Circus Performer

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Circus Performer


During the middle ages, men were employed as jesters and tumblers for the royal courts and at fairs. And as far back as 2,000 years ago, citizens of the Roman Empire watched jugglers, clowns, and trick-horse riders. Although, no one is really sure of its origin the circus has been around in some form or another for ages. We do know the modern day circus originated in London, England in 1770.

Trapeze artists, magicians, clowns, acrobats, stilt walkers, contortionists and tight-rope walkers are all found at circuses. Some performers walk on glass, breathe fire and swallow swords. They can swing through the air and balance on one foot hundreds of feet up, and bend their bodies into seemingly impossible shapes. These are the circus performers of today, highly trained, well-practised performers who delight us with each new talented show.

Circus performers work for large circuses that travel all over the globe, as well as smaller circuses that might travel around a country or region. They work outside of the circus, as well, performing as buskers, in festivals, and at parties and banquets. They must have high levels of energy and be fully conscious of their role as performer. If the crowd numbers 500 or so adults, or five little children, the performer must always remember to give the audience the show they deserve.

Circus performing is not easy. The hours are long and arduous. The day involves more than just doing a short routine. Each day involves rehearsals, equipment checks, packing, unpacking, and setting up the show. They must be physically fit, and always alert to dangers and obstacles. Some performers design their own routines and costumes, select the musical accompaniment, and decide on a theme for the show.

The art of clowning has existed for thousands of years. Throughout history most cultures have had clowns. In tribal culture clowns played an important role in the social and religious life of the tribe. Clowns who performed as court jesters were given great freedom of speech, and through their humor could affect policy. Although, the modern clown plays a different role in our society it is still a valued figure. Like the clowns before them, todays performers still say, do and perform things that amaze, amuse and delight us.

People who work as clowns create a persona for themselves with costume and makeup. Clowns can be tramps, who are often frustrated and unhappy, Auguste clowns who wear simple makeup are often the most ridiculous and unintelligent, and the classic clown, who is much cleverer than the clowning counterparts. Each type of clown will have tricks, skits, and techniques relevant to their own tradition.

The clowns' role is to gently make fun of themselves and the audience. Often they work in cancer wards, retirement centers, and circuses, bringing light and laughter to those who need it most.

It is almost impossible to track the evolution of acrobatics. It has a long and varied history informed by many cultures. China, which has some of the world's best acrobatic performers has a long history of acrobatics. Many years ago peasants, unable to survive solely by farming, developed performance skills such as acrobatics to help support themselves in hard winters.

Acrobatics is a little like gymnastics, a little like dance, and a little like yoga. Acrobats are flexible, strong, and physically prepared for a number of activities. Within the circus, there are lots of opportunities for acrobats to display their talents.

Circuses are no longer a place to find cheap thrills, instead, audience members are treated to the wonders of nature, in spectacular, professionally choreographed and performed routines. Circus performers will always play an important role in our lives, with their skills, talents and daring proving to us over and over again, that nothing is ever impossible.
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  Interests and Skills  
Want to run away and join the circus? First of all, circus performers must be physically fit and they should love performing. They genuinely enjoy making people happy, and thrive on the thrill of the crowd. Circus performers are creative, adapt easily to new situations, and have good hand-eye coordination, perfect balance and tons of self-confidence. They need to be healthy and strong, with good concentration and stamina. They also need to be naturally flexible. Circus performers need to be intuitive, and able to read and react to an audience's mood. If they also work outside of the circus as solo performers, they may need to manage themselves, so good business sense is also important.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Practice old routines
  • Work alone or with colleagues to design new routines
  • Lift weights, exercise, eat well
  • Study new tricks, moves, techniques
  • Routine equipment maintenance
  • Pack, unpack, and set up equipment
  • Perform routines
  • Advertise services
  • The typical day for a circus performer will involve a little bit of everything. Practice and performing will dominate many days. All circus performers' work is potentially dangerous. Long, hard hours with little sleep and travel mean that a performer must be careful when working with fire, when juggling, or flying through the air on trapeze. The more preparation, set up, and training that goes into a show, the longer the hours. Along with the actual performance, there is exercise, equipment maintenance, choreography and practicing new routines. However, there are also the routine parts of the job, like meeting with management, costume fitters and choreographers. Many days will be spent traveling around the country or world to performances and jobs. And because circuses and parties generally take place on the weekend and in the evenings, circus performers can expect to work when the rest of the world is at play.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Traditionally, circus performers only worked in circuses. This meant traveling with the show from town to town, moving every few weeks. Some performers still work with these traditional traveling circuses, some small and some quite large. They perform their acts in tents, or in arenas, community halls and auditoriums.
  • However, circus performers are no longer limited to this type of lifestyle. There are those who take their skills out of the circus, and work in all sorts of places. They may work at children's parties, adult fundraisers, hotels, and resorts. They may work in circus arts' training camps and schools, as well.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Circus performers can go on to become administrative staff for a circus, or they may become instructors at schools and camps. They can leave the circus and create independent shows to take on the road and to television. They may become actors, stunt doubles or models. They may become talent scouts and agents, or get into party and wedding planning.

  Educational Paths  
There are no specific requirements for people interested in becoming circus performers. While some circuses hire and train performers, they will usually look for someone with a background in circus-type activities. There are quite a few ways to gain the skills you will need if you want to make your living as a trapeze artist, fire-eater or other type of circus worker. There are circus schools, which can be independent or connected to a large circus. There are also programs in dance, theater, acrobatics, and clowning available at colleges, universities and private performing arts' schools. For performers interested in creating an independent show, or who want to manage a circus, business courses are a good idea.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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