The First Flying Trapeze

In honor of the upcoming release of book four in the Magic Carnival series, High Flyer, I thought you might like to learn a little more about the history of the flying trapeze… 

The flying trapeze is a particular form of trapeze where a horizontal bar is hung from a pair of ropes or cables. Gravity makes the trapeze swing in an arc as the performer swings with it. It sounds pretty simple, but before it was invented by Frenchman Jules Leotard, performers simply swung from fixed bars or walked the tightrope.

Leotard, whose father was a gymnastics instructor, first performed the new style of trapeze in the Cirque Napoleon in France on November 12 1859. His performance went for 12 minutes, and he performed the first mid-air trapeze somersault. The traditional flier’s costume, the leotard, is named after him, and the song, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze was also written about Leotard.

The song includes the famous lines:

He’d fly through the air with the greatest of ease,

That daring young man on the flying trapeze.

His movements were graceful, all the girls he could please,

And my love he purloined away.

There have been many recordings of the song since it was first written, and even a film of the same name that came out in 1935 staring WC Fields and Mary Brian.

In the early years, the flying trapeze didn’t include a safety net. Leotard would perform over a series of mattresses on a raised runway to allow the audience a better view. The first safety net was used by Spanish troupe the Rizarelli’s at London’s Holborn Empire in 1891. But Leotard didn’t live to see this happen; he died in 1870 – not from some some dangerous act high above the ground, but from small pox while visiting Spain.

Today it’s generally considered too risky to be with out a net, as most acts are performed between 20 and 40 feet above the ground.

The interesting bit about the flying trapeze is not simply being a human pendulum; it’s the way that performers jump from one swinging bar to another in midair, somersaulting in between. The notion of jumping, falling or flying through the air so high above the ground has been keeping audiences captivated since it was first invented.

Trudi Jaye 🙂


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