Chinese Acrobats: the Arts of Balance

In China, acrobats are revered much as prima ballerinas or opera singers are revered in the West. It has a long history with a distinct national style, evolving from the Chinese people's everyday life and working experience.

Historical records show that acrobatic acts have been existence since Han Dynasty (221 B.C.-220 A.D); Performances at that time include shows like 'Balancing on a high pole', 'Jumping through hoops'. 'Hand feats', 'Rope walking'. From then on, a variety of acrobatic performances such as traditional conjuring, vocal imitation, taming animals, horsemanships have been recorded and described in books and historical relics.

At present, many new acrobatics items have been added to the repertoire, either brand new creations or adaptations from other activities. These include seesaw stunts, roller skating, balancing gymnastics, bow balancing from a unicycle and springboard stunts. Many new acts have been added to the high-altitude stunts, such as tuck dives, flying leaps, and throwing-and-caching.

The art of Chinese acrobatics combines both physically and spiritually. Coupled with an acrobat's immense athletic strength and impeccable balance and timing is Chi Kung - the Asian philosophy of inner strength, which focuses the body and mind to work in perfect harmony. Each individual acrobat's physical and philosophical strength combines with that of the fellow members of his or her troupe in magnificent displays of balancing, juggling, dance, comedy and magic.

Chinese acrobatics has maintained a strict master-apprentice system. The acrobatic performers have done their best to preserve the art learned from masters and hand their skills down to younger generations. Children usually begin their training as young as four or five years old. Specific training with an acrobat troupe may begin by the age of eight. Eventually, they will do their first performances when they reach the age of sixteen or seventeen.