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10 of the Most Dangerous Circus Acts Performed Today


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Flying Wallendas
Nik Wallenda continues the family tradition by walking on a high wire over Newark, New Jersey. © Patti Sapone/Star Ledger/Corbis
Nik Wallenda continues the family tradition by walking on a high wire over Newark, New Jersey. © Patti Sapone/Star Ledger/Corbis

It's time to dive (ahem) into an aerial act that is so very dangerous that it's actually proven injurious — and even fatal — to several different generations. The famous Flying Wallendas, a circus family that traces its entertainment roots to 1780 Austria-Hungary, have been simultaneously entertaining and scaring the snot out of crowds for centuries. They get the No. 1 spot because of the sheer history of their act and the tragedies that have followed it.

So a little background: The Wallendas have traditionally been both an aerial and wire-walking act, and their big showstopper was the seven-person chair pyramid. Two pairs of performers wire walk while holding poles that hold two more aerialists. Those aerialists hold a pole that a chair balances on, where another performer (naturally) balances [source: Wallenda].

Unfortunately, a 1962 accident on the seven-person pyramid killed two performers and paralyzed one. In a separate accident, a Wallenda sister-in-law also fell to her death in an aerial performance. Karl Wallenda, the family patriarch, also died from a fall during a stunt [source: CBS]. But the acts are still performed today: Nik Wallenda completed a wire-walk across the Grand Canyon in 2013 [source: Nik Wallenda]. Ta da, indeed.