General English

  • plural noun acrobatic movements
  • plural noun skills used in doing something difficult


  • The performance by an entertainer of feats requiring physicalagility or coordination. Acrobatics has had an important role in manycomic traditions and remains a mainstay of the circus. Itis of ancient origin: acrobats performed leaps, somersaults, and vaultsat Egyptian feasts, and Greece had itinerant acrobats in the 7th centuryBC. The tumbler of Our Lady was a popular 12th-centuryfabliau about an acrobat. Later the commedia dell'arte dependedupon acrobatic skills, as did the English harlequinade.

    The basic move is the salto, or leap. In its advancedforms this can be dangerous. In 1842 an attempt at a triple saltomortale, or death-defying leap, ended in a fatality at the VanAmburgh Circus (it was finally mastered in 1860 by the American BillyDutton). Devices used in leaping have gone from the ancient springboardto the flying trapeze, invented in 1859 by the Frenchman Jules LĂ©otard.

    Other moves include the antipodean, in which oneacrobat lies on his back and juggles with another. A development ofthis is the so-called Risley Stunt, invented by ProfessorRichard Risley of Carlisle, in which two children somersault fromfoot to foot of a prone partner. A perch act involves oneacrobat performing balancing moves on the top of a pole held by asecond. Another form of acrobatics is wire-walking, whichhas often been used for spectacular entertainment; in 1859 the FrenchmanBlondin walked blindfolded on a rope over Niagara Falls.

    Acrobatic skills are essential to slapstick comedy. In thelate 1880s the young Fred Karno had a juggling and tumblingact with Monsieur Alvene, a well-known 'gymnast and equilibrist'.However, Karno soon made a discovery:

    It came to me that Alvene and I were breaking our arses doingfancy acrobatics for a bit of polite applause, when what the customersliked best was when we were larking about and falling on our bottoms.
    Karno went on to become a famous impresario of slapstick comedy.

    Actors of the legitimate theater also learn some acrobaticmoves as part of their training.