of each other, using only their hands, combining strength, agility, and flexibility.

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.

Bowl Kicking

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

Contact juggling/ Body Juggling

Juggling involving the ball keeping in 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. This can be performed as a solo act, or with multiple performers.

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. It is 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.

Foot Juggling

This act involves juggling and manipulating objects with the performer’s feet. This can involve soccer juggling techniques, or antipodism, which is when the performer lies down and balances objects on the soles of their feet.

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.

Hand Balancing/ Handstand/ Block drop

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.

Head balancing

An act featuring a performer balancing on their heads, sometimes on top of another performer’s head, or on the ground.

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.

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.


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.


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.


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 they 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.

Roller Skates

An act where two performers perform gravity and speed based tricks whilst spinning on the spot with roller skates. The use of loops and slings amplify the skills and danger of this act.

Rolling Globe / Walking Globe

The performer balances on top of a large, rolling sphere, often while juggling or performing acrobatic stunts. The ball is controlled by the performers hands or feet.

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.


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 centrifugal 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.

Trick Bike

A performance in which the cyclist rides a fixed-gear bike and performs tricks similar to ballet or gymnastics. Also involves BMX;
A cycle sport, short of bicycle motocross, on which the performer executes jumps, flips, spins, and other tricks.

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. These acts can also employ a Tumble Track or Fast Track, which is a strip of mat enabling a performer to do tumbling sequences. This act can also involve multiple performers


A one-wheeled vehicle consisting of a frame, saddle, and pedals to propel it forwards or backwards. The performer may also execute jumps or other balancing skills. Unicycles come in different frame heights and with different sized wheels.

Aerial acts

There are 3 variants of Aerial acts: Single point acts which use a single secure point to suspend the apparatus, and multipoint which may be 2 or more points.

Single Point Aerials

Aerials involving a single point of rigging. The easiest aerial acts to set-up.


A Circus term for the person in the acts that 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. Can be used static, spinning, or swinging, and with or without a hand / foot loop attached.

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.


A rubberized cord, similar to what is used in bungie jumping, is used to propel a performer into the air, where they execute aerial stunts.


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.

Hair Hang/ Hair Suspension

An aerial act in which the performer is suspended by their hair, performing acrobatic poses. The performer may be raised or lowered throughout the act.

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 apparatus may be lifted and lowered during the act.

Rope/ Corde Lisse

An aerial circus skill or act that involves acrobatics on a vertically hanging rope. Corde lisse is the French name for it. Rope based moves are normally a combination of held postures and drops using a rope that hangs from the ceiling. These ropes are normally made from soft cotton about 30-35mm thick.

Straps/ Sangles

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

Swinging Pole

This act involves a dance pole that swings on an aerial point, and the performer executes acrobatic and aerial moves along the apparatus.

Tissu/ Tissue/ Fabrics/ Silks

An aerial apparatus made from a length of fabric in various colours and with varying amounts of stretch. The aerialist 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. The two single point variants are static trapeze and Dance Trapeze.

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.

multi - point aerial

Aerial acts requiring multiple points of rigging. This usually allows the apparatus to swing, or dynamically be loaded.


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

Double Trapeze

A static trapeze act executed with two performers on the apparatus, 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.

High wire

A tight wire raised several metres above the ground, on which the performer walks and executes acrobatic tricks. A very traditional circus act. Usually across large spaces

Static Trapeze

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

Slack Wire

An acrobatic act that involves balancing skills while moving along a flexible wire that is suspended in the air or connected between two anchor points.

Swinging Trapeze

An act performed on a trapeze that is shining in a forward-backward motion, where the performer uses the momentum of the swing to execute their tricks. Can be performed solo or as a duo act.


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

Ground to air / ground apparatus

Banquine/ Ground-to-air Acrobatics/ Pitching/ Basket Toss

An acrobatic act involving two base performers (carriers) who use their interlaced hands or arms to catapult a flyer into the air, where they perform acrobatic leaps, and then return to either the starting point, the ground, or another team of carriers. Also known as Basket Toss. 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.

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.

Chair balancing

An act which involves balancing chairs on top of each other, often at impossible-looking angles, and having performers climb and balance on top. There may be one or multiple performers involved in this act.

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.

Korean Casting

Partner Stunts/ Swing Pitching

A duo or trio 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 catchers. Another hybrid of Banquine and pitching

Icarian Games/ Risley

Human foot juggling, in which a base lies down on their back or in a special chair, and supports one or more flyers with their hands, feet and/or other parts of the body.


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

Lollipop Lyra

An apparatus consisting of a Lyra attached to the top of a static pole. It has the same effect as a Lyra or Aerial Hoop performance, but requires no aerial rigging.

Pole/ Static Pole

The apparatus consists of a static pole attached to a solid base. The performer executes acrobatic and dance movements on the pole.

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.

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 on the beam, where they bound, perform aerial tricks, and land back on the beam. Also commonly nicknamed "Human Trampoline". 

Russian Swing

A large, floor-mounted swinging platform, involving multiple artists. They jump off the swing, performing twists, spins, and flips, before landing on a mat. There is a variation of this apparatus, in which no machine is used, but only human bodies as the machine. It is called Canadian Swing (Canadian swing is not normally a full act).

Teeterboard / Korean Plank

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 a mat or atop a pyramid. The Korean plank variation uses a smaller board and a smaller group of artists.


An apparatus consisting of a piece of taut, strong fabric that is stretched between a steel frame above coiled springs. Performers execute acrobatic moves while airborne between bounces. This can be a solo, duo, or ensemble act, depending on the size of the trampoline.

Wheel of Death / Space Wheel

This is a large, rotating apparatus, with hooped tracks at either end. Performers execute acrobatic and aerial skills on the outside or inside of the hoops, while the entire apparatus rotates.


Acts that involve crowd-drawing, unbelievable stunts, offering elements of danger and excitement.

Acro Dance

A style of dance combining acrobatic and choreographic movement elements. It can be performed solo, duo, or with an ensemble.

Bed of nails

A sideshow performance in which a performer lies, moves, and/or contorts on top of a wooden board covered in upwards-facing nails. The nails do not puncture the performer’s skin.

Body suspension

This sideshow act involves rigging a performer’s body with hardware, like fishing hooks, that have temporarily perforated their skin. Once suspended, they may perform acrobatic poses.


An athletic, non-rhythmic urban style of dance characterized by acrobatic and gymnastic moments, often involving touching parts of the body (head or back) to the ground.


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

Burlesque / Boylesque

A type of dance that accentuates the art of the tease in removing elaborate costumes. It may also incorporate elements of cabaret, aerials, acrobatics, contortion, clown, comedy, and political satire.


Acts involving comic performers or eccentric characters. These are not your typical birthday clowns, but highly trained performers of physical comedy and character, adept at breaking the fourth wall, and engaging and delighting audiences. There are various types of clowning, depending on your performer needs, and may include Bouffon, Joey & Auguste, Commedia, Vaudevillians, and other performers who specialize in physical comedy.

Fire Acts

Fire Acts combine various skills from juggling, baton twisting, poi spinning, hula hooping, or other object manipulations, while those objects are on fire. It may or may not also include some elements of fire breathing, fire eating, and body burning. This may also exist in sideshow acts.

Happy Cooks

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

Human Blockhead

This sideshow act involves a performer hammering a nail (or like object) into their nasal cavities, without getting injured. Other variants of the act involve using screwdrivers or power drills.

Knife Throwing

An act in which the performer spins and throws knives at a specific target. The target may be static, like a flat, or it may be an assistant performer.


A type of act which includes illusions, stage magic, and close-up magic, in which the audience is entertained by seemingly impossible tricks and feats. Included in this category are:

  • Close-up Magic / Table Magic

These types of magic acts can be performed with the audience in close proximity to the performer. Props often employed include cards or coins. This can also be involved as a roving act at an event.

  • Escapology / Escape Artists 

This act involves performers escaping from restrains or other traps, like handcuffs, straitjackets, cages, coffins, barrels, tanks, and so on.

  • Illusions

Magic acts centred on creating illusions. They often involve producing, vanishing, transforming, restoring, teleporting, penetrating, and levitating objects. They may also involve large-scale props, for example, sawing someone in half.

  • Mentalism / Mind Reading

This act involves the performer reading throughs, predicting events, and other like feats, usually involving audience participation.

  • Quick Change

This act combines magic and costume changes, where the performer switches costumes rapidly, several times throughout the act.


A clown-like performer who tells a story solely through non-verbal physicality.


A performance involving negotiating objects and apparatuses by running, jumping, and climbing.


Physical comedy which uses slapping, kicking and use of comic timing. Could involve running into a door, appearing to get hurt, and exaggeration.

Stilt walking / dancing

A pair of upright poles (made of wood or metal) attached to the performer’s feet, which enables them to walk, dance, or perform acrobatics above the ground. These come in varying heights, and can be several feet high. Stilts can also be used with in acrobatics, partner acrobatics, aerials, clowning, flow, and juggling acts.

Strongman / Strongwoman

Acts in which exhibitions of strength are the focus. Examples of these acts include tearing phone books or bending frying pans in half.

Sword Swallowing

This is a sideshow act in which the performer passes a sword through their mouth, down their esophagus, and into their stomach.

Whip Cracking

An act that involves using single or twin whips in volleys, twists, flows, and cracks. They are often made of leather and have a long handle, making for loud, satisfying whip cracking sounds.

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