10 Circus Acts That Have Withstood the Test of Time

Aerial Acts
The trapeze has been a circus staple since the act’s first performance in 1859. BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images

Where would we be without the flying trapeze? We've already discussed wire walkers and other above-ground acts, but the aerialists deserve their own mention. While we think of the flying trapeze as a circus staple, it was actually part of a longer evolution of aerial acts in the circus. In the last half of the 19th century, the Roman Rings (the rings used in gymnastics competitions) were linked with a bar to create the trapeze [source: Speaight]. Performers found all sorts of fun uses for it, including the Iron Jaw act, in which they held the bar with their teeth.

But it was Jules Leotard who added another trapeze to the act, which allowed performers to fly through the air from one apparatus to another. The first recorded performance was in 1859, and it proved to be such a sensation that a commemorative plaque marks the event at the Cirque Napoleon where it took place [source: Jando]. Of course, Leotard also gave us another circus tradition: the leotard costume.