By Amanda Kohr
There’s only one place in the world where you can stuff your face with cracker jacks, gaze up at a man walking on a thin rope, and witness trapeze artists soaring through the sky like stars, all within one evening. We’re talking, of course, about the circus.
Nowadays, we mostly see the circus come through around the summer months, filling our towns with a few nights of mystery and magic. For an entire evening you get to snack on popcorn and watch all sorts of exciting things that you’d never see on a normal day, from acrobatics to glitter-covered jugglers. Going to the circus is like throwing a birthday party for your imagination.
But unlike other types of entertainment, such as theatre, movies, and dance, not many people know the history behind circus. Where and how did it come to be? Were there always lion tamers? How did people start flying through the air, or launching themselves out of cannons like spitballs?
Most people will agree that the first circus was created by a man named Philip Astley, who was a horse trainer from London in the late 18th century. Astley eventually opened a riding school, where he taught people how to ride horses and then performed tricks in the afternoon. As Astley’s performances increased in popularity, people started coming to his school just to watch the horses work their magic. Astley began to add more and more tricks the show, and soon hired clowns, acrobats, and jugglers to fill the space in between the horse acts.
The name “circus” comes from the shape of the original performance space, a ring-shaped circle that allowed audience members see the magic from different angles. Soon everyone wanted a taste of the circus, and the idea spread to places all over the world. France, Russia, and the United States all began adopting Astley’s original idea, added their own unique touches to the performance in order to make it unique.
America was the first place to develop a traveling circus, where moving tent shows began touring the country. Kids everywhere began asking their parents, “When is the circus coming to town?” Families all wanted wanted a piece of the excitement (and a bite of that buttery popcorn.)
One of the most famous circus companies is Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey. They called themselves, “The Greatest Show on Earth”, and many people would agree. They even had their own railways so that the circus could travel the country by train. The show is still popular today, and currently has two circus train shows called the Blue Tour and the Red Tour. Each train presents a different “edition’ of the show, and they take turns visiting major cities. If you’ve ever gone to a huge circus, it could have very well been a Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey show.
As circus grew in popularity, many people began developing concern with how the animals were treated. While it might be fun for us to watch an elephant stand on its two back legs, it might not always be enjoyable for her. Many circuses have implemented special care units for their animals, or have completely banned wild animals all together. (Tigers have more fun in the jungle, anyway!)
Nowadays, the circus has become even more innovative and exciting, with shows such as Cirque du Soleil taking the stage in theaters all over the world. Cirque du Soleil is famous for its use of acrobatics, gymnastics, special effects, music, and scenery. The creators of this amazing performance have taken a circus to the next level, creating an exciting experience that tickles all of the senses, using light and water shows to enhance the performance.
But you don’t just have to be a spectator for circus. Some schools (maybe even in your area) offer classes in aerial silks, acrobatics, clowning, stunts, and more. If you’ve ever had an interest in soaring on a trapeze or dressing yourself head-to-toe in glitter and neon, ask your parents to look into circus camps and classes in your area.
While the circus has been around for centuries, its magic continues to live on. It’s a beautiful, cotton-candy flavored world, full of wonderful surprises to bring your imagination to life.