The History of Acrobatics

Acrobatics have been around so many thousands of years that historians are left assuming they have always been around. Some of the most ancient art we have from societies like Greece, Rome, Egypt, and China all show images of people performing acrobatic feats.

Sometimes these performances were part of theater, court life, or competitions…sometimes they were part of cultural events. Ancient Minoan art depicts people performing acrobatics on the backs of bulls as part of the bull festivals, for example. In China, acrobats were part of the royal court from at least the Tang Dynasty, beginning in 203 BC.

In the Middle Ages in Europe, acrobats often performed for courts of both nobles and monarchs.

Types of Acrobatics

“Acrobatics” is a wide, general term that encompasses quite a lot of different things. Many of the ancient forms we see displayed in art include what we today would call contortionism, juggling, gymnastics, and balancing acts. The word itself is derived from Greek, combining “going on tip-toe, climbing up high” and “to walk.”


Typical breakdown of this general term includes:

Acrobalance – floor work in which the acrobats use balance and lifts to create shapes with their bodies.

Acro dance – classical dancing that uses precision acrobatic techniques

Aerial – acrobatics performed in the air, which you can read more about here. Includes trapeze, highwire, rings, hoops, and silks

Contortion – showcasing extreme flexibility

Rope and wire walking – dating from Ancient Greece, involves crossing a thin wire in the air, often performing tricks

Tumbling – what moderns call gymnastics, including somersaults, flips, rolls, and twists


Circus Acrobats

Acrobatic displays, being perennial popular, were a natural edition to the first traveling circuses. Floor exercises were a simple edition, but it didn’t take long for Big Tops to include platforms for high wires, trapezes, hoops, and silks.

Though the first circuses mostly just featured exotic animals, audiences craved action, and so these highly skilled performers brought guests in and wowed them with their feats, colorful costumes, and seemingly impossible contortions. Acrobats have been a key component of circuses from the 19th century onward and are still a much beloved part of performances today.

In the World of the Imposters

Yates and Marigold are both skilled acrobats, having been training since they were children with the Caesars as well as independent groups their late father hired to entertain the neighborhood. Each of the Caesars specializes in a different subgenre of acrobatics.

Franco & Zelda – this married couple have a trapeze act, and Franco was the ringmaster as well

Drina – Franco’s sister is an expert on silks

Alafair – this Caesar cousin is a master at floor acrobatics

W R I T E   T O   F R A N C O

Have questions about the circus or managerie?
You can email Franco directly at

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