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Circus250 launches Women in Circus film


Oh, she floats through the air with the greatest of ease,

This daring young girl on the flying trapeze


On Thursday 8 March Circus250 launches Women in Circus, a short film on female circus artistes past and present. Watch the film here:

Women in Circus from Kevin Toolis on Vimeo.

A unique soundtrack, rewriting the famous 19th century popular song The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, accompanies the film, putting women back in the spotlight on the bar, highwire, aerial hoop, straps, silks, corde lisse …

Women in Circus presents an extraordinary cast of historic and contemporary women, from 19th century tightrope walkers to today’s ringmistresses. It features, in live performance, the most daring Yasmine Smart, the most astonishing Nell Gifford, the most talented Rebecca Truman, the most clever Dr Dea Birkett and the one and only Professor Vanessa Toulmin.

Join our Women in Circus International Women’s Day celebrations:

Circus women have always been powerful – physically, emotionally, financially. On International Women’s Day, Circus250 celebrates Women in Circus with a widespread social media campaign. Watch out for these hashtags and join in with your own women in circus images, anecdotes and stories –

#WomeninCircus    #Circus250    #IWD2018

Above: Fossett Sisters acrobats, Fidget Feet’s Aisling ní Cheallaigh, ‘Lion Queen’ Ellen Chapman


Thanks to the University of Sheffield for funding Women in Circus.

Thanks to National Fairground and Circus Archive for use of historic images.



  • Women make up the majority of circus performers in UK, but you can still count on one hand the number of female clowns appearing in circus rings.

  • The art of the Strong Woman is enjoying a revival. From Abergavenny preacher’s daughter Kate Williams, who performed as Vulcana in early 20th century, to today’s Heavy Duty Dame Aoife Raleigh and Strong Woman Charmaine Childs, they’ve shifted from lifting weights to lifting men.

  • On 10 April 1877, teenage girl Zazel became the first Human Cannonball, aged 14. Still considered one of the most dangerous acts, over 30 human cannonballs have died during the performance of this stunt.

  • The three Cottle sisters – Sarah, April, Polly – set up Cottle Sisters Circus and continue to tour with their father, circus impresario Gerry Cottle.

  • The first recorded female ringmaster in the UK was Yasmine Smart, granddaughter of Billy Smart. There are now many ringmistresses, including Nell Gifford who founded her own Giffords Circus.

  • Founder of modern circus Philip Astley’s wife Patty performed alongside her husband in the first circus in the centre of London. A talented trick rider, her speciality act was riding around the ring smothered in a swarm of bees.

  • ‘Dona’ is ‘woman’ in Polari – the language traditionally spoken in the circus community.

  • Degas’s famous 1879 Painting Miss LaLa at the Cirque Fernando depicts real life 19th century circus artiste Miss LaLa, a black French woman.

  • There are many female-led circus companies working in UK today, including Upswing, Mimbre and Crying Out Loud.

  • One of Britain’s two Higher Education circus schools, the National Centre for Circus Arts, is run by a woman. But female circus directors are still rare.


For interviews, images and copies of the film



Circus250 is the body co-ordinating over 200 events happening throughout 2018 to celebrate 250 years of circus.


250 years ago this year, showman, entrepreneur and equestrian Philip Astley drew out a ring on an abandoned patch of land in London’s Waterloo, and went on to gather together a series of astounding physical acts – bareback riders, jugglers, acrobats, clowns, strong men. This was the world’s very first circus. Every circus, anywhere in the world, began at this moment in 1768.


All those featuring in Women in Circus are Circus250 partners.