Leaping Was Huge
We demand a lot from circus performers these days. We not only want to see them defy gravity, but we also need other twists to make the show super-exciting. Perhaps they could do wild contortionist routines while hanging from their hair? Or maybe perform a high-wire act with no net while balancing on a chair? But in the early days of the circus, the demands of the audience were a lot less challenging, and leaping was a big deal.
Leaping, you say? Yup. Literally leaping over things. Which is still not considered "uncool," I suppose, if you're a big parkour fan. But jumping over stuff (horses, people, carriages, whatever) really was a prime attraction. While we might think of acrobats as aerial or contortionist acts, in the late 18th century and early 19th century, leapers got the pulse beating. In 1842 a clown named Dewhurst (a fairly staid name for a clown) was jumping over ten horses and through balloons and the like [source: Speaight]. But the act provided one of the circus' first secrets: Trampolines or springboards were hidden to assist the high jumpers.