Prep & Training

Circus Acts and What Makes Them So Interesting

The next time you visit the circus, expect to be regaled by the myriads of daring feats and awe-inspiring circus acts you’ll witness.

Ever wonder what sort of feats you see in a circus? From trapeze artists to clowns, here’s an overview of the circus tricks and skills sure to catch your attention.

Aerial Acts and performances

Look up, waaay up. Aerial performances are among the things at circus shows that leave audiences wanting more. Aerial artists perform some gravity-defying tricks high up in the sky.

Swinging Trapeze

The genesis of the swinging trapeze (a short horizontal bar suspended by ropes) dates to the mid-19th century. It’s an act that involves the performer executing a series of flips and twists on a trapeze that swings like a pendulum.

Flying Trapeze

Invented by Jules Léotard, a French acrobatic performer, the flying trapeze is a type of aerial performance in which the acrobatic—known as the “flyer”—grabs onto the trapeze bar and leaps from an elevated platform. With the force of gravity propelling the performer, they then perform twists and turns while transferring to a catcher or coming back to a bar (trapeze) that swings.

Static Trapeze

Compared to its flying counterpart, the static trapeze does not swing. This allows the performer to work those mind-bendingly awesome and intricate elements into the routine.

Duo Trapeze

Is the duo trapeze twice the fun? Depends on who you ask. Performers typically work in pairs, a porter and a flyer, to create impressive formations and sequences that require trust and synchronization. Every movement, pure amazement.

Whether you’re awestruck by the duo trapeze, fawning over the flying trapeze, or stunned by static trapeze acts, one thing’s for sure: the trapeze is commonly seen in circus shows, and is sure to dazzle and delight.

Aerial Hoop (Lyra)

The aerial hoop (or Lyra, as it’s otherwise known) is usually suspended from a great height. Performers grip onto the circular apparatus to swing, spin, and showcase their flexibility. Like static trapeze, performers create beautiful shapes and display impressive sequences midair.

Aerial Silk

Another favorite performance act is the aerial silk, which involves the performer conducting a variety of acrobatic tricks, wraps, drops, and stunning shapes using a lengthy piece of fabric.

Aerial Straps

Performers don a pair of cotton or nylon straps to perform routines that include swings, spins, flights, and strength-based skills.

Cloud Swing

The cloud swing sounds as dreamy as it is! Like the swinging trapeze discipline, the cloud swing is a rope loop fastened high above the circus floor. Watch in amazement as performers execute pendulum-like swings, twists, flips and hair-raising drops.

Vertical Rope

The vertical rope is the discipline in which performers climb a vertically hanging rope and use strength and flexibility to perform drops, roll downs, and a variety of other impressive tricks—nothing out of the ordinary, just what you see at a circus, where the impossible is possible.

Spanish Web

The equipment is like a vertical rope, but the performer uses a hand loop to execute spins at dizzying speeds at the highest point of the rope. The motion is initiated by another performer manipulating the rope on the ground.

Ground-Based Disciplines

Acrobatics, acro dance, tumbling and human pyramids. These ground acts that happen at the circus will floor you, guaranteed.


Our circus performers know how to get down—on the ground, that is. Acrobatics and tumbling are examples of circus skills that perfectly demonstrate a performer’s power, dynamism and agility.

Acro Dance

Acro Dance is artistry and physicality, a blend of ground acrobatics and fluid movements. It integrates acrobatic elements into choregraphed dance routines, entertaining spectators with stunning, flowing sequences.


Adagio entails a pair or group of performers lifting one another into various positions. A true testament to the trust in this performance, a “base” who lifts the “flyer” for an astonishing outcome.

Hand to Hand (Also known as Acro Balance)

Hand to hand is like Adagio, elevated. Here, performers use lifts, throws, catches, and a lot of handstand work to create exciting and engaging performances.

Dynamic Tumbling Acts

Tumbling is a fast-paced, dynamic circus act where performers execute flips, twists, and dives. It's exhilarating to watch and requires extreme energy and unerring timing on behalf of performers. This discipline can be performed on a gymnastics floor, a fast track, a power track or an air mat.

Human Pyramid

A human pyramid is a physically demanding demonstration of the endless bounds of human strength, balance, and agility. For the human pyramid to be successful, performers balance upon one another to create various formations. It’s showmanship, teamwork, and trust all rolled into one.

Cyr Wheel

Named after its inventor, Daniel Cyr, the Cyr wheel is a large hoop that the performer spins and manipulates to create dynamic and impressive sequences. It includes elements performed utilizing all angles that are possible.

German Wheel

The German Wheel (or gym wheel) features two large rings united by crossbars. Performers stand inside, then complete rolls and flips while spinning inside the wheel.

Juggling Acts

The world of object manipulation and juggling are other things you see at the circus, and we’re here to tell you all about them.

Believe it or not, juggling isn’t just about keeping objects in the air. Successful juggling requires patience, creativity and technique.

Balls, clubs, rings

Some of the more common objects used in juggling are balls, clubs, and rings. The performer's aim is to keep these objects in motion through throwing and catching.

Cigar box juggling

Cigar box juggling is when the juggler manipulates a set of flat rectangular “cigar boxes” without letting them drop—no easy feat!

Diabolo (Chinese yo-yo)

The Chinese yo-yo (or ‘diabolo’) is manipulated with two sticks joined by a string. A performer’s dexterous stick handling projects the spool into the air to fulfill a series of tricks before catching it again. It's the skillful manipulation of the diabolo plus a series of throws into the air that makes this discipline so impressive.

Plate spinning

Servers at your favorite restaurant already know how challenging balancing a dinner plate on its own can be. Plate spinning is a circus act that requires balancing several plates on sticks simultaneously. Sounds challenging right?

Twirling baton

Baton twirling involves the performer spinning, throwing and catching a baton, maintaining continuous motion while they dance and move!

Devil sticks

Devil sticks demand precision. This act involves a performer using two outer sticks to manipulate the main devil stick, including throws and catches.

Contact juggling

Contact juggling is when objects stay in constant contact with the performer's body. It's a graceful, fluid performance that jugglers make look so easy—but requires tons of skill.

Balance disciplines

Balance is something learned over time, and a skill that is required for every successful circus performance. Whether it’s stilt-walking or sashaying on a tight wire, the following acts showcase balance in action. They are a true testament to what the human body is capable of.

Hand Balancing

Hand balancing is quite a feat, wherein performers support their entire body weight on their hands. After all, what do you find at a circus if not handstands, acrobats balancing on one arm, and other challenging poses?

Tight Wire 

Tight wire walking is a true test of balance. This staple act involves a performer traversing a tightly strung wire while maintaining balance. Performers sometimes up the ante by holding objects or performing acrobatics. Are your palms sweaty yet?

High Wire

High wire is a hallmark performance of any circus, a thrilling mix of daring and grace requiring exceptional focus high in the air.

Slack Wire

Slack wire is the act of having performers walk along a loosely tensioned line that’s more lax (and thus, less stable) than the tightrope. Artists skillfully harmonize their movement on this precarious piece of equipment.


Slightly thicker than a slack wire, the slackline also has more tension. This enables the performer to bounce and execute impressive tricks that will amaze the audience.

Rola Bola (balance board)

The Rola bola act is playful yet can be perilous. Performers are required to navigate a board balanced on a rolling cylinder, stacking multiple units or working objects into the mix.

Ball Walking

This requires performers to stand on top of a large ball, guiding it while maintaining their footing.

Stilt walking

Walking on stilts finds performers balancing atop poles making them stand high above the ground. It’s breathtaking to see!

Chair balancing

How high can chairs go? Just ask our performers! Chair balancing finds them expertly stacking chairs to admittedly dizzying heights.

Freestanding ladder

Performance artists doing freestanding ladder tricks ascend, balance, and perform stunts on these seemingly unsteady structures. As daring as it looks, we assure you that safety measures are all in place!

The Art of Clowning and Physical Comedy

Clowning and circus performance goes hand in hand. A sophisticated blend of skills, slapstick humor, tricks, acting and emotions. No more clownin’ around, let’s get into it!

Traditional Clown Acts

Initially, clowns were known for being silly with their water bucket tricks, human pyramid collapses, botched juggling, and comedic interactions with props.

Mime and Physical Comedy

There’s clowning, then there’s mimes. Mimes are known for bringing smiles to people’s faces, using physical comedy and silent storytelling to captivate.

Audience Interaction

An essential aspect of modern clowning is audience interaction. It’s not surprising to find a clown welcome an audience member on stage to keep everyone entertained with unexpected gags!


Ventriloquists manipulate their voices to make it seem like a puppet is doing the talking. When there’s a ventriloquist involved, hilarity is sure to ensue.


Puppetry, much like ventriloquism, involves bringing inanimate characters, both small and large, to life. Performers move puppets’ bodies and mouths to create a story. Oftentimes, music, or dialogue is involved. Children are usually huge fans!

Specialty and Daredevil Acts 

Edge-of-your-seat experiences? We’ve got ‘em. Our specialty and daredevil acts combine acrobatic skills and nerves of steel. Adrenaline spikes are a guarantee.

Human Cannon

The human cannon is pretty much what it sounds like—a performer is shot out of an oversized cannon. This courageous act demands precision, spatial awareness, and fearlessness.

Globe of Death

Metal spheres—distressingly known as the ‘Globe of Death’—is a metal casing in which performers speed around inside on motorbikes, often two or more at a time. The goal? Avoid collision at all costs.

Wheel of Death

The Wheel of Death (yikes) finds performers walking, running, jumping, and flipping inside and outside of giant rotating wheels. At neck-craning heights, gravity is their friend, and agility is a necessity.

Fire Performance (Breathing, Eating, Manipulating)

From fire breathing, where performers shoot plumes of fire from their mouths to fire eating, in which artists appear to consume flames, fire performance is a sizzling spectacle indeed.

Knife Throwing

Nestled securely against a spinning board, a brave soul remains deathly still as sharp blades whir past in a heart-stopping performance of trust.

Bed of Nails

You’ll be in total awe witnessing a bed of nails act, in which performers demonstrate the laws of physics by spreading their body weight across hundreds of sharp points without injury. It’s a testament to what the human body can endure.

Animal Acts and Taming

Throughout the circus’s history, animal acts have been a pivotal part of performance. Exotic and domestic animals alike have added excitement to the rings and gave a unique twist to the whole ensemble.

Though these types of acts were never performed at Cirque du Soleil shows as we’ve always used humans to imitate animals through acting and amazing costume designs, they have historically been part of traditional circus and continue to be found in some circuses worldwide.

Here, we look at some of the more common animal performances and the deep ties fostered between humans and animals.

Lion Taming

For many circus-goers, watching humans interact with lions is frightening. With their formidable strength, lions are considered a feat to tame—until the trainer brings food in the ring.

Elephant Acts

Elephants, yet another integral part of circus performances. Their immense size, coupled with a gentle and intelligent spirit, makes these enormous animals breathtaking and show-stopping in every sense.

Trick Riding

Showmanship is essential to a captivating circus performance, and trick riding has this element in spades. A horseback rider performs a series of tricks while the horse is moving, demonstrating the rider’s spectacular equestrian and acrobatic skills.

Magic and Illusion Acts

Audiences are captivated by the mystique, allure, and magic of the circus. Illusion and magic help transform the experience into a world of wonder.

Ready for your next performance?

Ultimately, circuses aren’t just about entertainment—they’re a celebration of the spirit of high-level performances and human creativity. The next time you book a ticket to your favourite Cirque du Soleil performance, consider the hours of training and creative research involved. Then let yourself be amazed and enchanted by it all.

More articles about