A Brief History of Aerial Arts

Jules Leotard aerial arts history
Jules Leotard and the Trapeze

Jules Leotard was born on August 1, 1838 in Toulouse, France. His father was a gymnastics teacher who shared his knowledge and love of the art with his son. What separated Jules from other gymnasts were the tricks he practiced above his father’s pool. By age 18, Leotard gained a variety of acrobatic skills including trapeze, ropes, and rings. 

On November 12, 1859, Jules Leotard debuted his show “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze”. The performance was a sight to behold at Cirque Napoleon, and Jules quickly became a superstar. It was the first time a performer completed a somersault mid-air to travel from one trapeze to another.

Jules became known for his outfit: a skin-tight, one-piece knitted garment he called a ‘maillot’. Leotard designed the outfit himself which allowed him to move with agility as well as show off his physique. Eventually, the outfit became known as a ‘leotard’ and made its way to the ballet around 1886. 

Sadly, Jules died of smallpox at the young age of 32. Although he lived a short life, he paved the way for ingenuity in aerial arts.

The Beginning of Aerial Hoop

Ceado the Marvel was an aerialist who performed in New York during the late 1800s. It is believed that Ceado was the first aerial hooper based on an ad he placed in an August 1893 edition of The New York Clipper. The hoop Ceado used was different from the lyra of today; it had a vertical bar through the center of the hoop.

As with many other circus skills, aerial hoop (also known as lyra) gained popularity in the 1990's thanks to Cirque du Soleil. Lyra is now a staple in aerial gyms all over the world.

girl on aerial hoop, aerial arts history
aerial silks history
Aerial Silks

While the origins of aerial silks are unclear, it is undeniable that Isabelle Vaudelle’s 1995 performance launched silks into the popular and well-known art form it is today. There are a variety of sources that trace aerial silks as far back as the early 1900s, but it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that silks became a beloved performance in Cirque du Soleil. Since then, aerial silks and aerial arts of all kinds have become a popular circus act as well as a unique way to practice fitness and flexibility.

Aerial Arts Today

Today you can find aerial gyms all over the United States. Aerial arts offer a creative outlet to build strength, increase flexibility, and have fun! There are classes for people of all ages, abilities, and body types to learn the art and technical skills that come with this age-old circus tradition.

aerial arts, circus performance

St. Louis Aerial Artsevents are exciting and entertaining. Bring even more fun to your event with our other entertainment options like juggling, comedy hypnosis, stilt walking, sideshow, and magic. We are sure you will agree, Circus Kaput does great events in Missouri and Illinois. The best Midwest event entertainment whether you are looking for hypnotists, magicians, caricaturists, face painters, jugglers, stilt walkers, fire performers comedians or more for your next birthday party, block party, wedding, corporate event, mitzvah, festival, school assembly or any other type of event in Missouri and Illinois.


This web site is maintained by Circus Kaput to provide information about Circus Kaput(CK) booking services and to provide links to sites of independent CK subsidiaries that provide variety entertainment services in the USA. 

Circus Kaput is based in St. Louis, Missouri