Act: Aerial

Alternative Names:

The sight of a person flying through the air, defying the laws of gravity, is an image that many audience members remember after a circus performance. “He flies through the air with the greatest of ease. That daring man on the flying trapeze” Gaston Lyle and George Leybourne wrote this song in 1868. It was modeled on a young man who performed the first flying trapeze. Prior to the middle of the 19th century, trapeze acts consisted of flyers leaping from one ground-based bar to another. A young French aerialist, Jules Leotard hung two trapeze bars from ropes over the swimming pool in his father’s gymnasium. On November 12, 1859, at Paris’s Cirque Napoleon, now the famous Cirque d’Hiver, Leotard dressed up in a skintight costume, which now bears his name, and performed his flying trapeze act.

In the years following Leotard’s first flying act, single and double somersaults were being thrown by new flyers all over Europe and America. In 1870 a catcher was added on the second bar, which became known as the catch trap. What seemed like an impossible trick was the flyer completing a triple somersault from the bar to the hand of the catcher. The triple was a formidable act to execute. The flyer had to take several swings to gain the height and the speed (over sixty miles an hour) to gain the momentum necessary to accomplish a triple into the hand of the catcher.

Latvian teenager, Lena Jordan, first accomplished a triple in 1897. Twelve years later, Ernest Clarke threw the triple into the hands of his brother Charles.

The Flying Concellos performed in the center ring of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in the late 1920s. They featured Antoinette Concello, billed as the “greatest woman flyer of all time” and her husband Art Concello. Both flyers could execute the triple somersault. Antoinette Concello was the first woman to regularly perform the triple.

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