No self-respecting circus is complete without a nattily dressed man or woman stepping into the ring to shout the program and keep the crowd excited. The ringmaster, formerly called the riding master from the circus' equestrian history, was an important part of the early circus. While not technically an act, it's a tradition that has continued throughout the modern circus.
While ringmasters often interact with the clowns in present-day circuses, they're really there to present the acts to the audience. Early ringmasters took on the job of emcee, but they were also responsible for keeping the horses at a steady gait while performers did acrobatics on the horses' backs. Hence we often see the ringmaster wearing the red coat, white pants and high boots of an equestrian captain. Ringmasters in early circuses struck their whip on the ground to prompt the horses. The clown, on the other hand, might get a more direct hit.
Author's Note: "10 Circus Acts That Have Withstood the Test of Time"
While circuses leave some people a little squeamish (the treatment of animals and performers chief among the reasons), the history of the circus can fascinate even the most dedicated circus-cynic. From sideshows to stunts, George Speaight's fantastic book "A History of the Circus" is a great read for learning about how the modern circus took off in Britain and America.
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- Winship, Lyndsey. "Fringe circus: the art of hair-hanging." The Guardian. March 29, 2014. (April 20, 2015) http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2014/mar/29/fringe-circus-hair-hanging-capilotractees-circusfest-roundhouse
- Ziethen, Karl-Heinz and Andrew Allen. "A Brief History of Juggling." Juggling Information Service. 1996. http://www.juggling.org/books/artists/history.html
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