Glossary

From Circopedia

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A

Adagio
Acrobatic act, generally involving a man and a woman, presented in a slow or romantic mood.
Aerialist
Any acrobat working above the ring on an aerial equipment such as trapeze, Roman Rings, Spanish web, etc.
Aerial Hoop
A heavy metallic hoop used as a variance of trapeze, usually with contortion moves. (Also called Cerceau.)
Aerial Perch
An aerial apparatus, generally a hanging perch, from where the performers hang with the help of hand or ankle loops. (French: Bambou - Russian: Bambuk)
Aerial Straps
Pair of fabric or leather straps used as an apparatus for an aerial strap act.
Antipodist
(French: Antipodiste, Russian: Antipod) Foot juggler.
Attraction
(Russian) A circus act that can occupy up to the entire second half of a circus performance.
Auguste
In a classic European clown team, the comic, red-nosed character, as opposed to the elegant, whiteface Clown.

B

Balagan
(Russian) A fairground booth or theater.
Ballerina on Horseback
Acrobatic and dance figures performed by an equestrienne, often wearing a tutu, standing on the back of a horse.
Bambou
(French - Russian: Bambuk) Aerial apparatus, generally a hanging perch, from where the performers hang with the help of hand or ankle loops. See also: Aerial perch.
Banquette
(French. U.S.: Ring Curb. Russian: Barrier) The circular barrier that defines the ring—so called because it is traditionally large enough for someone to sit on it.
Banquine
(French) Acrobatic presentation in which an acrobat performs various acrobatic jumps propelled from a living platform made by the crossed hands of two other acrobats (as in "sauts de banquine" — See also: Basket Acrobatics).
Barrel-Jumping
Act in which an acrobat jumps from inside a barrel to inside another barrel, often placed at different levels.
Barrier
(Russian. French: Banquette. U.S.: Ring Curb) The circular barrier that defines the ring, and separates it from the audience.
Barrière
(French) The line of uniformed artists and assistants who, in the old equestrian circus, stood at attention at the ring entrance to assist their fellow performers if needed. When seen today, the Barrière is usually made of the Ring Crew.
Basket Acrobatics
See Banquine.
Batoude
(French) A long wooden tramplin that acrobats use to jump over other performers, horses, or elephants, notably in the charivari. Also called "grande batoude".
Benefit
Special performance whose entire profit went to a performer; the number of benefits a performer was offered (usually one, but sometimes more for a star performer during a long engagement) was stipulated in his contract. Benefits disappeared in the early twentieth century.
Big Top
The circus tent. America: The main tent of a traveling circus, where the show is performed, as opposed to the other tops. (French, Russian: Chapiteau)
Bolleadora
A traditional Gaucho weapon made of two weights attached at both ends of a cord, used by Argentinean Bolleadora Dancers.
Boss Canvasman
(U.S.) In the traditional American circus, the person in charge of setting up and putting down the tents. Modern usage: Tentmaster.
Bouncing Rope
An rope placed between two supports or pedestals, and fastened at one or both ends to a spring or bungee, so that the ropedancer can use the rope as a propelling device.
Bowl Pagoda
A Chinese hand balancing and contortion act, in which the performer maintains piles of bowls on her/his head, feet, and/or free hand. The same is also performed with pyramids of glasses on trays, and is known as "Glass Pagoda".

C

Candy Butcher
(American) Concession vendor; so named because one of the first successful concessionaires of the American circus was a former butcher.
Cage Act
(English/American) Act performed in a cage, such as lion or tiger acts.
Carpet Clown
(English) An Auguste performing short pieces between the acts during prop changes or equipment rigging. See also: Reprise Auguste.
Carrousel
A choreographed equestrian ensemble display, very popular in European court entertainments of the 17th and 18th centuries.
Casse-Cou
(French) A front, or forward, somersault.
Catcher
In an acrobatic or a flying act, the person whose role is to catch acrobats that have been propelled in the air.
Cat Trainer
(English/American) An trainer or presenter of wild cats such as tigers, lions, leopards, etc.
Chambrière
(French) Long whip customarily used by Equestrians for the presentation of horses "at liberty."
Cerceau
(French) See Aerial Hoop.
Chapiteau
(French, Russian) A circus tent, or Big Top.
Charivari
(Italian, French) A joyous acrobatic display, mostly tumbling, originally performed by all the clowns of a circus company as a show opener. (Clowns, until the turn of the twentieth century, were generally gifted tumblers; tumbling was considered an "eccentric," or comedic circus specialty.)
Cigar Box
A juggling prop in the form of a cigar box, which was originally made of actual cigar boxes.
Cloud Swing
(English, American) The ancestor of the trapeze: a slack rope hanging from both ends, used as an aerial swinging apparatus. The addition of a bar in the middle led to the creation of the trapeze.
Clown Alley
(American) In an American circus, the clowns' dressing room (or tent), and by extension, the clown ensemble of a circus.
Clown
Generic term for all clowns and augustes. Specific: In Europe, the elegant, whiteface character who plays the role of the straight man to the Auguste in a clown team.
Club
A juggling pin.
Construction
(French) A temporary circus building, originally made of wood and canvas, and later, of steel elements supporting a canvas top and wooden wall. Also known as a "semi-construction."
Corde Lisse
(French) A vertical rope used in aerial acts, either for the act itself, or to climb up to an apparatus. Called Spanish Web when covered with fabric.
Corde Volante
(French) The ancestor of the trapeze: a slack rope hanging from both ends, used as an aerial swinging apparatus. The addition of a bar in the middle led to the creation of the trapeze. (See also: Cloud Swing.)
The Courier
An equestrian presentation created by Andrew Ducrow in 1827 as The Courier of St. Petersburg, in which a rider stands on two galloping horses, one foot on each, and allows other horses to pass between his mounts, catching their reins as they pass, eventually holding the reins a group of galloping horses in front of him. (Also known in French as La Poste.)
Cradle
Piece of apparatus (generally aerial) composed of two horizontal parallel bars in which a catcher locks his legs to be in position of catching a flyer. (Variant: Korean Cradle.)

D

Djiguit
(Russian) A skilled horseman from the Caucasus; by extension, a trick rider (sometimes called a Cossack).
Donut
(U.S.) A small, circular cushion, in the form of a doughnut, used for head-balancing tricks, notably for head-to-head balancing.
Double-double
A double somersault combined with a full double twist.

E

Entrée
Clown piece with a dramatic structure, generally in the form of a short story or scene.
Equestrienne
A female equestrian, or horse trainer, horse presenter, or acrobat on horseback.

F

Fabric
(See: Tissu)
Flash
In juggling, to flash is the act of juggling objects in a move that is sustained for only a very short time.
Flic-flac
A back handspring. (See also: Flip-flap)
Flip-flap
A frequent misspelling of "flic-flac" (back handspring).
Flashing
In juggling, the act of juggling objects in a move that is sustained for only a very short time.
Fly-Bar
On a flying trapeze rig, the swinging trapeze used by the flyer (as opposed to the trapeze used by the catcher).
Flyer
An acrobat that is propelled in the air, either in a flying act, or in an acrobatic act (i.e. teeterboard).
Flying Act
Any aerial act in which an acrobat is propelled in the air from one point to another.
Flying Trapeze
Aerial act in which an acrobat is propelled from a trapeze to a catcher, or to another trapeze. (See also: Short-distance Flying Trapeze)
Front Bender
A contortionist who displays a front flexibility (as opposed to a back flexibility).

G

Glass Pagoda
A Chinese hand balancing and contortion act, in which the performer maintains pyramids of glasses on trays on her/his head, feet, and/or free hand. The same is also performed with piles of bowls, and is known as "Bowl Pagoda".

H

Hand-to-Hand
An acrobatic act in which one or more acrobats do hand-balancing in the hands of an under-stander.
Haute-école
(French) A display of equestrian dressage by a rider mounting a horse and leading it into classic moves and steps. (See also: High School)
Heel Catch
In a trapeze act, a dive frontward or backward, caught to the trapeze bar by the heels.
High School
A display of equestrian dressage by a rider mounting a horse and leading it into classic moves and steps. (From the French: Haute école)
High Wire
A tight, heavy metallic cable placed high above the ground, on which wire walkers do crossings and various acrobatic exercises. Not to be confused with a tight wire.
Hippodrama
Equestrian pantomime, often with a military subject matter, very popular in mid-nineteenth-century urban circuses.
Hoop Diving
A Chinese acrobatic specialty involving acrobats performing acrobatic jumps through hoops stacked in a precarious balance above one another.

I

Icarism
(French: Jeux Icariens) Act performed by Icarists, in which one acrobat, lying on his back, juggles another acrobat with his feet. (Also: Risley Act)
Icarist
Acrobat who juggle another acrobat with his feet. See Icarism, Risley Act.
Iron Jaw
Aerial trick in which a performer hangs from a small apparatus fitting in his/her mouth (a mouthpiece — French: mâchoire) and hooked to another apparatus or piece of equipment.

J

Jockey
Classic equestrian act in which the participants ride standing in various attitudes on a galoping horse, perform various jumps while on the horse, and from the ground to the horse, and perform classic horse-vaulting exercises.

K

Koch Semaphore
Rotating apparatus originated in the 1940s by the Koch Sisters in Russia, used as a moving high wire.
Korean Cradle
A swinging aerial cradle, attached to two verticals bars functioning like the ropes of a trapeze. It was originated by North Korean flying acts.

L

Liberty
"Liberty act", "Horses at liberty": Unmounted horses presented from the center of the ring by an equestrian directing his charges with his voice, body movements, and signals from a chambrière (French), or long whip.
Longe
(French, Russian) Safety line connected to a performer by a belt, going through a pulley, and held on the other end by an assistant, or a teacher. Also know as a mécanique (see this word).
Low Wire
A tight, light metallic cable, placed between two platforms not very far from the ground, on which a wire dancer perform dance steps, and acrobatic exercises such as somersaults. (Also: Tight Wire)
Lyra
Aerial apparatus similar to an Aerial Hoop, but in the form of a lyre, or an aerial hoop with a horizontal bar at its top.

M

Mâchoire
(French) See: Mouthpiece.
Mécanique
(French) A safety line, or "longe" (see this word), connected to a rotating arm equipped with a pulley and hanging above the ring, originally used for the practice of equestrian acrobatic acts (such as jockey acts).
Monsieur Loyal
(French) The régisseur or presenter of the show in a French circus. So called because of the many members of the Loyal family who occupied this position brilliantly in Parisian circuses.
Mouthpiece
Small apparatus fitting in a performer's mouth, used to hang from another apparatus (see: Iron Jaw).

P

Pancake Throw
In juggling, a figure in which a juggling ring is thrown in a way that makes it flip over its own axis rather than spinning around it, much like a pancake on a pan.
Panneau
(French) A flat, padded saddle used by ballerinas on horseback.
Pantomime
A circus play, not necessarily mute, with a dramatic story-line (a regular feature in 18th and 19th century circus performances).
Pedagogue
(Russian, from the French) A teacher in a Russian circus school.
Perch-Pole
Long perch held vertically on a performer's shoulder or forehead, on the top of which an acrobat executes various balancing figures.
Pirouette
(French) A full rotation of the body in the vertical axle. Double pirouette: two rotations, etc.
Plange
(From the French, planche) Acrobatic figure in which one's body is held in a straight horizontal position.
Porter-Lancer
(French) An acrobatic presentation consisting of acrobatic jumps performed by an acrobat propelled by two or more acrobats from one to another. (Also spelled porté-lancé)
Producing Clown
(American) In the traditional American circus, the head of Clown Alley, who imagines and produces gags for the other clowns in the show.

Q

Quad
A quadruple somersault.
Quarterpole
A support pole placed midway between the main poles and the sidewall of a circus tent.

R

Regisseur
(German, from the French: Régisseur) In Russia, the equivalent of a theatrical director in the circus.
Régisseur
(French) The stage (or ring) manager—and sometimes Ringmaster—in a French circus. (See also: Monsieur Loyal)
Reprise
(French) Short piece performed by clowns between acts during prop changes or equipment rigging. (See also: Carpet Clown)
Requisit
(German, Russian) All props needed for a Circus act; used internationally mostly for props needed for a cage act, such as stools, etc.
Rig
(American) The rigged apparatus used to perform an aerial act, especially a flying act.
Ring Curb
(American. French: Banquette. Russian: Barrier) The circular barrier that defines the ring, and separates it from the audience.
Ringmaster
The name given today to the old position of Equestrian Director, and by extension, to the presenter of the show.
Ringmistress
Feminine of Ringmaster.
Risley Act
Act performed by Icarists, in which one acrobat, lying on his back, juggles another acrobat with his feet. (Named after Richard Risley Carlisle, who developed this type of act.)
Rolla-Bolla
A board balancing on one or more cylinders piled on each other, and on which an acrobat stands performing juggling or acrobatic tricks. (Also written "rola-bola")
Roman Games
(French: Jeux Romains — See: Roman Riding.)
Roman Riding
Various equestrian exercises presented while riding standing on two horses, one foot on each.
Rosinback
(American) Name given to horses used by bareback riders, or defining bareback riders' act. (From the resin—misspelled rosin—applied on the horse back, or back cover, to provide the rider with a sticky footing.)
Roue Cyr
(French) A large metallic hoop used like a German Wheel, developed by the Canadian acrobat Daniel Cyr.
Russian Barre
Flexible pole, held horizontally by two catchers, or under-standers, with which they propelled a flyer in acrobatic figures from and to the Barre.
Russian Swing
Giant swing used to propel flyers into acrobatic figures onto the shoulders of a catcher, on a crash mat, or into a net.

S

Short-Distance
(Flying Trapeze) A flying act in which the catcher is in a static cradle, limiting the swing motion to the flyer only. Generally performed on a standing apparatus, above a safety mat.
Sidewall
The canvas wall at the periphery of a circus tent.
Silks
(See: Tissu)
Slack Wire
A Tight Wire, or Low Wire, kept slack, and generally used for juggling or balancing tricks.
Spanish Web
A vertical rope, or corde lisse, covered with fabric.
Strap Act
Aerial act performed hanging from a pair of fabric or leather straps. See Aerial Straps.
Swaypole
A high, flexible vertical pole (originally made of a single piece of wood, and today of fiberglass) atop of which an acrobat performs various balancing tricks.

T

Teeterboard
A seesaw made of wood, or fiberglass poles tied together, which is used to propel acrobats in the air.
Tentmaster
The person in charge of setting up and putting down a circus tent. (See also: Boss Canvasman)
Thrill Act
A spectacular act that focuses on the display of danger, whether real or staged.
Tight Wire
A tight, light metallic cable, placed between two platforms not very far from the ground, on which a wire dancer perform dance steps, and acrobatic exercises such as somersaults. (Also: Low Wire)
Tightwire
See Tight Wire.
Tissu
(French) A double piece of hanging fabric, generally made of silk, used for an aerial act. (See also: Fabric, Silks)
Top Mounter
In an acrobatic or balancing act, the performer who holds the top position (on a human column, for instance).
Trick
Any specific exercise in a circus act.
Trinka
A small, especially designed pedestal on which foot jugglers lie down to perform their act.

U

Under-Stander
In an acrobatic act, the person who is at the base, supporting other acrobats (for example, the base of a human pyramid). Also known as the "bottom Man" (or "Bottom Woman").

V

Variete
(German, from the French: variété) A German variety show whose acts are mostly circus acts, performed in a cabaret atmosphere. Very popular in Germany before WWII, Varieté shows have experienced a renaissance since the 1980s.

W

Washington Trapeze
(orig.: "trapèze à la Washington" – French) A heavy trapeze with a flat bar, on which an aerialist performs balancing tricks. Originated by the American aerialist H. R. Keyes Washington (1838-1882).