New Victory Blog

The New Victory Blog is a place to learn more about New York's theater for families and the shows we produce. Find out what we do and what we're passionate about—exploring the arts as a family.
April 14, 2016

49 Circus Facts

With heart-stopping stunts, hair-raising feats, gravity-defying hair and undeniable heart, Bello Nock is back at The New Victory with his third installment of BELLO MANIA! In honor of the storied circus history of Bello's family, we present to you 49 circus facts!
  1. The word "circus" comes from the Latin for circle or ring. Large public entertainment events, like chariot races, would take place at Rome's Circus Maximus, which could fit an audience of over 150,000 Romans!
  2. A traditional circus is a traveling company of acrobats and performers, including trained animals and clowns.
  3. Nouveau Cirque combines art forms like juggling, trapeze, acting and music without a ringleader, animals or "big top" tent.
  4. In order to execute tricks safely, circus performers have to work as an ensemble—a group of equals without a single star.
  5. Balancing and airborne acts often require three performers: a flyer who performs skills mid-air, a second performer acting as a base to lift or catch the flyer and a third—a spotter—to assist and safeguard the flyer.

The ruins of the Circus Maximus in Rome
  1. Performers let us know their acts are done with their own signature style—maybe a wink, a hand gesture or a "Ta-dah!"
  2. Clowning is highly physical theater, often without words, that draws on the traditions of Commedia dell'Arte and pantomime.
  3. Charlie Chaplin, one of the most influential clowns and comedians, once entered a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest and came in third!
  4. Australia has only one full-time circus school: The Flying Fruit Fly Circus! They don't actually train bugs, though.
  5. Cigar boxes are still a popular juggling prop today, used for high-speed mid-air box exchanges, balancing and other tricks.

Commedia dell'Arte Show by Karel Dujardin (1657)
  1. Legendary screen star Cary Grant started his performance career working as an acrobat and juggler.
  2. Contortionism is a circus genre in which a performer displays unusually flexible muscles and mobile joints.
  3. Funambulism (or tightrope-walking) is the art of walking along a thin wire or rope, usually at a great height. Bello is a particular fan of this circus art!
  4. It is statistically harder to get into the Ringing Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College than it is to get into Harvard Law School.
  5. The simplest form of juggling using three objects is called a three ball cascade. Give it a try!

The contortionists of Cirque Ziva (New Vic 2014)
  1. Sousa's famous march, "The Stars and Stripes Forever," was traditionally played to quickly signal an emergency to all circus personnel.
  2. Alongside circus traditions, performers have developed many circus superstitions. For instance, whistling backstage is considered bad luck. 
  3. One circus superstition is that performers must enter the ring on their right foot to avoid bad luck.
  4. For good luck, some circus performers keep a hair from an elephant's tail in their pockets. The real question, then, is what kind of hair do elephant's keep in their pockets?
  5. Once a performer's wardrobe trunk is set down backstage, it's considered bad luck to move it before the circus relocates.
  6. Trapeze artists develop their skills over years of training. Want to try? Consider Trapeze School New York.
  7. In circus lingo, a strolling vendor who sells concession items like popcorn and toys to the audience is called a "butcher."
  8. The Oscar-winning 1952 circus epic, The Greatest Show on Earth, was the first film that Steven Spielberg ever saw in a theater.
  9. A free pass is sometimes called an Annie Oakley—the small hole punched in the ticket resembles sharpshooter Oakley's bullet holes, and Oakley is rumored to have given bullet-perforated playing cards to kids to use as free passes!
  10. Did you know that human cannonballs travel between 60 and 70 miles an hour when they're shot? Flying through the air that fast is like driving down the highway without a windshield.

A miniature popcorn vendor or "butcher" in Popcorn for Sale
Photo: Marcus Quigmire
  1. Did you know that popcorn, a popular circus and theater snack, has been around since 400 BC?
  2. In keeping with yet another circus superstition, performers never eat peanuts backstage.
  3. John Bill Ricketts presented the first circus in America on April 3, 1793 in Philadelphia. President George Washington attended!
  4. The modern circus—equestrian acts, clowning and feats of strength and agility—was created by Philip Astley in 1770 in England.
  5. Italian equestrian Giuseppe Chiarini led the most well-traveled early circus, visiting fifteen countries on five continents during the late 19th century.

John Bill Ricketts' Art Pantheon and Amphitheatre in Philadelphia
  1. The curtain separating the ring from the backstage of the circus is called the vorgang.
  2. And another circus superstition: Bringing a peacock feather into the circus tent is said to be bad luck.
  3. Barnum, a musical written about P.T. Barnum, founder of the Barnum and Bailey Circus, premiered on Broadway in 1980 in the St. James Theatre, just two blocks away from the New Victory!
  4. After living in the London Zoo for sixteen years, Jumbo the Elephant was sold to P.T. Barnum and came to the U.S. in 1882.
  5. Like Bello in modern times, Jumbo inspired "Jumbomania", and jumbo soon became a synonym for large. Can we popularize bello as a synonym for gravity-defying?

At the height of "Jumbomania", Jumbo was featured in advertisements for all sorts of dissonant products, from candy to baby laxative!
  1. Did you know that circus is over 2,000 years old? Chinese circus dates back to the Qin Dynasty of 225–207 BC.
  2. "Happy Cooks" is a traditional Chinese circus act that involves plate spinning and juggling food or kitchen utensils.
  3. In 1971, the first week of August was designated National Clown Week by President Richard Nixon.
  4. There are three types of clowns: Whiteface (the oldest), Auguste (zany and dim) and the Character Clown (Happy Hobo or Sad Tramp).
  5. Social Circus programs attempt to engage marginalized kids in the circus arts, utilizing skill- and ensemble-building as tools for empowerment.
  6. Before graduating to long, pointy weaponry, Sword Swallowers practice their craft with spoons, plastic tubes, knitting needles and wire coat hangers.
  7. Most contortionists are either frontbenders or backbenders, depending on which direction their spines are more flexible in.
  8. Enterology is the practice of squeezing one's body into a very small box or container.
  9. The only full-time, permanent sideshow left in the world is the Coney Island Circus Sideshow right here in New York City.
  10. Looking for local circus happenings? Visit

Two talented enterologists
  1. Is that clown car a regular two-door coupe? No. Circuses hollow out the insides of small cars to create as much space as possible, and then they pile in as many clowns and large props as possible.
  2. A rola bola, or bongo board, is a flat piece of wood balanced on a wooden cylinder. Circus performers balance on one (or many stacked) bola boards for all sorts of acts, from juggling to acrobatics. Make your own!
  3. The world record for the most balls juggled is held by Alex Barron for completing twenty-five cascades of eleven juggling balls at once!
  4. Looking for local juggling events and resources? Visit!
Can you round out our list of 49 facts with a 50th of your own? Share your circus expertise with us on Twitter @NewVictory, #BelloMania! And don't miss BELLO MANIA at the New Vic, April 15 – May 1.
Posted by Zack Ramadan
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