AskDefine | Define equilibrist

Extensive Definition

Tightrope walking (or funambulism) is the art of walking along a thin wire or rope usually at a great height. One or more artists perform in front of an audience (a common act in circuses) or as a publicity stunt (often attempting to set location-specific distance or height records). Tightrope walkers sometimes use balancing poles and may perform the feat without a safety net for effect.

Styles of tightrope acts

  • Tightwire is the art of maintaining balance while walking along a tensioned wire between two points. It can be done either using a balancing tool (umbrella, fan, balance pole, etc.) or "freehand", using only one's body to maintain balance. Typically, tightwire performances will fall into one of two distinct types of acts - dance/movement or object manipulation. It is common for tightwire artists to include a variety of props in their acts, such as juggling clubs or rings hats or canes in order to help them maintain their balance. Other artists will take props onto the wire in order to enhance the entertainment value. These often include juggling clubs, spinning plates, wheelbarrows with passengers, ladders, pets and children.
  • Highwire is the same as tight wire but at much greater height. Although there is no official height when tight wire becomes high wire, generally a wire over twenty feet high will be regarded as a high wire act. Traditionally, the difference is in style of performance.
  • Slackwire is when the tension on the wire is only provided by the load, i.e. the performer and props. The difference is that to balance on a tight wire the performer must to keep their center of mass above their feet whilst on a slack wire they move the wire with their balance to under their center of mass.
  • Skywalk is a form somewhat akin to highwire, but generally defined by its length and height, usually taking place outdoors at great heights, often between skyscrapers, gorges, mountains or other natural and man-made landscapes.
  • Freestyle slacklining (a.k.a. “rodeo slacklining") is the art and practice of cultivating balance on a piece of rope or webbing draped slack between two anchor points. Typically about 15 to 30 feet long and a couple feet off the ground in the center, this type of slackline provides a wide array of opportunities for both swinging and static maneuvers. A freestyle slackline has no tension in it, while both traditional slacklines and tightropes are tensioned. This slackness in the rope or webbing allows it to swing at large amplitudes and adds a different dynamic to the ancient art of tightrope walking.
  • Funambule (French)
  • Jultagi (Korean)


Acrobats create balance by positioning their center of mass directly over their base of support, ie, shifting most of their weight over their legs, arms or whatever part of their body they are using to hold them up. When they are on the ground with their feet side by side, the base of support is wide in the lateral direction but narrow in the sagittal (back-to-front) direction. In the case of highwire-walkers, their feet are parallel with each other, one foot positioned in front of the other while on the wire. Therefore, a tightwire walker's sway is side to side, their latteral support having been drastically reduced. In both cases, whether side by side or parallel, the ankle is the pivot point. A wire-walker may use a pole for balance or may stretch out his or her arms perpendicular to her trunk in the manner of a pole. This technique provides several advantages. It distributes mass away from the pivot point and moves the center of mass out. This reduces angular velocity because her center of mass is now swinging through a longer arc. It takes longer to sweep out the same angle because the center of mass has a longer distance to go. The result is less tipping. In addition the performer can also correct sway by rotating the pole sideways. This will create an equal and opposite torque on her body. Sometimes the pole is weighted and has a dip at the ends. This provides additional stability by lowering the center of mass.
Tightwire-walkers typically perform in very thin and flexible, leather-soled slippers (or very occasionally barefoot) to allow the foot to curve around the wire. Though very infrequent in performance, amateur, hobbyist or inexperienced funambulists will often walk barefoot so that the wire can be grasped between the big and second toe. This is more often done when using a rope, as the softer and silkier fibers are less taxing on the bare foot than the harder and more abrasive braided wire.

Famous tightrope artists

External links

wire walkers)
equilibrist in German: Seiltanz
equilibrist in Spanish: Cuerda floja
equilibrist in French: Fil de fer (cirque)
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