Children's Circus Skills: Fun Facts & Ideas

Expert advice and interesting facts

Interesting facts

  • The word “circus” comes from the Latin word meaning circle or ring.
  • Circus skills are activities that have been performed as entertainment in circus, sideshow, busking or variety shows.
  • Joseph Grimalidi is thought to be one of the first circus clowns. He put on his first show in England in 1805. He was known as Joey the Clown. He performed tricks such as tumbling, pratfalls and slapstick beatings.
  • Throughout the Middle Ages jesters and fools entertained people like clowns do today. The colourful costumes of clowns are modelled on the costumes of these jesters.
  • Circuses used to be in permanent buildings rather than in tents like you see today. Paris used to have lots of these buildings.
  • It was by the end of the nineteenth century that we had the "big-top" tents and the circus became very popular.
  • In early circus shows the main acts were fast moving tricks on horses. As the audience started to want bigger thrills the shows became more spectacular and adventurous.
  • In order to perform tricks safely, circus performers have to work as an equal team with no main star of the show. There is therefore a great team spirit amongst the circus community.
  • Cigar boxes are a popular juggling prop; they are used for high-speed mid-air box exchanges, balancing & other tricks.
  • Every time a human cannonball is shot they travel between 60-70 miles an hour!
  • The most basic form of juggling using just 3 objects is called a “3 ball cascade.”
  • Circuses have many superstitions.
  • One circus superstition is that performers must enter the ring on their right foot. They believe that if you don’t do this you will get bad luck.
  • Some circus performers believed that keeping a hair from an elephant’s tail in their pockets is good luck.
  • Once a circus performer's suitcase is set down backstage, it's thought to be bad luck to move it before the circus moves to a different place.
  • In circus talk, someone who walks around selling things like popcorn and toys to the audience is called a “butcher”.
  • Popcorn, a popular circus snack, has been around since 400 B.C.
  • The circus is over 2,000 years old. The Chinese Circus dates back to the Qin Dynasty of 225 - 207BC
  • The only full-time, permanent sideshow left in the world is Coney Island Sideshows by the Seashore in the USA.

How to pick a circus skills class for your child

What do you need to consider when choosing a circus skills class for your child?

  • Do the classes cater for all abilities? What are the different types of classes available? Is there one which will suit my child?
  • Will they be learning challenging but achievable circus skills?
  • Can we do this as a one off or do we need to book in for a course?
  • Is there any risk of danger that I need to be aware of?
  • Is it a formal or a more informal class? Formal lessons are where everyone has a go at the same thing, such as juggling lesson, or a diabolo lesson, at the same time, and the tutor gives formal instructions. A more informal structure is when the equipment is made available, and people are allowed to try it out as they wish. The tutor will generally be on hand to give tips or demonstrations and answer questions.
  • What is the background of the instructor? There is no such thing as a circus skills teacher’s school, so all the instructors will come from different backgrounds and have different experiences. You need to make sure that the circus skills teacher you're hiring can teach the skills you are looking for.

National associations & clubs

The Circus Space - One of Europe’s leading providers of circus education.

Qualifications & exams

Qualifications/grades – children

The success of a circus performer will depend entirely on ability as proved in performance and audition. Qualifications are therefore completely irrelevant. There are however a number of UK degree courses available. These include:

Bath Spa University

Contemporary Circus and Physical Performance (Foundation Degree)- UCAS code W900. Length – 2 years full time.

The Circus Space

BA Hons Degree - 1 year course designed to consolidate the technical level of a specific circus discipline.

The Post Graduate Certificate in Circus Arts is a 1 year course designed to allow more in-depth research into a specific circus discipline.

BTEC L3 Diploma in Performing Arts. This provides an opportunity to develop skills in circus and performance, enabling the student to move on to a higher level qualification in this area or other performing arts professions. Length – 2years.

Edge Hill University

Aerial Performance – this includes studying traditional circus skills.


You can also study full or part-time courses at any of the following institutions:

Circomedia, Bristol

Greentop Circus, Sheffield

No Fit State Circus, Cardiff

Qualifications of tutors/coaches

The tutors and coaches may have a degree in circus skills or may learn at adult courses in their spare time but they do not have to hold any formal qualifications.

Learning from the activity

  • Balance
  • Agility
  • Coordination
  • Strength
  • Physical fitness
  • Flexibility
  • Focus
  • Dedication
  • Self-motivation
  • Perseverance
  • Patience
  • Manual dexterity

The benefits gained from learning circus skills depend entirely on which skills are studied. Regardless of these it will hopefully provide your child with an opportunity to develop social skills and confidence in a relaxed and fun environment. 

Famous people

Legendary English-born American film and stage actor Cary Grant (1904 – 1986) started his performance career working as an acrobat and juggler and performed as a stilt walker with the "Bob Pender Stage Troupe “in 1920.


A great video which shows how to spin a plate.

The Great Chinese State Circus performs Swan Lake with a difference. 

Interesting articles

No Elephant Left Behind: On the Road With the Circus.

Juggling increases Brain Power. Complex tasks such as juggling produce significant changes to the structure of the brain, according to scientists at Oxford University.

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