Circus jargon buster: know your cloud swing from your Chinese pole

June 28, 2011
Author: Tom

There are loads of exciting acts and weird and wonderful equipment at the circus, but they often go under unusual names. With circus season fast approaching at Eden, we thought we’d give you a run down of the kind of lingo used by circus folk. Read the jargon buster below so that you can tell what’s what when you come and see the BIANCO show by NoFit State Circus in the summer.


An acrobatic art that combines elements of adagio (where one artist lifts, throws and catches another artist in various poses) and hand balancing (manoeuvres where the acrobat is supported entirely by their hands or arms).

Acrobatic bike

An act that involves two or more people riding on a special bicycle – they balance on the bike and on one another

Aerial cradle

In this act, an acrobat known as a catcher hangs by their knees from a rectangular frame and swings, tosses and catches another acrobat known as the flyer.

Aerial hoop

A hoop-shaped piece of aerial equipment, usually rigged on a swivel, which the artist holds positions and spins on.

Aerial silks (also known as Tissu)

In this act, the acrobat hangs or swings from a special fabric and performs various poses, drops and spiralling manoeuvres.

Aerial spiral

A new piece of aerial equipment developed by NoFit State made of a spiral of metal that rolls up and down on a swivel, moving according to the way the aerialist places her weight.


A bungee cord is attached to the artist’s harness with swivels at both sides of the hips enabling the artist to bounce into the air and perform multiple somersaults – you’ve seen them at the beach on the trampolines!

Chinese pole

A vertical pole several metres in height on which the acrobat climbs, slides down and holds poses.

Cloud swing

A soft rope that hangs in a ‘V’ shape and upon which the acrobat hangs to perform aerial manoeuvres, usually swinging.

Flying trapeze

One of the most well known of all circus acts, the flying trapeze bar swings with gravity as the performer jumps on to it from a platform, and from the bar to a catcher, performing various tricks. It was invented in 1859 by Jules Leotard, after whom the leotard was named. ‘Grand volant’ is usually performed with a swinging catcher and a net below, while ‘petit volant’ is performed at a lower height with a static catcher and no net or lunge.

German wheel

A large metal wheel in which the performer rolls around. It was invented in 1925 by Otto Feick for gymnastic exercise.


Two people, known as the flyer and the base, are involved in this act. The flyer does daring balances and somersaults on the base’s hands.

Hula hoops

Most of us know a hula hoop when we see one! At the circus, this act is sometimes performed with contortion and generally with a number of hoops rotating around the artist’s body at once.

Performance rigging

This can include lots of different things that a rigger may do in full view of the audience, usually in costume and character. In NoFit state’s shows this usually includes counterweighting aerialists so that the aerialist goes up as the rigger goes down and vice versa, giving a more sublime control and a more interesting dramatic relationship than the use of motors.

Rope (also known as ‘corde lisse’)

The acrobat performs tricks on a rope that is fastened at the top and hangs down freely. Static trapezeThe trapeze bar hangs by two ropes and remains still as the aerialist moves their body on and around it.


An aerial act in which the artist hangs by short loops of webbing. This is not the same as the ‘straps’ act in which the artist uses long straps that they wind around their arms or body to lift themselves up and down.

Swinging trapeze

The trapeze bar hangs from two ropes and swings back and forth while the aerialist performs tricks using the ‘weightless point’ at the top of the swing’s arc to assist them.

Tightwire (also known as tightrope)

A wire rigged taught between two points, often with a spring at one end, on which the artist walks, bounces and performs footwork on.

Wall running (also known as parkour)

Acrobatic freestyle street art where the acrobats use walls and street furniture to perform somersaults, leaps, jumps etc.


Traditional manipulation of whips, on fire or otherwise, to create noise and rhythms.

1 comment
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One response to Circus jargon buster: know your cloud swing from your Chinese pole

  1. John and Wendy Bowthorpe says:

    Thank you for two things:

    The circus skills opportunities when I walked on stilts for the first time ever at 65.

    Also the Labyrinth show was lots of fun, the best circus I have seen.

    Congratulations on getting evrything right, the food. loos, friendliness of staff, and of course the planting and biomes and ice skating. We have followed the development of Eden for 10 yrs and still love to bring friends and family.

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