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Advertisement for the Barnum & Bailey Circus, 1900.
Related terms:
Contemporary circus
Circus skills

A circus is commonly a travelling company of performers that may include acrobats, clowns, trained animals, trapeze acts, musicians, hoopers, tightrope walkers, jugglers, unicyclists and other stunt-oriented artists. The word also describes the performance that they give, which is usually a series of acts that are choreographed to music and introduced by a "ringmaster". The traditional circus is held in an oval or circular arena called a ring, which has tiered seating around its edge. In the case of traveling circuses, this location is often a large tent which is nicknamed the "big top".




In Ancient Rome, the circus was a building for the exhibition of horse and chariot races, equestrian shows, staged battles, displays featuring trained animals, jugglers and acrobats. The circus of Rome is thought to have been influenced by the Greeks, with chariot racing and the exhibition of animals as traditional attractions. The Roman circus consisted of tiers of seats running parallel with the sides of the course, and forming a crescent around one of the ends. The lower seats were reserved for persons of rank; there were also various state boxes, e.g. for the giver of the games and his friends. In Ancient Rome the circus was the only public spectacle at which men and women were not separated. The Latin word circus comes from the Greek word kirkos, meaning "circle" or "ring".[1]

The first circus in Rome was the Circus Maximus, in the valley between the Palatine and Aventine hills. It was constructed during the monarchy and, at first, built completely from wood. After being rebuilt several times, the final version of the Circus Maximus could seat 250,000 people; it was built of stone and measured 400 m in length and 90 m in width.[2] Next in importance to the Circus Maximus in Rome were the Circus Flaminius and the Circus Neronis, from the notoriety which it obtained through the Circensian pleasures of Nero. A fourth, the Circus of Maxentius, was constructed by Maxentius; the ruins of this circus have helped archaeologists to reconstruct the Roman circus.

For some time after the fall of Rome, Europe lacked a large and animal-rich circus. Itinerant showmen travelled the fair grounds of Europe. Animal trainers and performers are thought to have exploited the nostalgia for the Roman circus, traveling between towns and performing at local fairs. Another possible link between the Roman and modern circus could have been bands of Gypsies who appeared in Europe in the 14th century and in Britain from the 15th century, bringing with them circus skills and trained animals.[citation needed]


Lion tamer, in lithograph by Gibson & Co., 1873.

The modern concept of a circus as a circular arena surrounded by tiers of seats, for the exhibition of equestrian, acrobatic and other performances seems to have existed since the late 18th century.[3] The popularity of the circus in England may be traced to that held by Philip Astley in London. The first performance of his circus is said to have been held on January 9, 1768. One of Astley's major contributions to the circus was bringing trick horse-riding into a ring, though Astley referred to it as the Circle. Later, to suit equestrian acts moving from one circus to another, the diameter of the circus ring was set at 42 feet (13 m), which is the size of ring needed for horses to circle comfortably at full gallop. Astley never called his performances a 'circus'; that title was thought up by his rival John Hughes, who set up his Royal Circus a short distance from Astley's 'Amphitheatre of Equestrian Arts' in Lambeth, London.

Astley was followed by Andrew Ducrow, whose feats of horsemanship had much to do with establishing the traditions of the circus, which were perpetuated by Henglers and Sangers celebrated shows in a later generation. In England circuses were often held in purpose built buildings in large cities, such as the London Hippodrome, which was built as a combination of the circus, the menagerie and the variety theatre, where wild animals such as lions and elephants from time to time appeared in the ring, and where convulsions of nature such as floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions have been produced with an extraordinary wealth of realistic display. Antonio Franconi, the founder of the French circus, is credited by many to be a co-creator of the modern circus, along with Philip Astley.

Trapeze artists, in lithograph by Calvert Litho. Co., 1890.

The first circus building in the United States opened in 1793 in Philadelphia with a performance by John Bill Ricketts[4]. George Washington attended a performance there later that season[5]. In the Americas of the first two decades of the 19th century, The Circus of Pepin and Breschard toured from Montreal to Havana, building circus theatres in many of the cities they visited. Later the establishments of Purdy, Welch & Co., and of van Amburgh gave a wider popularity to the circus in the United States. In 1825 Joshuah Purdy Brown was the first circus owner to use a large canvas tent for the circus performance. Circus pioneer Dan Rice was probably the most famous circus and clown pre-Civil War, popularizing such expressions as "The One-Horse Show" and "Hey, Rube!". The American circus was revolutionized by P. T. Barnum and William Cameron Coup, who launched P. T. Barnum's Museum, Menagerie & Circus, a traveling combination of animal and human oddities, the exhibition of humans as a freak show or sideshow was thus an American invention. Coup was also the first circus entrepreneur to use circus trains to transport the circus from town to town; a practice that continues today and introduced the first multiple ringed circuses.

In 1840 the equestrian Thomas Cooke returned to England from the United States, bringing with him a circus tent. Three important circus innovators were Italian Giuseppe Chiarini, and Frenchmen Louis Soullier and Jacques Tourniaire, whose early travelling circuses introduced the circus to Latin America, Australia, South East Asia, China, South Africa and Russia. Soullier was the first circus owner to introduce Chinese acrobatics to the European circus when he returned from his travels in 1866 and Tourniaire was the first to introduce the performing art to Ranga where it became extremely popular. Following Barnum's death his circus merged with that of James Anthony Bailey, and travelled to Europe as The Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show On Earth where it toured from 1897 to 1902, impressing other circus owners with its large scale, its touring techniques including the tent and circus train and the combination of circus acts, zoological exhibition and the freak show. This format was adopted by European circuses at the turn of the 20th century.

The influence of the American circus brought about a considerable change in the character of the modern circus. In arenas too large for speech to be easily audible, the traditional comic dialog of the clown assumed a less prominent place than formerly, while the vastly increased wealth of stage properties relegated to the background the old-fashioned equestrian feats, which were replaced by more ambitious acrobatic performances, and by exhibitions of skill, strength and daring, requiring the employment of immense numbers of performers and often of complicated and expensive machinery.

In 1919, Lenin, head of the USSR, expressed a wish for the circus to become 'the people's art-form', given facilities and status on a par with theatre, opera and ballet. The USSR nationalized the Soviet circuses. In 1927 the State University of Circus and Variety Arts, better known as the Moscow Circus School was established where performers were trained using methods developed from the Soviet gymnastics program. When the Moscow State Circus company began international tours in the 1950s, its levels of originality and artistic skill were widely applauded, and the high standard of the Russian State circus continues to this day.

Circuses from China, drawing on Chinese traditions of acrobatics, like the Chinese State Circus are also popular touring acts. The International Circus Festival of Monte-Carlo[6] has been held in Monte Carlo since 1974 and was the first of many international awards for circus performers. In the 1960s and 1970s, the circus began to lose popularity as the general public became more interested in alternative forms of entertainment such as movies, music, and TV shows. Some circuses stayed afloat by merging with other circus companies. However a good number of old-fashioned traveling circuses with their usual mixture of acrobat, clown and animal acts is still active in various parts of the world ranging from small family enterprises on the edge of survival to the three ring extravaganzas like Vazquez Hermanos Circus in Mexico.[7] Other companies found new ways to draw in the public with innovative new approaches to the circus form itself.

Contemporary types

Cirque du Soleil performing Dralion in Vienna, 2004

Contemporary circus (originally known as nouveau cirque) is a recent performing arts movement that originated in the 1970s in Australia, Canada, France, the West Coast of the United States, and the United Kingdom. Contemporary circus combines traditional circus skills and theatrical techniques to convey a story or theme. For aesthetic or economic reasons, contemporary circus productions may be staged in theaters rather than in large outdoor tents. Music used in the production is often composed exclusively for that production, and aesthetic influences are drawn as much from contemporary culture as from circus history. Animal acts appear less frequently in contemporary circus than in traditional circus.

Early examples of nouveau cirque companies include: Circus Oz, forged in Australia in 1977 from SoapBox Circus and New Circus, both founded in the early 1970s; the Pickle Family Circus, founded in San Francisco in 1975; Circus Burlesque from the U.K in 1980 and Nofit State Circus in 1984 from Wales; Cirque du Soleil, founded in Quebec in 1984; Archaos in 1986; and Club Swing in 1994. More recent examples include: Teatro ZinZanni, founded in Seattle in 1998; Quebec's Cirque Éloize; Les 7 doigts de la main (also known as The 7 Fingers);[8] and the West African Circus Baobab[9] in the late 1990s. The genre includes other circus troupes such as the Le cirque imaginaire (later renamed Le cirque invisible, both founded and directed by Victoria Chaplin, daughter of Charlie Chaplin), the Tiger Lillies, Circus Monoxide, Acrobat, Dislocate,[10] Brisbane-based Circa,[11] and Throwdown, while The Jim Rose Circus and The Happy Sideshow are both interesting takes on the sideshow. Swedish contemporary circus company Cirkus Cirkör was founded in 1995. U.S. Company PURE Cirkus[12] was founded in the subgenre of "cirque noir" in 2004, and in Northern England, (United Kingdom), Skewed Circus[13] combines punk, rap, dance music, comedy, and stunts to deliver "pop-circus" entertainment to young urban audiences who have not had the opportunity to visit traditional circuses.

In 2007, Cirque du Soleil revenues were estimated at between US$550–$600 million.[14] In a 2009 interview, Ringling CEO Kenneth Feld stated that low advance ticket sales were offset by increased walk-up traffic. Feld did not reveal any figures but stated that sales were up.[15] Despite the contemporary circus' shift toward more theatrical techniques and its emphasis on human rather than animal performance, traditional circus companies still exist alongside the new movement. Numerous circuses continue to maintain animal performers, including Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus and the Big Apple Circus from the United States, Circus Krone[16] from Munich, Circus Royale and Lennon Bros Circus from Australia, Vazquez Hermanos Circus[17] and Hermanos Mayaror Circus[18] from Mexico, and Moira Orfei Circus[19] from Italy, to name just a few.


Fire breathers risk burns, both internal and external, as well as poisoning in the pursuit of their art.

A traditional circus performance is often led by a ringmaster who has a role similar to a Master of Ceremonies. The ringmaster presents performers, speaks to the audience, and generally keeps the show moving. The activity of the circus traditionally takes place within a ring; large circuses may have multiple rings, like the six-ringed Moscow State Circus. A circus often travels with its own band, whose instrumentation in the United States has traditionally included brass instruments, drums, glockenspiel, and sometimes the distinctive sound of the calliope.


Common acts include a variety of acrobatics, gymnastics (including tumbling and trampoline), aerial acts (such as trapeze, aerial silk, corde lisse), contortion, stilts and a variety of other routines. Juggling is one of the most common acts in a circus; the combination of juggling and gymnastics is called equilibristics and include acts like plate spinning or the rolling globe. Clowns are common to most circuses and are typically skilled in many circus acts; "clowns getting into the act" is a very familiar theme in any circus. Famous circus clowns have included Austin Miles, the Fratellini Family, Emmett Kelly, Grock and Bill Irwin.

Daredevil stunt acts and sideshow acts are also parts of some circus acts, these activities may include human cannonball, chapeaugraphy, fire eating, breathing and dancing, knife throwing, magic shows, sword swallowing or strongman. Famous sideshow performers include Zip the Pinhead and The Doll Family. A popular sideshow attraction from the early 19th century was the flea circus, where fleas were attached to props and viewed through a Fresnel lens.

Animal acts

Female lion tamer and leopard. Animal rights activists allege that these acts involve cruel training methods.
Elephants from Cole Brothers Circus parade through downtown Los Angeles, 1953

A variety of animals have historically been used in acts. While the types of animals used vary from circus to circus, big cats, elephants, horses, birds, sea lions, bears and domestic animals are the most common.

The earliest involvement of animals in circus was just the display of exotic creatures. As far back as the early eighteenth century, exotic animals were transported to North America for display, and menageries were a popular form of entertainment.[20] The first true animals acts in the circus were equestrian acts. Soon elephants and big cats were displayed as well. Isaac A. Van Amburgh entered a cage with several big cats in 1833, and is generally considered to be the first wild animal trainer in American circus history.[21] Mabel Stark was a famous female tiger-tamer.


For long, the use of animals in the circus has been a matter of controversy, as animal-welfare groups have documented many cases of animal cruelty in the training of performing animals. The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) contends that animals in circuses are frequently beaten into submission and that physical abuse has always been the method for training circus animals. According to PETA, although the US Animal Welfare Act does not permit the use of electric shock prods, whips, hooks, or similar instruments by trainers, these are still used today. According to PETA, during an undercover investigation of Carson & Barnes Circus, video footage was captured showing animal care director Tim Frisco training endangered Asian elephants with electrical shock prods and instructing other trainers to "beat the elephants with a bullhook as hard as they could and to sink the sharp metal bullhook into the animals' flesh and twist it until they screamed in pain."[22]

In testimony in U.S. District Court in 2009, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus CEO Kenneth Feld acknowledged that circus elephants are struck behind the ears, under the chin and on their legs with metal tipped prods, called bull hooks. Feld stated that these practices are necessary to protect circus workers. Feld also acknowledged that an elephant trainer was reprimanded for using an electric shock device, known as a hot shot or electric prod, on an elephant, which Feld also stated was appropriate practice. Feld denied that any of these practices harm elephants.[23] In its January 2010 verdict on the case, brought against Feld Entertainment International by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals 'et al', the Court ruled that evidence against the circus company was "not credible with regard to the allegations".[24]

During a Circus International performance in Honolulu, Hawaii on 20 August 1994, an elephant called Tyke (1974 – August 20, 1994) killed her trainer, Allen Campbell, and severely mauled her groomer, Dallas Beckwith, in front of hundreds of horrified spectators. Tyke then bolted from the arena and ran through the streets of Kakaako for more than thirty minutes. Police fired 86 shots at Tyke who eventually collapsed from the wounds and died.[25]

In 1998 in the UK, a parliamentary working group chaired by MP Roger Gale studied living conditions and treatment of animals in UK circuses. All members of this group agreed that a change in the law was needed to protect circus animals. Mr Gale told the BBC, "It's undignified and the conditions under which they are kept are woefully inadequate—the cages are too small, the environments they live in are not suitable and many of us believe the time has come for that practice to end." The group reported concerns about boredom and stress, and noted that an independent study by a member of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at Oxford University "found no evidence that circuses contribute to education or conservation."[26] However, in 2007 a different working group under the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, having reviewed information from experts representing both the circus industry and animal welfare, found an absence of "scientific evidence sufficient to demonstrate that travelling circuses are not compatible with meeting the welfare needs of any type of non-domesticated animal presently being used in the United Kingdom." According to that group's report, published in October 2007, "there appears to be little evidence to demonstrate that the welfare of animals kept in travelling circuses is any better or any worse than that of animals kept in other captive environments."[27]

Sweden, Austria, Costa Rica, India, Finland, Singapore, Switzerland, and Denmark have already restricted the use of animals in entertainment. In response to a growing popular concern about the use of animals in entertainment, animal-free circuses are becoming more common around the world.[28] Israel has banned any animal from performing in any circus.[citation needed] In 2009, Bolivia passed legislation banning the use of any animals, wild or domestic, in circuses. The law states that circuses "constitute an act of cruelty." Circus operators have one year from the bill's passage on July 1, 2009 to comply.[29]

In music, films, plays, and books

The atmosphere of the circus has served as a dramatic setting for many musicians. The famous circus theme song is actually called "Entrance of the Gladiators", and was composed in 1904 by Julius Fučík. Other circus music includes "El Caballero", "Quality Plus", "Sunnyland Waltzes", "The Storming of El Caney", "Pahjamah", "Bull Trombone", "Big Time Boogie", "Royal Bridesmaid March", "The Baby Elephant Walk", "Liberty Bell March", "Java", Strauss's "Radetsky March", and "Pageant of Progress".

Plays set in a circus include the 1896 musical The Circus Girl by Lionel Monckton, Polly of the Circus written in 1907 by Margaret Mayo, He Who Gets Slapped written by Russian Leonid Andreyev 1916 and later adapted into one of the first circus films, Caravan written in 1932 by Carl Zuckmayer, the revue Big Top written by Herbert Farjeon in 1942, Top of the Ladder written by Tyrone Gutheris in 1950, Stop the World, I Want to Get Off written by Anthony Newley in 1961, and Barnum with music by Cy Coleman and lyrics and book by Mark Bramble.

Following World War I, circus films became popular; in 1924 He Who Gets Slapped was the first film released by MGM; in 1925 Sally of the Sawdust (remade 1930), Variety, and Vaudeville were produced, followed by The Devil's Circus in 1926 and The Circus starring Charlie Chaplin, Circus Rookies, 4 Devils; and Laugh Clown Laugh in 1928. German film Salto Mortale about trapeze artists was released in 1930 and remade in the United States and released as Trapeze starring Burt Lancaster in 1956; in 1932 Freaks was released; Charlie Chan at the Circus, Circus (USSR) and The Three Maxiums were released in 1936 and At the Circus starring the Marx Brothers and You Can't Cheat an Honest Man in 1939. Circus films continued to be popular during the Second World War, The Great Profile starring John Barrymore was released in 1940, the animated Disney film Dumbo, Road Show and The Wagons Roll at Night in 1941 and Captive Wild Woman in 1943.

The film Tromba, about a tiger trainer was released in 1948 and in 1952 Cecil B. de Mille's Oscar winning film The Greatest Show on Earth was first shown. Released in 1953 were Man on a Tightrope and Ingmar Bergman's Gycklarnas afton released as Sawdust and Tinsel in the United States; Life is a Circus; Ring of Fear; 3 Ring Circus and La strada an Oscar winning film by Federico Fellini about a girl who is sold to a circus strongman; Fellini made a second film set in the circus called The Clowns in 1970. Films about the circus made since 1959 include B-movie Circus of Horrors, musical Billy Rose's Jumbo, A Tiger Walks a Disney film about a tiger that escapes from the circus and Circus World starring John Wayne. In the film Jungle Emperor Leo, Leo's son, Lune, is captured and placed in a circus, which burns down when a tiger knocks down a ring of fire while jumping through it.

The TV series Circus Humberto, based on the novel by Eduard Bass, follows the history of the circus family Humberto between 1826-1924. The setting of the HBO television series Carnivàle, which ran from 2003–2005, is also largely set in a traveling circus. The circus has also inspired many writers. Numerous books, both non-fiction and fiction, have been published about circus life. Notable examples of circus-based fiction include Circus Humberto by Eduard Bass, Cirque Du Freak by Darren Shan, and Spangle by Gary Jennings.


In some towns, there are circus buildings where regular performances are held. The best known are

In other countries, purpose-built circus buildings still exist which are no longer used as circuses, or are used for circus only occasionally among a wider programme of events; for example, the Cirkusbygningen (The Circus Building) in Copenhagen, Denmark or Cirkus in Stockholm, Sweden.

See also

The Circus, by Georges Seurat, painted 1891. Original in Musée d'Orsay, Paris.


  1. ^ Word History: Circus, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition, 2000.
  2. ^ History of the Ludi
  3. ^ The Oxford English Dictionary lists the 1791 book The History of the Royal Circus about Philip Astley's troupe as the first written use of the word to describe the modern circus.
  4. ^ The Circus in America: 1793 - 1940
  5. ^ PHMC: Historical Markers Program
  6. ^ International Circus Festival of Monte-Carlo
  7. ^ Vazquez Hermanos Circus by Hank Duckman
  8. ^ The 7 Fingers
  9. ^ Circus Baobab
  10. ^ Dislocate
  11. ^ Circa
  12. ^ Company PURE Cirkus
  13. ^ Skewed Circus
  14. ^ Join the Circus
  15. ^ Circus having ‘best year we’ve ever had’
  16. ^ Circus Krone
  17. ^ Vazquez Hermanos Circus by Hank Duckman
  18. ^ Hermanos Mayar Circus by Hank Duckman
  19. ^ Moira Orfei Circo official website
  20. ^ The history of circus in the US, HistoryMagazine
  21. ^ The Circus in America: 1793 - 1940
  22. ^ Circuses: Three Rings of Abuse
  23. ^ Circus CEO says elephants are struck, but not hurt
  24. ^ Court Record, United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Civil Action No 03-2006 (EGS)
  25. ^ "Hawthorn Corporation". 
  26. ^ UK Politics Protect circus animals call
  27. ^ "Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses: The Report of the Chairman of the Circus Working Group". UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. October 2007. Retrieved 24 February 2010.
  28. ^ Elephant Rampages
  29. ^ Associated Press (July 31, 2009). "Bolivia bans use of animals in circuses". Retrieved 31 July 2009. 


This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

Further reading

  • Dfening, Fred D., III (November 2007). "The American Circus in the 1870s: An Overview from Newspaper Sources". Bandwagon (Columbus, OH: Circus Historical Society) 51 (6): 4–60. ISSN 0005-4968. —provides an overview of "low-yield research" into the history of the American Circus as covered in "ragcontent newspapers [and] magazines [such as] White Tops".

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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From LoveToKnow 1911

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also circus




Proper noun

Wikipedia has an article on:



  1. a taxonomic genus, within subfamily Circinae - the harriers
Wikispecies has information on:


See also

  • See Wikispecies for species


Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From Wikispecies

Circus aeruginosus
Circus aeruginosus


Main Page
Cladus: Eukaryota
Supergroup: Unikonta
Cladus: Opisthokonta
Regnum: Animalia
Subregnum: Eumetazoa
Cladus: Bilateria
Cladus: Nephrozoa
Cladus: Deuterostomia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Infraphylum: Gnathostomata
Superclassis: Tetrapoda
Classis: Aves
Subclassis: Carinatae
Infraclassis: Neornithes
Parvclassis: Neognathae
Ordo: Falconiformes
Familia: Accipitridae
Subfamilia: Circinae
Genus: Circus
Species: C. aeruginosus - C. approximans - C. assimilis - C. buffoni - C. cinereus - C. cyaneus - C. macrourus - C. maillardi - C. maurus - C. melanoleucos - C. pygargus - C. ranivorus - C. spilonotus


Circus Lacepede, 1799


Tableaux méthodiques des Mammiferes et des Oiseaux. p.4


Up to date as of February 01, 2010

From Wikia Gaming, your source for walkthroughs, games, guides, and more!


Developer(s) Exidy
Publisher(s) Exidy
Atari 2600
Release date Arcade:
1977 (NA)
Atari 2600:
1980 (NA)
Genre Breakout
Mode(s) Single player
Age rating(s) N/A
Atari 2600
Platform(s) Arcade
Atari 2600
Input Atari 2600 Paddle Controllers
Credits | Soundtrack | Codes | Walkthrough

Circus is an arcade game released in 1977. It was ported to the Atari 2600, released as Circus Atari by Atari and under this name by Sears.


You must pop balloons by catching a clown on the teeter-totter and bouncing him up to the balloons. Use the controller to move the teeter-totter across the screen to catch the clowns. Each time a clown pops a balloon, the balloon will disappear and you score points.

Each player receives five clowns or turns. If you fail to catch a clown on the teeter-totter he will crash and disappear from the playfield. Press the red controller button and another clown will bounce off the trampoline from the right or left corner of the playfield. After five clowns have crashed the game is over. The clowns may land on any point of the teeter-totter except where the other clown is sitting, which causes them to crash.

This article is a stub. You can help by adding to it.

Stubs are articles that writers have begun work on, but are not yet complete enough to be considered finished articles.

This article uses material from the "Circus" article on the Gaming wiki at Wikia and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.

Simple English

File:Barnum & Bailey clowns and
Advertisement for the Barnum & Bailey Circus, 1900.

A circus is a special kind of entertainment that can be enjoyed by children and adults. Circuses are a group of performers that may include acrobats, clowns, trained animals, trapeze acts, musicians, hoopers, tightrope walkers, jugglers and other artists who perform stunts. Circuses usually travel about to different parts of the country or to different countries. They perform in a huge tent called the “Big Top”. There may be room for hundreds of people in the audience. The seating is tiered (the seats at the back are higher than those in front). In the middle is the circular area where the artists perform. This area is called the “ring”. The person in charge of the whole show is the “ringmaster”. Not all circuses travel about. A few circuses perform in their own building.


= Acts

= There are many different acts in circuses. Some people do acrobatics and gymnastics. Often a group of gymnasts will finish up standing on top of one another in a pyramid. The gymnasts may also do jumping acts on trampolines. Some people are jugglers, throwing things in the air and catching them. There may be people who walk on stilts or who ride on unicycles. They may perform magic which may include swordswallowing, knife throwing or fireeating. There are always clowns who do funny things to make people laugh. They trip over things and fall over, throw buckets of water over one another or put custard pies into one another’s faces. Sometimes these clowns are also very skilful acrobats, musicians or jugglers. They may pretend to be stupid at first, but they often show that they are very clever.

Animal acts

File:Female animal trainer and
Female lion tamer and leopard. Animal rights activists say that these acts involve cruel training methods.

During the last two centuries, and until recently, the modern circus used many kinds of animals. There were wild animals such as lions, tigers or bears. There may also have been camels, horses, elephants, sea lions and domestic animals such as dogs. In recent years people have changed their ideas. They think that it is unkind to make wild animals perform tricks that are unnatural to them. Many of their trainers used cruel methods to teach these animals to do tricks, e.g. hitting the animals, giving them electric shocks or causing pain in other ways. The animals were always touring around, living in tiny cages. Many countries now do not want to see wild animals in circuses.


In Ancient Rome the circus was a round or oval building for showing horse and chariot races, horse shows, staged battles, acts with animals, jugglers and acrobats. The Roman circus had tiered seats. The important people sat at the bottom, near the action. The Latin word circus comes from the Greek word kirkos, meaning “circle" or "ring”.[1]

The first circus in Rome was the Circus Maximus, in the valley between the Palatine and Aventine hills. At first it was made of wood. It was rebuilt several times; the last building of the Circus Maximus could seat 250,000 people.

After the period when Rome was powerful, Europe did not have a circus tradition. In China there were shows with acrobatic performances, but they did not influence the Western circus, which started to be popular towards the end of the 18th century. In London there were circuses with horse-riding. These were started in 1768 by Philip Astley. A “Royal Circus” was set up in Lambeth, London by John Hughes. Circuses grew in size and had lots of animals. They were a bit like a zoo. They had wild animals such as lions and elephants. In 1793 a circus building was opened in Philadelphia, USA. Circuses became popular in the USA, especially the circus of Dan Rice. In 1840 Thomas Cooke brought his circus with horses from the USA to England. The circus started to become popular in many countries all over the world. The Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show On Earth toured from 1897 to 1902. They showed animal acts and human acts. There were even shows with freaks (people who were physically unusual, e.g. dwarfs and giants. During most of the 20th century this is what circuses were mostly like.

In 1919, Lenin, head of the USSR, said he wanted the circus to be treated as a serious art form, just like opera and ballet. The Moscow Circus School, which was started in 1927, is still one of the best circuses today. The artists are very skilful acrobats, gymnasts etc. Chinese circuses also have artists who are some of the world’s best gymnasts.


  1. Word History: Circus, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition, 2000.


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