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A traveling company of performers that may include acrobats, clowns, trained animals, and others.

A circus is most commonly a traveling company of performers that may include acrobats, clowns, trained animals, and other novelty acts and the word also describes the performance that they give. Performers are of many nationalities and there skills include juggling, high-wire walking, trapeze, fire-eating, animal training, daredevil stunts, and more.

A circus is usually held in an oval or circular arena with tiered seating around its circumference. Larger circus companies offer performances presented in convention centers and large urban venues. They often present their performances in large rings often with up to six acts performing at the same time in separate rings. In the case of much smaller traveling circuses, this location is most often a large tent.

Before the circus

Plan to arrive early as many circuses actually host activities before the show. Some circuses allow guests to actually meet performers and see some of the animals up-close. Ringling Bros. features an elephant that paints pictures before each show with one painting given to one lucky guest at the beginning of the show. Some circuses allow guests to tour through an adjoining building seeing all of the animals that will perform in the show. Other circuses offer such activities as pony rides and bounce houses for guests to enjoy. Some of these events are included for free and others are offered at an additional charge per activity.

The circus performance

A circus performance is led by a ringmaster who has a role similar to a Master of Ceremonies. The ringmaster presents performers, speaks to the audience, and generally keeps the show moving. One key phrase that is spoken by the ringmaster and is known world wide is "children of all ages".

The activity of the circus takes place within a ring, or in the case of large circuses may have multiple rings, like the six ringed Moscow State Circus. In the case of multi-ringed circuses, a different act is normally presented in each ring at the same time. Some larger acts may use more than one ring at a time.

A typical circus performance today lasts approximately 3 hours. The first part of the circus usually includes a parade of performers and animals that will be performing in the show. Circuses try to equally divide their interesting acts between their first and second halves. Usually, there is an intermission where circus guests can purchase the ever popular popcorn, cotton candy, programs and souveniers. (These items and more are actually usually offered before and throughout the performance.) At the end of the circus, performers and animals again parade through the arena giving guests one more glimpse of the stunning and talented performers.

Circus acts

The scope and variety of human performance in circus is immense. Common acts include a variety of acrobatics and gymnastics including tightrope walking, trapeze and a variety of floor routines. Juggling is also a common act in circuses; the combination of juggling and gymnastics is called equilibristics and include acts like plate spinning or the rolling globe. Many acts seen in any circus are death-defying and very dangerous. They should never be attempted at home by over-enthusiastic circus guests. Due to the immense focus on safety, rarely is one of the performers fatally injured during a performance.

Clowns are common to most circuses and are typically skilled in many circus acts; "clowns getting into the act" is a very familiar theme in any circus. Famous circus clowns have included Austin Miles, the Fratellini Family, Emmett Kelly, and Grock and Bill Irwin.

Daredevil stunt acts and sideshow acts are also parts of some circus acts. These activities may include human cannonball, chapeaugraphy, fire eating, breathing and dancing, knife throwing, magic shows, sword swallowing, strongman, and so much more. Many circuses today include amazing animal acts and feats.

Human performers in Big Cat acts such as those using tigers and leopards are often referred to by the misnomer "Lion tamers". Surprising to many is that there are both men and women animal tamers.

The use of animals in the circus has been a matter for controversy, as animal welfare groups claim instances of cruelty used in the training of performing anmials. Some countries and cities have banned circuses with animal acts. Animal rights activists allege that these acts involve cruel training methods.

A variety of animals have historically been used in circus acts. While the types of animals used varies from circus to circus, big cats, elephants, horses, birds and domestic animals are the most common.

The development of the modern circus

The modern concept of a circus as a circular arena surrounded by tiers of seats, for the exhibition of equestrian, acrobatic, and other performances seems to have existed since the late 18th century. There were many early notable names in the earliest of circuses. Early circuses were far different that those presented today.

Following the late P.T. Barnum's death, his circus merged with that of James Anthony Bailey, and traveled to Europe as Barnum & Bailey "Greatest Show On Earth" where it toured from 1897 to 1902. It impressed other circus owners with its large scale, and its touring techniques which included the tent, circus train, and the combination of circus acts, zoological exhibition, and the freak-show. This format was adopted by European circuses at the turn of the 20th century.

The influence of the American circus brought about a considerable change in the character of the modern circus. In arenas too large for speech to be easily audible, the traditional comic dialog of the clown assumed a less prominent place than formerly. The vastly increased wealth of stage properties relegated to the background the old-fashioned equestrian feats. The equestrian feats were replaced by more ambitious acrobatic performances, and by exhibitions of skill, strength and daring. These new performances required the employment of immense numbers of performers and often the acquisition of complicated and expensive machinery.

The Russian circus underwent an interesting development in 1919 when Vladimir Lenin nationalized the circus. In 1927, the State University of Circus and Variety Arts, better known as the Moscow Circus School, was established where performers were trained using methods developed from the Soviet gymnastics program. When the Russian companies began touring in the 1950s, their performances were impressive and had a significant impact on the way contemporary circus developed as a performing art.

Contemporary circus

In the 1960s and 1970s, the circus began to lose popularity as people became more interested in animal rights and alternative forms of entertainment. Some circuses have stayed afloat by merging with other circus companies. There are numerous circuses that maintain a mix of animal and human performers, these include Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, the Moscow State Circus, Circus Krone from Munich and the Big Apple Circus. Circus Circus, Las Vegas circus themed casino and the largest permanent big top in the world, also presents human and animal performances.

The Cirque Nouveau is a performing arts movement that developed in France in the 1970's and uses the physical theatre aspects of circus to tell a story; there are typically no animals used in this type of circus. Examples include the Cirque du Soleil founded in 1984, Circus Oz founded in 1977, and the West African Circus Baobab. Circuses from China which draw on Chinese traditions of acrobatics like the Chinese State Circus are popular touring acts. The Jim Rose Circus is an interesting take on the sideshow.

The International Circus Festival has been held in Monte Carlo since 1974, and it was the first of many international awards for circus performers.

Source: Wikipedia

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