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Entertainment or spectacle featuring animal acts and human feats of daring. The modern circus was founded in England in 1768 by the bareback rider Philip Astley (1742–1814), who built stands around his performance ring and opened Astley's Amphitheatre. One of his riders later established the Royal Circus (1782), the first modern use of the term. The first U.S. circus opened in Philadelphia in 1793. Horse acts were later joined by wild-animal acts. After the invention of the flying trapeze by Jules Léotard (1859), aerial acts were featured. P.T. Barnum expanded the traditional circus by adding two rings to create the three-ring circus (1881) and augmented it with sideshow performers. Circuses traveled throughout the U.S., Europe, and Latin America, performing in a tent (the Big Top) into the 1950s. Today circuses usually perform in permanent buildings, though small troupes still travel with tents in some regions. By the late 20th century, notable circuses also had developed in Africa, India, Spain, Brazil, and Mexico. Perhaps the most innovative trend in circuses at the turn of the 21st century was the establishment of companies such as the Cirque du Soleil; these companies employed no animals, instead emphasizing acts of human skill and daring and integrating elements of contemporary music and dance into the overall performance.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on circus, visit Britannica.com.