Circus Arts

From sideshow secrets to incredible stunts, learn about the magic behind circus arts.


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How Knife Throwing Works

You might not be whipping knives at the wheel of death by the time you finish reading this article, but you'll be on your way. Ready to learn about this awesome pastime?

How Plate Spinning Works

You may eat off them every day, but some performers prefer to entertain with their plates. Where did plate spinning start, and what are the physics involved?

How the Cyr Wheel Works

The spotlight goes up on a man, alone except for a large aluminum ring that he grips with one hand. With perfect timing, he steps in, out and around the spinning and wobbling ring in a well-choreographed dance. How does he do it?

How a Flea Circus Works

Tiny but mighty, fleas are capable of some pretty amazing feats. How is insectoid strength harnessed for human entertainment?

How P.T. Barnum Worked

Born to be a showman, P.T. Barnum overcame a number of obstacles (including numerous fires, the loss of several fortunes and one dead elephant) in order to make a buck. Who was this man who was so determined to create the greatest show on Earth?

How Hair Hanging Works

You've probably seen these women gracefully performing pirouettes or juggling acts in the air — all while suspended by their hair. Does it hurt? And what conditioner do they use?

10 Amazing Circus Families

For some, being a circus performer is a job; for others, it is a way of life. Many circus families stretch back seven or eight generations. Who are some of the most storied circus families still under the big top today?

How Contortionists Work

They bend, they twist, they fold themselves into all sorts of strange and unnatural positions. How do contortionists become human pretzels?

How Contact Juggling Works

Watch the ball roll along his arm, around his back, down the other arm and under his palm. You've just seen contact juggling, an ancient practice where the ball stays in constant contact with your body. What's behind its newfound popularity?

How Professional Clowns Work

Whether we love them or hate them, clowns aren't a rare sight. But have you ever thought about how much people can earn when they run off with the circus? Learn that and more about the serious business of clowning.

Top 10 Famous Female Sideshow Freaks

From the Two-headed Nightingale to the Baboon Lady, these 10 female sideshow freaks sure knew how to put on a show. But what were their real stories?

How a Human Cannonball Works

A performer slides into a massive cannon barrel and is shot high into the air. She lands safely in a net some distance away, and the crowd goes wild. Who are human cannonballs, and who came up with shooting people out of cannons in the first place?

How Lion Taming Works

Lion tamers have a habit of putting their heads inside lions' mouths, which are made to crush the spines of bulls. So you can imagine what those jaws could do to a person's skull.

Bodily Feats Pictures

Can you breathe fire, swallow a sword or walk on glass? These people can. Take a look at this gallery of bodily feats that might make you cringe.

How can adrenaline help you lift a 3,500-pound car?

Some mornings it seems to take superhuman strength just to haul yourself out of bed. So how did adrenaline help these folks bench-press a Camaro or fight off a polar bear with their bare hands?

How the Human Blockhead Works

The human blockhead act involves a performer hammering a nail into their nostril. Learn about the human blockhead and how the human blockhead avoids injury.

How Sword Swallowing Works

Sword swallowing is an extremely dangerous trick that doesn't involve illusions. How can it be real? We'll show you — with explanations and diagrams of the interactions between swords and the upper GI tract. Just don't try this at home!

How can someone lie on a bed of nails without getting hurt?

In circuses, sideshows and other venues, lying on a bed of nails is an expression of a performer's stamina, bravery and imperviousness to pain. In reality, it's a matter of pressure transference and has been practiced for years around the world.

How can someone walk across broken glass without getting hurt?

A magician or street performer walking barefooted across broken glass is a dramatic spectacle. Find out how people can walk across glass without hurting themselves.

How Fire Breathing Works

Fire breathing is one of the most dangerous performance arts out there. To get an inside look at how fire breathing works, HowStuffWorks interviewed two fire breathers, including Mike Garner -- a juggler and vaudevillian performer who started breathing fire in 1993.

How Firewalking Works

Ever seen anyone putting on a show of walking barefoot across a bed of hot coals. Are they for real, or is it a trick? They are, in fact, walking barefoot on red-hot, glowing coals. Find out how it's done.

How do people pull large objects with their teeth?

You've seen people pull huge buses or trains with their teeth and other parts of their bodies. How do they do that?