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History of Acrobatics

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There are some pictures of acrobats on the wall of an Egyptian tomb, painted thousands of years ago. Two girls are clasped together so that each one has her head next to the other's feet, and they are turning somersaults just as acrobats do today. All through the ages there have been tumblers, balancers and tightrope walkers, and with every new invention their acts become more and more daring and exciting to watch.

For instance, although acrobats have always done balancing acts on ropes or wires, the trapeze was quite new in the i86os, and when a young Frenchman called Leotard first performed on it everyone was very thrilled by his act. Later the acrobats thought up new ways of making the trapeze acts exciting- for example, girls hung by their heels and others flew through the air with sacks over their heads.

When bicycles were invented, acrobats started riding them on tight-ropes, carrying passengers on their shoulders or holding poles for other members of the troupe to balance on; and when roller skates were invented, acrobats started skating on the high wires.

Tumblers and clowns were able to introduce a new act, including amazing springing and bouncing, when the trampoline was invented. This is a kind of springy mat stretched between four posts, on which you bounce up and down.

The act where a strong man holds up a long pole while a boy does balancing tricks at the top of it is called the perch act. The pole used to be made of wood, but now that it can be made of thin steel the act is even more thrilling.

Although acrobats are always thinking of new ways to startle and excite their audiences, what was probably the most famous feat ever performed happened as long ago as 1859. A Frenchman known as Blondin walked a rope across Niagara Falls, and this meant walking a distance of 300 meters, 45 meters above the water. He did it in all sorts of ways- blindfold or pushing a wheelbarrow with another man in it; once he even took a stove with him, sat down half way across, and cooked himself an omelette.

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