Wondering what are the top things that used to happen in a circus before? The bright spotlights, the recurring ringmaster in his red tailcoat with a black bow, the uptempo music, the gorgeously dressed acrobats with stunning performances, the clown with his whimsical sense of humour juggling to perfection in his rainbowed costumed, and the well-disciplined animals performing commendable stunts; all in an amphitheatre with an eye-catching backdrop held in a big top.
Did that make you travel back in time? Yeah? Then you’re definitely one of those ’90s fellas.
The circus was an eclectic blend of infinite creativity. It was a real delight to the eye. It was a carnival where even the kids and the adults enjoyed going to. It was something out of this world back then, and the audience was amazed at the breathtaking performances by the highly skilled artists.
It was one-of-a-kind. With changing times, the entertainment industry also evolved. There were many things that used to happen in a circus before. Though there are circuses today, it can never replace the vintage ones. Let’s take a retrograde step and look at the top things that used to happen in the circus before but sadly don’t anymore.
Top 20 Things that Used to Happen in a Circus Before
Circus has transformed now. The present gen kids perhaps don’t know how a circus is. With the digitization and Animal Welfare Act, numerous stunts and performances ended. The present-day circus, called nouveau cirque or contemporary circus, is a lot different than what used to happen before. However, we’ll revisit and relive those memories here. We are sure you would like our list of the top things that used to happen in a circus before.
1. The Ringmaster who was the Cynosure of Every Eye
Who can ever forget the most energetic ringmaster in his iconic sharp red tailcoat with a black hat holding the whip in his hand? He was the showstopper in the shows. Introducing each act and having us hooked with his vim and vigour whilst the stage was being set up for the ensuing acts, it was HIM driving the entire show.
All the spectators were smitten with his enchanting aura. Now the idea of having a ringmaster is not present due to the adaptation of the theatrical approach.
2. Numerous “Acts” Comprised in the Show
Earlier, after every few minutes, there were acts one after the other. No fixed theme or storyline was present in the show. The core idea was to exhibit the talents that each artist possessed. The acts were awfully good that the audiences were left stunned by it every single time. Now, it is more than just acts. Acts convey a message to the audience and involve a lot of emotions.
3. The captivating Uptempo Music
The Uptempo marches, waltzes made the heart race faster and would take you to an entirely different mood. It was thrilling, and there would be an adrenaline rush as soon as you entered the tents. Such was the influence of the music back then. However, with changing times, music evolved too. Now it is subtle and varies according to the theme of the show. You would have loved these things that used to happen in a circus before.
4. Mind-Blowing performances by the “Felidae Family”
Felidae Family refers to the cat family. Circuses were known for various animal acts that comprised lions and tigers too. Watching those ferocious animals obey the master and perform unbelievable stunts was spectacular.
It was spine-tingling, and the audience was always on the edge of their seats during such acts. You don’t get to experience that anymore for all the right reasons.
5. The Rainbow-Sprinkled Attire of the Clown
With the multihued hair, over the top makeup, baggy clothes, and an extra-wide painted smile on the face with a shiny red nose to complete the look, the clowns drew attention due to their perfect comic timing.
Making the audience laugh till their bellies hurt through their mimes was overwhelming. Too bad that it is considered as creepy now, so you don’t see the clowns wear such bright costumes or heavy makeups like before.
6. Usage of a variety of props
Without props, the circus would have been monotonous. The heart of the circus was the props used. Almost every artist had a prop of their own. The clown used unicycle and juggled with clubs or balls.
Rola-bola’s, balancing ladder, walking globe, yo-yo and much more were used by the artists used to perform. Though props are used now, it is limited to the storylines of that particular show. It’s really kind of beautiful when we list these things that used to happen in a circus before.
7. Maned Beauties stole the show
Gorgeous snowy white, chestnut coloured, and jet-black horses were the highlight of the show. If you’ve watched the classic movie “Water for Elephants,” you would know how the horses amazed the audiences. If you haven’t, then do watch it guys as it is phenomenal and takes you back in time where you’ll learn the nuances of how a circus was back then. It was one of the beautiful things that used to happen in a circus before.
8. Animals jumping through Flaming rings
Oh my, the fire ring was undoubtedly a jaw-dropping act. Watching the big cats pass through the blazing fire was pretty impressive. But you will never see that happen ever again because of Animal Rights. Probably for the best as animals go through a tough time since they were forced to perform stunts when all they wanted was to live freely in the wild.
9. The Circus Came to Us
Wanted to go to a circus? Well, all you had to do was sit back and unwind as the circus came wherever you were. The circus did not happen in theatres. Travelling circuses were common.
Circus companies travelled in trains for months and set up tents in various towns where they performed for a few days or weeks. It was held in a vast ground where all you had to do was to step out of your house and enjoy the carnival. While it was one of the things that used to happen in a circus before, with it came the animals, who were often tortured.
10. Elephants won the hearts of everyone
Here again, I’m referring to the movie “Water for Elephants.” The entire theme revolves around an ingenious elephant named “Rosie.” Rosie performed stunts that were praised by the audience. She was a unique one for sure. One of the well-known elephants back then was Jumbo the Elephant. He was a real gem in the shows. There’s a movie on the elephant named “Dumbo” and to date, it is one of the favourite movies of all time. That being said, while it was one of the things that used to happen in a circus before, elephants were often tortured.
11. Juggling was purely an act
How can we ever forget juggling? Juggling was a prominent act in the circuses. A wide array of props like hats, cigar boxes, balls, clubs, rings, and knives were used for a long time. However, it waned over time, and now juggling can be observed in juggling conventions, local clubs and specific events if not in circuses. Juggling does exist even now in the contemporary circus, but they are more enhanced and not like the ones before. Juggling was purely an act earlier. Now, even juggling is depicted through emotions.
12. Circus revolved around families
Circus acts remained widely performed by families. It was more like a family tradition carried for several years. You see, the ringmaster would be the main head, while his wife would perform a lead stunt and their children and other members of the family performed numerous stunts. It was a family-business which ran in the blood for generations.
However, now it’s the coming together of skilled artists with similar enthusiasm. It’s a family of talented performers.
13. The circuses organized under Big Tops
Circuses were widely held in tents called big tops. Tents were set up days before shows commenced, and thousands of people flocked together to experience the thrill and watch the mesmerizing acts. Amusement rides like the carousel were present where people loved going to. It was no less than a carnival. The amalgam of circus acts inside big tops and amusement rides outside the tents is what attracted thousands of people to the circus. Presently the circuses are held in theatres rather than open grounds in big tops.
14. Sideshows drew attention too
The sideshows garnered plenty of attention too. Acts like fire-eating, knife throwing, sword swallowing and a few others were held outside the big tops and hence the name sideshow. Circuses were an appetizer to the eye. You get to see exquisite acts in the big tops, then you step outside and watch the sideshows and finally enjoy the rides before heading back home.
15. The audience were spherically seated
Since it was held in vast grounds, the seating arrangement was a complete circle(Okay, that’s how the name ‘Circus’ came into existence) Spectators sat in 360-degree seating and performers too ensured that their acts covered the entire stage. In recent times, the circuses are held in theatres, which is not entirely circular.
16. Posters were all over the town
Weeks before the shows, when the circus companies came to towns, you could see posters all over. Pamphlets circulated every household, posters stuck on walls and fliers were distributed to everyone. That was the way they advertised previously. That faded completely in this digital era. You can no longer see any posters of circuses anywhere. It all came down to booking tickets online when advertised digitally.
17. Freak shows were popular
Freakshows were acts performed by those who were physically unusual. The odd characteristics were meant to attract the audiences. They were popular and seen purely as entertainment. Some of the popular artists were the bearded lady, the four-legged girl, the dog-faced boy and Siamese twins. But the celebration of naturally born deformities is no longer accepted, so for all the right reasons, freakshows came to an end.
18. Parades painted a perfect picture of the circus
Parades were a significant part of the circus that took place before the shows. Road long marches with clowns, performers, bands and all the animals held. It was no less than a celebration and was just a glimpse of how a circus would be under the big tops, like a trailer to the movies.
It was visually pleasing and captured the attention of numerous people, which was precisely why parades arrived. Alas! You don’t see that anymore. Now the audience’s expectations have evolved, and the industry adapted to changing needs.
19. Spectacular performances in the Globe of Death
A sphere made of steel where motorists circled in patterns seemed unreal. The entire stage vibrated when the motorists ran in loops inside the ball, and it was an unnerving experience. The praiseworthy stunt was spectacular. The motor sounds, the quiver, the courageous motorists spinning at a speed like nothing ever is happening to them was mind-blowing.
20. The Unbelievable Human Cannonballs
Imagine a human shot up in the air by a cannon! Yeah, it is something you would not see now, but they were highly popular in circuses. The daring act was astonishing. Seeing a human as a slung like a cannonball was truly heart-stirring. Human Cannonballs are very rare now.
The transform in the way circus functioned was rapid, and the infamous Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey circus will be missed. They shut after 145 years of stunning the audiences with their performances. You will never get to experience the authentic circus anymore. A popular contemporary circus company currently is Cirque Du Soleil, based in Montreal. They have preserved most of the circus acts.
Their approach is pretty different, as with each show a story is portrayed to the audiences, which involves expressing emotions along with stunts and acts. Animals are no way involved in this type of circus. A good show for those who couldn’t experience the circus back then.
However, while there were things that used to happen in a circus before, not all of them were animal friendly.
You will no longer see horses, seals, kangaroos, or lions in circuses. It all ended for good, which is highly appreciated. Also, I again urge you guys to watch “Water for Elephants.” You would enjoy every bit of this classic movie and also know how the animals were treated in a travelling circus and get a deeper insight into the circus. Well, for all those who went to a circus before, did these things make you nostalgic? Though the circus is not the same anymore, it will remain in our hearts.
The golden days will always be cherished. Such was the impact circus made in our lives a decade ago. What are the other things that used to happen in a circus before? Do let us know if we missed any other circus acts that used to happen but not now in the comment section below.
Wonderful article 👍 took me back to the good old days 🙂