Acrobatics is the performance of extraordinary feats of balance, agility and motor coordination. It can be found in many of the performing arts, as well as many sports. Acrobatics is most often associated with activities that make extensive use of gymnastic elements, such as acro dance, circus, and gymnastics, but many other athletic activities—such as ballet and diving—may also employ acrobatics. Although acrobatics is most commonly associated with human body performance, it may also apply to other types of performance, such as aerial acrobatics.
In China, acrobatics have been a part of the culture since the Western Han Dynasty, over 2000 years ago. Acrobatics were part of village harvest festivals. During the Tang Dynasty, acrobatics saw much the same sort of development as European acrobatics saw during the Middle Ages, with court displays during the 7th through 10th century dominating the practice. Acrobatics continues to be an important part of modern Chinese variety art.
Acrobatic traditions are found in many Western cultures as well. Minoan art from circa 2000 BC contains depictions of acrobatic feats on the backs of bulls, which may have been a religious ritual. The noble court displays of the European Middle Ages would often include acrobatic performances along with song, juggling and other activities.
Though the term initially applied to tightrope walking, in the 19th century, a form of performance art including circus acts began to use the term as well. In the late 19th century, tumbling and other acrobatic and gymnastic activities became competitive sport in Europe.
Acrobatics has often served as a subject for fine art. Examples of this are paintings such as Acrobats at the Cirque Fernando (Francisca and Angelina Wartenberg) by Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir, which depicts two German acrobatic sisters, and Acrobats in a Paris suburb by Viktor Vasnetsov.
Traditionally, acrobatic skills were kept within families and passed from parents to children. This is still true especially among family circus groups, although most acrobats are now taught by larger scale education systems as circuses are now made up of many more professionals than they used to be.
Schools that specialize in acrobatics training provide a constant flow of new acrobatic artists. Some of these schools are independently operated, and some are supported and affiliated with circuses.
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