Circus Dictionary 

Acrobatics – Individual or partner skills involving strength and dexterity, including body rotations, twists, flips, balances, jumps and turns. Can be performed on tumbling mats, trampoline, tightwire or trapeze.

Acrolite/Acromat – Thin gymnastics mat used for tumbling and performance, used to cover a hard floor.
Adagio – Partner acrobatics, using counterweight, balances, lifts and dance movements.
Aerial/aerialist – Circus acts performed in the air, on a suspended apparatus such as a trapeze, rope, cloudswing or aerial ring.  

Aerial Ring/Aerial Hoop/Cerceaux – A steel hoop or ring suspended from the ceiling, usually about the size of a hula hoop, on which to perform aerial acrobatics. Can have a bar across the top and a hand loop. Can be used static, spinning, or swinging. 

Backbridge – An acrobatic move where the performer lies on their back, places their hands on the floor next to their head, and bends their legs by their backside. From their position the performer pushes against the floor with their feet and hands and arches their stomach towards the roof. 


Backflip – An acrobatic movement which involves leaping backwards quickly, from feet to hands and back to feet. 

Backsault – An acrobatic movement involving jumping into the air, executing a complete backwards rotation, and landing on feet again.
Base - the person on the bottom of a two (or more) person balance or move. In a group act, the base lifts, catches or assists the flyer.
Beatboard – Gymnastics equipment used for the vault. Also used as a training tool. Gives more bounce than the floor and/or sprung floor, but not as much bounce as a minitramp. Springs, wood or air bags can be used to propel the performer.
Bounce juggling
Juggling which involves balls being deliberately bounced off of a floor or wall. Silicone balls are widely used for bounce juggling, though lacrosse balls and tennis balls can also be used.
Bounce Rope – Similar apparatus to Tightwire, but involving a length of rope which the performer walks across and performs tricks on. There is an amount of bungee in the system which provides the performer with a rope that bounces.
Bounce Wire – A length of wire as for Tightwire, but there is also bungee in the system that provides the performer with more bounce than a standard Tightwire setup.
Bowl Kicking – An act in which the performer balances a base bowl on their head, and bowls are kicked one by one from the foot onto the stack on the performers head.
Buffon – Style of clowning; a grotesque style of clown.


Bungee - A rubberized cord from which performers do aerial acts. A material similar to what is used in bungee jumping. It can add bounce to a system, or propel a performer into the air. 

Carabiner – A piece of rigging equipment used to link things together. Looks like a large link of chain, with a latch that opens and closes to allow for easy linking. Carabiners come in a variety of shapes, sizes and load capabilities. 

Casting – A duo act involving a catcher and flyer, where the flyer is thrown into the air and then re-caught by their hands or feet by the catcher.
Catcher – A performer whose responsibility it is to catch a flyer.
Chinese Poles – Vertical steel poles on which performers climb, slide down, hold poses and jump between. The poles are generally between 3 and 9 metres in height and approximately 3 to 4 inches in diameter.
Cloudswing - A large u-shaped loop of rope suspended from rigging points in the truss and used in aerial acts. The apparatus can be used used statically or swinging in motion.
Clowning - The art of performing as a clown. Character clowns have exaggerated facial features, and are sometimes called hobo or tramp clowns.
Commedia del Arte - A style of physical theatre originating in the streets of Italy in the 16th century. Commedia involves use of masks, stock characters, simple plots of misfortune, mis-identity, misunderstandings, and basic human drives. Commedia often involves acrobatic stunts, fast movement, chases, and improvisation around a general outline on the part of the actors.
Conditioning – Exercises to increase strength and prepare the body for physical skills.
Contact juggling – Juggling involving the ball keeping contact with the body. Focuses on fluidity of movement. Can involve one ball, or up to eight balls.
Contortion – An acrobatic art that involves a performer bending their body into hyper-flexible, extraordinary positions. This skill can be combined with hand or head balancing, and can also performed on trapeze.
Corde Lisse – Literally meaning “Single Rope”, Corde Lisse is a single length of rope hanging from above, on which an aerialist performs tricks. "Web" is a similar apparatus but with different applications (see Web).
Cradle – A platform from which a performer hangs by their knees and performs throws and catches with a flyer, similar to double static trapeze. Cradle looks similar to the children's teeter without seat. The platform can be static, swinging or standing.
Crashmat – A piece of safety equipment used to prevent a performer injuring themselves when landing on a surface.  


Devil Sticks – A piece of manipulation equipment involving three sticks; two thinner hand sticks are used to tap the third (slightly larger) devil stick back and forth in front of the body. Using this action as the basic movement, many other tricks can be performed, sometimes using two devil sticks at once.


Diabolo – A traditional Chinese circus apparatus, shaped like an hourglass with a metal axle in the middle. The artist manipulates this top-like equipment by a piece of string with handles at each end. 

Double Trapeze – A static trapeze act executed with two performers on the one trapeze, in which they work together to create positions and bear each others weight. Can also be performed swinging, in which case the act is called Swinging Double Trapeze.
Elbow Planche – A hand-balancing skill involving balancing the body horizontally, with the stomach resting on the elbow of the supporting arm for balance.
Fitball – Sometimes known as a Swiss Ball, the Fitball is a large inflatable PVC ball used for improving core stability. A variety of exercises can be done on these including push ups, sit ups, balances and stretches.
Flyer – An artist who performs skills in the air while being supported, suspended, thrown or caught by a base or catcher.
Flying Trapeze – An aerial apparatus involving a flyer (swinging on a flybar) and a catcher (suspended by a static cradle, swinging cradle, casting frame or swinging trapeze). The flyer performs aerial skills from the flybar to the catcher, and from the catcher back to the flybar. There can be multiple catchers or flyers. Usually performed over a safety net.
Foot Loop & Keeper – A loop of rope used to support a performer by the ankle. The Keeper is adjusted to keep the loop tight around the ankle.
Front Split - A split in which one leg is extended frontward and the other leg is extended backward, both at right angles to the torso. The hips should be square facing to the front.
Ground Acrobatics – Acrobatics performed on (or in close proximity to) the ground.
Ground-to-air Acrobatics – Acrobatic skills that involve the performer being lifted or propelled into the air. The performer returns to the ground and may be thrown in the air a number of times during the act.
Guy Wires– Strong cables used to support poles and rigging for aerial equipment.
Hand Balancing – An act in which the majority of skills involve the performer balancing on their hands.
Hand Loop & Keeper – A loop of rope used to support a performer by their wrist, to allow them to hang securely from one arm, usually on a Spanish Web or Lyra. The Keeper is used to tighten the Hand Loop.
Handspring – A forward-motion tumbling move where an acrobat places their hands on the floor (as if to kick into a handstand) and flips forwards onto their feet. It can be performed from a run, from a jump hurdle. It can be finished landing on two feet, or on one (step-out).
Handstand - A basic acrobatic position in which the artist balances on the palms of his hands.
Handstand Bench – A bench about the size of a skateboard, with four sturdy legs, used to train handstands.
Handstand Blocks – Pieces of wood used in handstand training, with dimensions approximately 160mm x 85mm x 60mm. Handstand blocks can also be stacked on top of one another and used in handstand acts.
Happy Cooks – Originally a traditional Chinese act involving plate spinning, juggling food and kitchen utensils and clowning.
Harness – A padded belt worn around the performer’s waist, used when training or performing difficult or dangerous skills. The belt is attached to ropes or ‘lines’, and a trainer will hold the ropes to assist the performer.
Hat and Cigar Manipulation – An act involving a cigar and hat, with performer holding the cigar in their mouth while balancing the hat on the cigar, face and other body parts. Balance, object manipulation and comedy/character skills are usually key elements of this act. This act was traditionally known as Gentlemen’s Style manipulation.
Head Trapeze – An aerial act in which the performer balances upside down with their head on the trapeze bar, while swinging on the trapeze. The trapeze is supported by wire cables rather than ropes, and the apparatus will often be lifted and lowered during the act. Also known as Washington Trapeze.
High wire – A tight wire raised several metres above the ground
Hoop Diving – An act involving performers diving, jumping, twisting and somersaulting through and over hoops which are stacked on top of each other. The hoops are flat and wide, made of steel, wood or plastic, allowing them to balance on top of one another.
Hula Hoops – Circular plastic hoops approximately 80cm in diameter, used to twirl around different parts of the body. Performers can manipulate one or multiple hoops at the same time.

Icarian Games - Human foot juggling, also known as Risley (slang).

Juggling – The skill of keeping a number of objects in the air at the same time, by continuously throwing and catching the objects. Juggling requires good hand-eye coordination. The performer can use different methods to throw and catch the objects. Examples of objects used for juggling are clubs, rings, balls, scarves, knives, fire clubs, chainsaws, fruit, etc.
Ladder – An acrobatic/manipulation act where the performer climbs and balances on an unsupported free-standing ladder by using a rocking motion. Juggling, balancing objects on the performer’s head, and performing handstands are often combined in a Ladder performance.
Lunge – A piece of training/safety equipment which attaches the belt (worn by the performer) to ropes that run up through pulleys and down to a trainer. The trainer holds the lines (ropes) to assist the performer with new or dangerous skills. When the performer is more confident with the skill a single line can be attached instead of double lines. A Lunge is also a gymnastic/yoga term, involving both feet on the ground, with one leg straight and one leg bent.

Lyra – Another name for Aerial Ring, usually with a hand or foot loop attached.

Magnesium Carbonate (Mag) – Mag, or Chalk, is used to assist a performer in gripping. It has the appearance of chalk used on a blackboard, but much finer in consistency. Mag absorbs sweat and therefore stops the performer from being slippery, as compared to rosin, which is sticky.

Manipulation – The act of manipulating objects. In circus, this term covers juggling, contact juggling, diabolo, devil sticks, hat & cigar manipulation, poi, staff twirling, meteor, yo-yo’s, etc.
Mechanic – Another term for lunge.
Mini-tramp - A small, square-shaped trampoline which is used to perform somersault maneuvers off.  The acrobat does a run up, 'punches' the bed of the trampoline with their feet, and completes a trick in the air before landing.
Neck Loop – A loop of rope used to allow a performer to hang from their neck. Similar to a hand or foot loop, but often including extra padding for comfort. The loop rests at the nape of the neck and the keeper is adjusted to the bridge of the nose, allowing the performer to spin rapidly in the air. A double neck loop can be attached between a catcher and a flyer to perform a spectacular double neck spin during an aerial act.  
Padding – Another term for spotting, meaning to assist a performer to complete a trick safely.
Pitching – Sometimes called bunking, this ground-to-air group act involves propelling a performer into the air to perform single or multiple tricks. The bases hold hands (crossed) to create a platform for the flyer to stand on before/after the trick. The flyer can go from the floor to the group, or be pitched from group to group. Pitching acts can also involve tumbling, acrobatics and adagio.
Poi – A manipulation apparatus consisting of a ball and chain, one held in each hand by finger-loops, allowing the performer to swing the apparatus around their body very quickly. The balls can be replaced with wicks to allow the performer to perform Fire Poi, creating striking illusions as the light creates patterns around the performer’s body.
Plate Spinning – A performer spins a row of plates each resting precariously on top of a thin flexible pole. The performer starts at one end, and rushes back and forth to keep them spinning and make sure the plates don’t fall. Often performed as part of the 'Happy Cooks' act. Plate spinning can also involve holding multiple poles in the hands while spinning a plate on each one.
Press to Handstand – A controlled entry into a handstand, using strength rather than momentum.
Pulley/Pulley Block - A device to run a rope through. A 'pulley system' is a system of pulleys and ropes which create an adjustable rigging point.
Pyramids - definition coming soon!
Ratchet Strap – A device used for creating tension to stabilise rigging.
Rigger – A person responsible for setting and maintaining aerial rigging in a circus training or performance venue.  
Rigging – All equipment used for the suspension of aerial apparatus. Rigging equipment includes truss, chain motors, chain blocks, slings, ropes, pulleys, carabiners, shackles and quicklinks.
Ring/Circle Mat – A round mat traditionally used to cover the sawdust on the ground in a circus ring.
Risley – Human foot juggling. Official term: Icarian Games.  
Rolla Bolla – An act involving the performer balancing on one or more cylinders while standing on a flat board, often performing other feats such as skipping, juggling, handstands or balancing objects on their head.
Rope – Otherwise known as Corde Lisse, it is a single length of rope hanging from above, on which an aerialist performs manoeuvres such as climbing, wraps, rolls, drops and positions of flexibility and strength.
Rosin/Resin – Tree sap ground into a powder, which is sticky and helps the performer grip. Rosin is sticky, as compared to Mag, which absorbs sweat and therefore stops the performer from being slippery. Used mainly by aerialists in assisting with difficult manoeuvres such as heel, toe and neck hangs. Also used by ballet dancers working on pointe, and musicians playing string instruments.
Round-off – gymnastic move, begins similarly to a cartwheel but ends with feet together.
Russian Bar - An apparatus made of three fastened vaulting poles strapped together to create a flexible beam. This group act involves a minimum of two bases balancing the beam on their shoulders, and one flyer standing on the beam, with the flyer bouncing and performing aerial tricks and landing on the bar or sometimes on a pyramid.
Russian Swing - definition coming soon!
Scattermat – A small ground mat used to warm up and stretch on, or for an acrobat to tumble and land on.
Shackles – A steel connector used to join two pieces of rigging.
Slings – A type of strap used to create a rigging point, on truss or a floor point.
Slackwire - definition coming soon!
Slapstick – Physical comedy which uses slapping, kicking and use of comic timing. Could involve running into a door, appearing to get hurt, and exaggeration. Famous slapstick comedians include Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy and the Three Stooges.
Splits – A flexibility manoeuvre, where the legs are extended in a 180 degree split. Straddle or middle splits involves the legs extending to the left and right; front splits involves one leg is extending in front and the other leg is extended backward, both at right angles to the trunk. Ideally, the hips are square facing to the front, while both legs are turned out from the hips.
Somersault - An acrobatic skill performed by jumping into the air and doing a full 360 degree rotation with the body in a tuck position. A somersault can be performed backwards, forwards and sideways, and with single, double or triple rotations.
Spinning Bowls/Meteor – A form of manipulation apparatus, originally from China, involving a length of rope with weights (or bowls) attached to either end. The performer spins and manipulates the rope quickly and throws the apparatus in the air, performing tricks while it is airborne and catching and flicking the rope using different body parts. When using bowls, they are filled with water and the centrivical force pulls the rope taught and the bowls of water are pulled outwards which holds the water in the bowls. Tricks must be executed well in order for the water not to spill.
Spotting – Assisting or being ready to assist a performer to safely execute a skill. The spotter will stand next to the performer as they attempt the skill, and assist if required.
Staff twirling – Similar to baton twirling, the staff is manipulated around the body and thrown in the air. Can be used with fire, where the ends are lit.
Static Trapeze – A trapeze bar which is ‘dead-hung’ and does not swing. The aerialist performs a wide range of movements including balances, drops, hangs, and strength and flexibility manoeuvres on the trapeze bar and in the ropes supporting the trapeze. Can involve one or two performers.
Stilts – Timber or metal apparatus that is attached below the knee which the artist walks and performs tricks on. Stilts come in different heights and can be up to several meters high.
Strapping Tape – Cloth tape used to strap injuries and also used to tape trapeze bars to increase grip.
Straps- An aerial apparatus consisting of two narrow bands made of close-woven material fastened to the truss. By wrapping the strap ends around hands and wrists, the performer performs holds, twists, rolls and manoeovres, requiring extreme strength and precision similar men’s rings in gymnastics.
Strops – Another term for slings.
Swinging Trapeze – A weighted trapeze bar which often has cable inside the supporting ropes for extra strength. A swinging trapeze will have varying weight and length of ropes. Can be performed solo or duo.
Swivels – A piece of rigging hardware used to prevent twists from forming in ropes. Also used in spinning aerial acts such as Spanish Web and Aerial Ring.  
Teeterboard - Similar to a seesaw, this apparatus involves a 350mm board, with the performer standing on the lowered end, and the other performers jumping onto the upper end, sending the flyer into the air. Teeterboard can involve anywhere from 2-10 people. Sometimes the performers jump from a tower onto the board, creating greater power to propel the flyer into the air and enabling bigger tricks. The flyer can land on the floor or atop a pyramid.
Tightwire – A cable stretched tightly between two points. The performer will ‘walk the wire’ and perform other difficult jumps, leaps, balances and acrobatics.
Tirfor – A type of winch used for creating tension, usually to stabilise a rig. Can also be used in circus for raising king poles on a tent.
Tissu or Silks – An aerial apparatus made from a length of fabric in various colours and with varying amounts of stretch. Similar manoeuvres to Corde Lisse are performed by the aerialist, who climbs up and down the fabric, wrapping sections around the body to hang, drop and slide during the performance.
Training – The time in which an artist practices and refines their skills.
Trapeze – An aerial apparatus with a small round bar suspended by ropes or metal straps from the truss. This genre can include static, swinging and flying trapeze, and can be performed solo, double trapeze, triple trapeze or as a group act.
Truss – Steel or aluminium framework from which to suspend aerial apparatus. Truss is most commonly square (box) or triangular shaped.
Tumble Track/Fast Track – A strip of mat enabling a performer to do a sequence of tumbling.
Tumbling – A generic term to describe combinations of ground based acrobatic tricks. Tumbling can include cartwheel, round off, somersault, backflip, handspring, backflip, back/front sault, and somersaults with single or multiple rotations and twists.
Tumbling Wedge – definition coming soon!  
Unicycle – A one-wheel bicycle with a small seat (or sometimes without a seat) upon which the performer rides forwards, backwards, performs jumps and other balancing skills. Unicycles come in different heights and different sized wheels.  
Vaulting Boxes - definition coming soon!
Web/Spanish Web -A rope hanging from above, used to perform aerial acrobatic maneuvers while spinning. The rope is usually spun by another person, the 'Web Setter', who remains on the ground holding the bottom of the rope. Can also involve use of hand and foot loops at various heights.
Wheel – (Also known as Rhoedenrad) definition coming soon!
Designed by Swinburne Design Centre | CMS by Netagi Aplinx | Privacy Policy | Contact Us
Copyright © 2005 All rights reserved NICA