Circus comes from the Greek word Kirkos, meaning ‘ring’ or ‘circle’ referring to the shape of the arena or theatre in which the show takes place. Traditional circus shows are still performed ‘in the round’ today. Something else upheld since Roman times, is the spectacle that a circus always provides, although it could be seen as more of a blood sport than entertainment. The first circuses featured chariot races, mock battles, animal slaughter, and gladiator style feats. Although this type of circus has little in common with its modern counterparts, the act of training and performing with animals came from these public displays.
Sea lions, Tigers, and Elephants, all formed part of the Circus show, but horses and their ‘trick riders’ were seen as the real stars, and were first brought into the ring by British born Philip Astley, who opened Circuses in London and Paris. Along with trick riding, Astley also added acrobats, clowns, and jugglers to his show, and has since been known as the founder of the modern circus. In the late 1700’s, circuses started appearing in other countries, and soon became world famous. Other men became influential in the development of Circus, such as P.T Barnum, who first started ‘The Greatest Show on Earth in 1870’. The collaboration with the Ringling Bros, has entered the record books as the longest running circus.
In countries such as Russia, circus is as highly regarded an art form as Opera, and their shows always showcase highly skilled performers. The same can be said of Chinese circuses, known for their strong acrobatic performances, and Canada’s Cirque Du Soleil. The company of international performers have residencies and touring productions running all over the world, featuring acrobats, synchronised swimmers, clowns, dancers, and martial arts performers. Where could you find a better representation of the new innovation and excitement in 21st Century Circus?!
If all this inspires you to have a go, there are circus schools across the country holding workshops and courses for all ages and abilities. Many professional street entertainers are available for public/corporate events, to teach skills such as Stilt Walking, Unicycling, and Juggling as well. Circus skills are fun, good exercise, and something everyone can enjoy. Just what you want from one of the most novel performing arts!