Thinking about joining the circus!

I’ve only been riding a month, I can ride forwards and maneuver very well, and freemount about 90% of the time, but I’m still learning to idle and haven’t started riding backwards yet.

Obviously I will have to be a lot better for the circus, but what kinds of things would you recommend learning? Particular tricks that are usually specific to a circus act?

Or you can just wish me encouragement, that’s fine too!

Nonsense. You don’t need to do a lot of hard tricks to be in a circus, you need to have a good act. You might want to start with finding examples of circus acts that already exist or have existed; this will give you some ideas of things you’d like to consider for an act of your own.

Remember, even a one ring circus has most of the audience pretty far away from you. Whatever you do, it can’t be based on crankflips or other hard-to-see tricks. You need to do lots of big stuff too!

IUF Skill Levels

Have you seen any circus acts based on small (hard to see from a distance) unicycle tricks? I’ve seen a lot of Cirque du Soleil, and barely any unicycle tricks at all…

WARNING: General comment

I agree in part with John. I’ve just caught my first Cirque du Soleil show and one of the things that struck me quite a bit was that much of what went on with the fire poi segment was lost to most of the crowd. I had front row seats and the leg wraps and elaborate poi tricks are almost impossible to spot to the untrained eye - everything looks the same.

That said, I disagree that you don’t need to know a lot of hard tricks to make the circus. Skill always impresses and you need to impress to get the job to begin with, no? Your job might require little more than unicycling a giraffe but showing that you can do so much more are probably necessary to distance yourself from others. In my experience doing gigs, I’ve often got people asking if I can do a certain trick that they’ve seen somewhere. Being able to do that always earns you more credibility.

By the way, crankflips can be a big trick. There is however no difference between a 360 crankflip and a 1080 crankflip to the average non-unicyclist.

I agree with John. You need to have an entertaining act which does not need to be technically difficult. Generally speaking most technical stuff will be lost on any crowd of people. They would probably find it more entertaining to see you fall off your unicycle than you pulling off a triple hick-flip, or a 720 uni-spin.

I think these tricks would be effective to an audience:

-seat drag
-skipping (hopping with no hands and using a jump rope)
-1 foot idiling
-idiling and juggling
-simply riding a giraffe
-riding backwards and one footed

You should try to see Yuri Shavro, the unicyclist with the Cirque du Soleil (I think the performance called Kooza). He works with a partner who is an acrobat/contortionist whom he whirls and throws in the air whilst unicycling. The act is phenomenal.

I agree with John, a circus act has to be very visual and very entertaining. You could make it comical or dramatic or spectacular or do something unique with other performers, depending on your skill level. If you really want to do a circus act I would just go for it, and work out something that is truly entertaining and compatible with your skills.

cirque uni.jpg

That was an awesome performance. I think Kooza was the best Cirque show I’ve seen so far, though they will all compete with the very first one I saw, Cirque Reinvente, in 1988.

Through a phone mix-up, I just missed getting the opportunity to do an interview with Yuri for Uni Magazine. That was when we were in San Francisco to see the show. Bummer.

As I recall, there were approximately zero unicycle tricks in that performance. Maybe he did a kick-up or something? That’s always a great audience trick. His best unicycle trick was maintaining a smooth, non-jerky ride while a whole hand-balancing act was happening on top of him. :slight_smile:

I found a video from there performance:
i like it realy much it fits perfect to the music and creates a great feeling.

I think that big jumps are realy good for non unicycles too. I earn a lot of money if I do my trial unicycle show, you can watch a highlight video from my performance here:

I hope that helps

The music will have been written specially for it. But yes, it’s a great act. Thanks for posting the video.

Without the video as an aide-memoire, John wasn’t sure that there had been any specific unicycle tricks in the act. I spotted four:

  • wheel walking
  • pirouette
  • riding one-footed
  • kickup mount
They're all audience-pleasing, visually impressive tricks.

Yes, thanks for the links, Lutz! I had been composing a reply but then had to restart my browser and forgot it wasn’t finished. :angry: Danny replied before my do-over with the short list of tricks observed in Yuri (and partner’s) act. To that I will add:

  • Backspin/Frontspin
  • Spin
  • Rock-steady riding while carrying an adagio act (by far the hardest)
  • Spin while carrying partner
  • Riding with partner standing on his feet
I didn't go back and check, but I remember seeing spin but not pirouette. For some reason, wheel walking always seems to look awkward when I see it in performances by riders who aren't "trick specialists" but I'm not sure why. It could be from learning in gymnastic/dance shoes, or maybe because they never learned to do it fast, which may make for a smoother wheelwalking style.

I just used them as an example of a well-known company with top acts, that’s a one-ring show (audience is closer). In other words, that’s as close as you’re going to get in an authentic “circus” venue, which was what I was talking about. A stage environment, for example, is different and usually smaller. A street show, like the one in Lutz’ video, is also a relatively intimate environment, even though it’s pretty big because you have a high-density audience right up against the edges of the “stage”.

In my years of performing and appearing in hundreds of schools as a “circus artist/instructor/expert” I rarely had the opportunity to appear in any full-on circus environments. If a school puts on a circus in their auditorium or gymnasium it’s a circus, but it’s not a traditional circus environment which is what we’re talking about here. My own best example of performing in one was the four performances Greg Milstein and I did at the Riga Circus in Latvia (1990, photo below). Those audiences seemed to really appreciate the Freestyle-based performance I did. But I don’t know if they realized how hard it was to ride on that lumpy carpet! Lumpy, as it was a covering over their well-worn rubberized floor. That would have been much better to ride on, but it was black and ugly…

But that 400th anniversary Quebec performance was really incredible. That audience got a rare treat, seeing what we (sometimes) see in the top Freestyle competitions. Unfortunately that was apparently a one-time or very limited show, and didn’t tour. Too bad. I hope guys like Kazuhiro and Julien are able to do that for a living, if that’s what they want to do. Also I’m glad someone was able to sneak a video of the performance; they don’t allow any cameras at regular Cirque du Soleil performances. Were you in that show? Very, very cool. Sadly, Kazuhiro showed some rough edges; I noticed two major dismounts (one where the unicycle might have ended up in somebody’s face). That type of act still carries a very high risk of mistakes and it’s tough to do a perfect performance if you aren’t doing it every day.

Anyway that show, and Joachim Ciocca, are exceptions to the rule. I’d love to see more (lots more), but today it’s extremely rare to see trick-based unicycle acts in any circus. By trick-based, I mean on one regular unicycle. Props, and additional unicycles, are much easier for the audience to see so giraffes, odd cycles, Trials/Street performances, comedy all have a much better chance of being fully appreciated by audiences.

Thanks for posting those clips, and check out my cool (borrowed) gold tuxedo!


I think a base on acrobatics, and theatre, would help.
Also, become better on uni. If you want to be on the stage 4-5 minutes doing ONLY unicycle (and not clowning, acting, ecc), you should at least be a level 7 IUF. And, to have a clean routine, you can’t put your maximum level in a show, but the 50% of your capacity… so the tricks and the moves would be really flowing.

Is much more important to know how to keep the stage, how to built up a show, using time, rhythms, ecc.
I’ve never worked for a circus, but I have many friends comingi out from circus school ecc., and I tell you: you’ll have to work really really hard.

Joining a circus school can make you grow faster, in 2 years you’ll maybe be able to put up a decent show.
But not just in few months, don’t even think about it

As has been mentioned already, you don’t need amazingly technical tricks as the skill will just be lost on 99% of the audience. Basic riding skills can be fine if it is incorporated in to a good enough show, however, whatever you do, it must be SOLID. If you wobble and fall off at the right moment, it may be good, however, the chances are it’ll be at the wrong moment and ruin things. Once you’ve got complete control over the unicycle, you can then do things like decide when to wobble and look shaky on it if it helps the act.

If you can incorporate any other circus skills (juggling obviously, but plate spinning, knife throwing, custard pies, eating a tiger etc) in to the unicycling, then that is all for the better too. Riding with big floppy red shoes is harder than it looks though.


edit: Oh, I forgot to say, that Take That are currently doing a tour with their Circus album. There are all kinds of circus things going off, but the highlight of the show is when 3 out of 4 of the band ride down a causeway on unicycles. That’s it. Mount, ride 50 meters, dismount. And the crowd goes wild. But it illustrates that it’s more about the show than technical skill.

I found some other examples of circus shows.
The first ones are Peter Rosendahl and Malte Knapp

I saw Peter live and he has one show which is nearly the same then the one Malte is doing in this video. Most unicycle circus show which arent only acrobatic are realy simple. A high unicycle some steps rope skipping and thats it :).

PaulChens Show is a little bit more on the curent status off unicycling but I only found a short video from it

More cool links! This thread is turning into a great place to watch professional Freestyle videos.

That would be the other way around. Peter’s been performing with a 3-wheeler and ramp/stairs since at least 1982. Malte’s act looks like a nearly direct copy. The one by PaulChens is, as you said, more up to date in terms of the advent of Trials (and Trials unicycles) Lots of great moves in that one, but he’s not performing it in a circus that I know of.

Peter Rosendahl is best known to us older unicyclists as the first World Champion of Freestyle (1984). I met him in 1982 and introduced him to the then-new Kick-up mount, and possibly a few other moves. He was great then, and it’s nice to see him still doing it all these years later. Especially the holding-up-his-leg thing!

This summer Paul performs in Circus Arnado in norway but he mostly works in german varietes.

Behold the Bertini Unicycle Troupe!

several months later

So I did join the circus. Went to boot camps for conditioning for a few weeks that almost killed me, got cast in Unicycle Adagio, and I had my first rehearsal today. We’re just working on the lifting part and not the actual unicycling right now, and I have three rehearsals a week.

I expect this will be either the most fulfilling or the most disappointing experience of my life.

So, you started unicycling for the first time 3 months ago, and now you are in a unicycling circus show?