Who Invented Acrobatics?
While it’s impossible to know exactly who invented acrobatics, the Ancient Egyptians are widely thought to be the first people to record it through their captivating art and literature.
Acrobatics has emerged from traditions all around the world, and we have proof of it that comes from many thousands of years ago. Depictions of female acrobatic dancers performing feats like backbends and other acrobatic moves have been discovered at ancient sites.
For example, one compelling Ancient Egyptian (image above), remaining on a 19th Dynasty fresco dating as far back as 1297-1185 BC, shows a young woman contorted into the familiar bridge pose that is still practiced today by many acrobats, dancers, and yogis.
We also know that acrobatics were performed in Ancient Greece. The very term we use today comes from the Greek for “to walk on tiptoe” and “to climb up”. Originally, acrobatics referred exclusively to rope walking or tight rope walking as we call it now, later expanding to include other disciplines like tumbling, trampoline, aerial arts, and more.
Acrobatics in China has been practiced since at least the Tang Dynasty around 203 BC. These early acrobatic performers were celebrated as part of important harvest festivals, bringing the community together in celebration.
How Did Acrobatics Originate?
Acrobatics emerged from its roots in the ancient world to blossom into the many forms that it is today.
Ancient Egyptian acrobatic dancers, who were exclusively female, are thought to have worked primarily with floor- or ground-based movements, which probably required special and rigorous training that was passed down over time, just as they are today.
The early Greek acrobats contributed the rope walking we call tightrope walking today, taking the daring of floor work above the ground and becoming aerial entertainment. This was a major leap for the world of acrobatics, and we can only imagine the wonder that ensued from that first audience.
Early Leotard and Flying Trapeze
Much later, in the 19th century, it was Jules Léotard whose early experiments with the flying trapeze led to its original debut in 1859. Jules was also the inventor of the leotard, which is worn by acrobats everywhere to this day.
Father of Modern Circus
It was Philip Astley who created one of the first major cirque-style venues, named the “Father of the Modern British Circus”. Astley’s circus put the spotlight on equestrian arts, giving rise to a new generation of performance artists.
The beloved artists of Cirque du Soleil have taken the reins with regard to modern acrobatic innovation. Their endlessly imaginative approach to acrobatics has changed the game forever.
How Do Acrobatics Differ Today From the Past?
Perhaps one of the biggest differences between acrobatics of the past and the present lies in its accessibility to so many more people today.
More people than ever before are becoming acrobats, keeping the valuable traditions alive for future generations to come. There are now countless training schools and performance venues popping up in just about every major city on the planet, while supplemental online education is also an option for some.
Audiences everywhere have come to know and even expect an acrobatic element in their entertainment, from live performances to TV and film.
In contrast, the acrobatic dance of Ancient Egypt was generally reserved as part of the culture’s religious and spiritual ceremonies.
Many of the acrobats of the past also performed only for the nobility, as did the jugglers and jesters of Medieval Europe. It wasn’t common at that time for acrobats to perform “busker” style on the street, like you might see today in a swarming metropolis.
From around the world and through the sands of time, acrobatics is a gift of the human spirit that has been nurtured over many generations.