Arts give us a way to explore our lives and the lives of others, whether it's on canvas, on-stage or on a page.

We're a lot more respectful of disabilities and medical conditions nowadays, but once upon a time they were much more widely exploited for entertainment and profit. Check out these 10 bizarre circus sideshows!

Yes, the circus gets weirder than clowns cramming in tiny cars and aerialists hanging by their hair. Delve into the bizarre history of the Big Top.

Thought circus acts couldn't get more daring than fire-breathing? Guess again. Death-defying stunts are all in a day's work for some circus performers.

We're all told as children that reading opens our horizons and helps us learn, but does "Harry Potter" expand young minds more than your average kids' book?

Magic's about making the impossible possible, but for these magicians the impossible remained out of reach – sometimes with deadly results.

Daredevils testing the laws of physics and the outer limits of bikes and bodies. That's what the Globe of Death act is all about. It's a breathtaking performance, no doubt; but how do they do that?

There's nothing quite like the circus, is there? The exotic animals, death-defying stunts and funny clowns have entertained folks for generations. But how did modern circuses get started? You have to go back to the 1700s.

Seems like the circus has been around forever. The circus doesn't date that far back, but many troupes operating today started in the 19th century. So which is the longest-running one? It depends on whom you ask.

Freak shows aren't part of the circus culture now, but for generations they were one of the main draws. So just how and when did circuses start displaying such curiosities?

Circuses haven't changed too much through the generations, but one thing you'll be hard pressed to find now is a freak show. Yet, they were once an integral part of the circus experience.

If you're a tightrope walker or fire breather for a circus, your insurance needs may be just a tad different than the rest of us. Read on to discover the kinds of insurance circus performers need.

Let's just go ahead and say it: yes, knife-throwing is very dangerous. But there are strategies that a knife-thrower uses to keep an act as safe as possible.

Today, we're fairly accustomed to seeing tattoos on people. But not that long ago, they were a shocking sight for Western audiences, making them a perfect match to be part of the circus.

Working in some circus jobs is not for the faint-hearted. Tightrope walkers, lion tamers or human cannonballs all face death every day. Read on to find out which is the most dangerous job.

There were many weird and wonderful things you could see at circuses of the past, from bearded ladies to tattooed men. But what the heck was a pickled punk?

Imagine jumping from four stories up and landing in a kiddie pool. Some brave souls make a living performing this crazy feat over and over. How do they survive that kind of punishment?

Since the 1600s, performances of "Macbeth" have been plagued by accidents and mysterious mishaps. Is it all because Shakespeare used actual witches' curses in the play?

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?

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?

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?

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

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?

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?

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?

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