An acrobat is an athlete who combines flexibility with strength and grace to create a unique form of physical performance. Using elements of gymnastics, dance, and contortionism, an acrobat uses his or her body as a medium of performance. Acrobats have been popular entertainers around the world for centuries, and can often be seen in circus or dance performances.
The history of the acrobat dates back to the earliest forms of public entertainment; archeological finds in China and the Mediterranean have turned up drawings, etchings, and carvings of acrobats that date back more than 2000 years. This early evidence shows humans performing great feats of agility, balance, and strength similar to stunts acrobats still perform today. During the middle ages in Europe, acrobatic feats were often part of the standard repertoire of court jesters, who served as entertainers to monarchs and powerful aristocrats.
Today, an acrobat may find employment with a circus or other public performance group. Large circus performance companies may hire dozens of acrobats for a single show, and may have multiple shows operating around the world at once. For acrobats who join mobile companies, travel may be a frequent part of the job and can provide many opportunities to see the world. Some acrobat groups may also chose to participate in large scale competitions for prize money and prestige.
There are many different kinds of acrobats, each with a particular skill set and rigorous training routine. Jugglers, trapeze artists, contortionists, gymnasts, and tightrope walkers are all considered types of acrobats. Some work with animals, performing feats of balance and gymnastic stunts on top of moving horses, bulls, or elephants. One interesting acrobatic game is the Spanish practice of castell, where dozens of acrobats work together to form a human tower more than ten levels high.
Many acrobats receive some formal training in gymnastics and dance, but some also learn their profession through an apprentice system. Since an acrobat can tailor his or her abilities to perform many different types of jobs, skills are often taught to novice acrobats by other, more experienced performers in order to enhance an act or create a new performance. In some regions of the world, acrobatic skills are passed down through families, creating dynasties of performers that date back for centuries. Training often begin very young; in competitive gymnastics, for instance, many performers hit peak ability in their early teens, and may retire from competition before age 20.