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This glossary defines common circus acts by name.

Adagio Adagio is a type of dance in which couples perform steps requiring great skill in synchronization, lifting, balancing, and turning. Typically displayed as two to four partners with lifts and tosses set to music. Also known as Double Stunts.
Aerial Hoop Aerial Hoop is a metallic hoop suspended in mid air, providing a showcase of grace and poise for the artist.
Bike Bike acts may feature acrobatic and balancing feats, and even stacking pyramids performed on a moving bicycle. Extreme/BMX bike acts perform stunts such as vertical loops.
Cloud Swing Cloud Swing is a single web (a very thick woven fabric rope) suspended by both ends to make a swing. This act demands all the precision of movement of a Spanish web, but is set in motion much like a swinging trapeze. The web material provides for a series of twists and wraps allowing an artist more flexibility in routines.
Clowns Clowns are the pegs on which circuses hang. The art of clowning has been a part of the circus for centuries. These figures, amuse and cajole, using exaggerated features and actions.
Diabolo Diabolo is a juggling routine based on the principles of a gyroscope. Uses a spindle and a rope, includes toss and catch routines.
Fire Fire acts are performed with the utmost in care, and includes acts such as flaming club juggling, flaming poi, and fire breathing. Don't try this at home; Circus performers spend many hours perfecting this art form.
Flying Trapeze Flying Trapeze is one of the signature acts of the circus, the flying trapeze is the one act most people associate with a circus. Generally performed with safety ropes or a net. The art of flying from the trapeze to the waiting hands of the catcher and returning to the trapeze bar has a rich history.
Globes Globes require balance and agility to keep the a globe from rolling out from under the performer's feet. Advanced tricks include traversing ramps or steps, juggling and hula-hooping while balancing atop a rolling globe.
Gymwheel Gymwheel is not only a circus act, but a sport also known as wheel gymnastics. Artists roll, revolve and spiral, into, out of and on the apparatus known as the Gymwheel. It is a discipline which demands high strength, flexibility and determination. Also known as Man Wheel.
Hair Hang Hair Hang performers actually hang by their hair, braided and tied in a special knot. This is a traditional circus act.
Hand Balancing Hand Balancing is an exhibition of strength and grace where two to four individuals perform a choreographed display of partner balancing.
High Cradle High Cradle is sometimes referred to as cradle to cradle. It is an act of strength, fearlessness and grit. Performers use the power generated by their own limbs to hurl partners in passes 25 feet over a net. Cradle to cradle developed as a precursor to the traditional fly-and-return acts of the flying trapeze.
Juggling Juggling is the not-so-simple act of keeping more than two objects in the air simultaneously. A quick hand and loads of patience are just two of many requirements to mastering juggling. Performers juggle everything from scarves to knives to bowling balls.
Jump Rope Jump Rope is the ultimate extension of the children's sport, combining complex rhythms, large groups, and even jump roping within jump roping.
Perch Pole Perch Pole is the precarious art of the perch pole puts one performer perilously at the top of a perch balanced on the shoulders of a partner.
Russian Bar Russian Bar consists of two porters and at least one flyer and one Russian bar. The porters rest the ends of the bar on their shoulders while the flyer stands atop the bar. By utilizing the flexibility of the bar, the balance and teamwork of the porter and skill of the flyer, performers can reach dizzying heights in a trick and return to balance on the bar.
Russian Swing Russian Swing is a pendulum device that hurls performers high into the air. Inertia is the key to the swings power. One performer, known as the booster, pushes the swing, while the other performers leap to the arms of the catchers.
Silks Silks are great lengths of loosely wrapped wide fabric. Often used in pairs, sometimes used in one continuous long loop called a hammock. Some variations also known as Straps.
Skating Skating acts include roller, inline, or even ice skates. Acts range from Olympic style partner acts, to roller disco style, to extreme stunts.
Spanish Web Spanish Web is the aerial ballet of the circus. Performers dance up and down the rope-like apparatus using a variety of maneuvers and loops. The Spanish Webs require a high degree of strength, choreography and artistry.
Swinging Trapeze Swinging Trapeze is another signature act of the circus, a solo artist on the trapeze has always captivated audiences. Our performers employ grace and expert timing in the swinging trapeze.
Teeterboard Teeterboard is the see-saws of youth transformed into a dangerous circus act. Always a crowd favorite. Performers are catapulted into the air often to the shoulders of partners building tall stacks.
Trampoline Trampoline is a classic tool for training aerial awareness is also a circus act. Advanced acts launch from trampoline into a precarious elevated seat.
Triple Trapeze Triple Trapeze links three together to provide the backdrop for this act of choreographed artistry requiring strength, timing and teamwork.
Tumbling Tumbling is closely related to gymnastics. Tumbling has always been a part of the circus, in acts such as flip-flop and cartwheels.
Unicycle Unicycle is the ultimate demonstration of balance, requiring natural talent and lengthy practice.
Vaulting Vaulting is an exciting act involving a mini-trampoline and lots of courage. Performers vault onto a mat and over each other and occasionally some volunteers.
Wire Wire, also known as tight-wire, high-wire, or "funambulism" technically. Wire walkers leap, juggle, unicycle, and stack partners while balancing on a wire less than an inch thick.

This glossary is based on a prior glossary work used with permission from our esteemed colleagues Gamma Phi Circus.

Also see these comprehensive glossaries:
Circus Land
UK Inter-Circus
National Institute of Circus Arts, Australia



As I stumble through this life,
help me to create more laughter than tears,
dispense more cheer than gloom,
spread more cheer than despair.

Never let me become so indifferent,
that I will fail to see the wonders in the eyes of a child,
or the twinkle in the eyes of the aged.

Never let me forget that my total effort is to cheer people,
make them happy, and forget momentarily,
all the unpleasantness in their lives.

And in my final moment,
may I hear You whisper:
“When you made My people smile,
you made Me smile.”


  1. I will keep my acts, performance and behavior in good taste while I am in costume and makeup. I will remember at all times that I have been accepted as a member of the clown club only to provide others, principally children, with clean clown comedy entertainment. I will remember that a good clown entertains others by making fun of himself or herself and not at the expense or embarrassment of others.
  2. I will learn to apply my makeup in a professional manner. I will provide my own costume. I will carry out my appearance and assignment for the entertainment of others and not for personal gain or personal publicity when performing for either the International club or alley events. I will always try to remain anonymous while in makeup and costume as a clown, though there may be circumstances when it is not reasonably possible to do so.
  3. I will neither drink alcoholic beverages nor smoke while in makeup or clown costume. Also, I will not drink alcoholic beverages prior to any clown appearances. I will conduct myself as a gentleman/lady, never interfering with other acts, events, spectators, or individuals. I will not become involved in or tolerate sexual harassment or discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or any protected status.
  4. I will remove my makeup and change into my street clothes as soon as possible following my appearance, so that I cannot be associated with any incident that may be detrimental to the good name of clowning. I will conduct myself as a gentleman/lady at all times.
  5. While on appearance in makeup and costume, I will carry out the directives of the producer or his designated deputies. I will abide by all performance rules without complaint in public.
  6. I will do my very best to maintain the best clown standards of makeup, costuming, properties, and comedy.
  7. I will appear in as many clown shows as I possibly can.
  8. I will be committed to providing an atmosphere free of discrimination and harassment for clowns of all ages to share ideas and learn about the art of clowning.