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Tightrope walking, also called funambulism, is the skill of walking along a thin wire or rope. It has a long tradition in various countries and is commonly associated with the circus. Other skills similar to tightrope walking include slack rope walking and slacklining.
Although in general the "lay" (the twist of a rope) is the same in all of its constituent strands, the result is that the rope can twist on itself. This would be disastrous in a circus tightrope, so in that one case the rope core is usually of steel and is laid in the opposite direction to the outer layers, so the twists balance each other out.
Acrobats maintain their balance by positioning their centre of mass directly over their base of support, i.e. 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 lateral 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 arms perpendicular to his trunk in the manner of a pole. This technique provides several advantages. It distributes mass away from the pivot point, thereby increasing the moment of inertia. This reduces angular acceleration, so a greater torque is required to rotate the performer over the wire. The result is less tipping. In addition, the performer can also correct sway by rotating the pole. This will create an equal and opposite torque on the body.
Tightwire-walkers typically perform in very thin and flexible, leather-soled slippers with a full-length suede or leather sole to protect the feet from abrasions and bruises, while still allowing 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 fibres are less taxing on the bare foot than the harder and more abrasive braided wire.
The word funambulism or the phrase walking a tightrope is also used in a metaphorical setting not referring to any actual acrobatic acts. For instance, politicians are said to "walk a tightrope" when trying to balance two opposing views with little room for compromise. The term can also be used in satirical or acidic contexts. Nicholas Taleb uses the phrase in his book The Black Swan . "You get respect for doing funambulism or spectator sports". Taleb is criticising scientists who prefer popularism to vigorous research and those who walk a fixed and narrow path rather than explore a large field of empirical study.
Niagara Falls is a group of three waterfalls at the southern end of Niagara Gorge, spanning the border between the province of Ontario in Canada and the state of New York in the United States. The largest of the three is Horseshoe Falls, also known as Canadian Falls, which straddles the international border of the two countries. The smaller American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls lie within the United States. Bridal Veil Falls are separated from Horseshoe Falls by Goat Island and from American Falls by Luna Island, with both islands situated in New York.
Karl Wallenda was a German-American high wire artist and founder of The Flying Wallendas, a daredevil circus act which performed dangerous stunts, often without a safety net. He was the great-grandfather of current performer Nik Wallenda.
Charles Blondin was a French tightrope walker and acrobat. He toured the United States and was known for crossing the 1,100 ft (340 m) Niagara Gorge on a tightrope.
Jade Kindar-Martin is a highwire walker and circus performer.
Philippe Petit is a French high-wire artist who gained fame for his high-wire walk between the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, 1971, Sydney harbour bridge as well as his high-wire walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, on the morning of 7 August 1974. For his unauthorized feat 400 metres above the ground – which he referred to as "le coup" – he rigged a 200-kilogram (440-pound) cable and used a custom-made 8-metre (30-foot) long, 25-kilogram (55-pound) balancing pole. He performed for 45 minutes, making eight passes along the wire.
Slacklining refers to the act of walking, running or balancing along a suspended length of flat webbing that is tensioned between two anchors. Slacklining is similar to slack rope walking and tightrope walking. Slacklines differ from tightwires and tightropes in the type of material used and the amount of tension applied during use. Slacklines are tensioned significantly less than tightropes or tightwires in order to create a dynamic line which will stretch and bounce like a long and narrow trampoline. Tension can be adjusted to suit the user, and different webbing may be used in various circumstances.
The Flying Wallendas is a circus act and group of daredevil stunt performers, who perform highwire acts without a safety net. They were first known as The Great Wallendas, but the current name was coined by the press in the 1940s and has stayed since.
Stephen Peer (1840-1887) was a tightrope walker who, though he completed the feat successfully many times, fell to his death while walking a tightrope over Niagara Falls.
On a Tightrope (2007) is a documentary film by Petr Lom, co-produced by Piraya Film and Lom Films, in cooperation with the Rafto Foundation for Human Rights.
William Leonard Hunt, also known by the stage name The Great Farini, was a well-known nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Canadian funambulist, entertainment promoter and inventor, as well as the first known white man to cross the Kalahari Desert on foot and survive. He also published under the name Guillermo Antonio Farini.
Terrapin Point is an observation area located in Niagara Falls, New York at the western tip of Goat Island, next to the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. It is one of two major observation areas to overlook the falls and lower Niagara Gorge on the New York side, the other being Prospect Point further downriver.
Maria Spelterini was an Italian tightrope walker who was the only woman to cross the Niagara gorge on a tightrope, which she did on July 8, 1876 as part of a celebration of the U.S. Centennial. She used two and a quarter inch wire and crossed just north of the lower suspension bridge. She crossed again on July 12, 1876, this time wearing peach baskets strapped to her feet. She crossed blindfolded on July 19, and on July 22 she crossed with her ankles and wrists manacled.
Nikolas Wallenda is an American acrobat, aerialist, daredevil, high wire artist, and author. He is known for his high-wire performances without a safety net. He holds 11 Guinness World Records for various acrobatic feats, but was best known as the first person to walk a tightrope stretched directly over Niagara Falls. Wallenda walked 1,800 feet on a steel cable over Masaya Volcano in Nicaragua, his longest walk, on March 4, 2020.
Henri L'Estrange, known as the Australian Blondin, was an Australian successful funambulist and accident prone aeronautical balloonist. Modelling himself on the famous French wire-walker Charles Blondin, L'Estrange performed a number of tightrope walks in the 1870s, culminating in three walks across Sydney's Middle Harbour in 1877. He remains the only tightrope performer ever to have walked across a part of Sydney Harbour. L'Estrange was an early balloonist, and attempted a series of flights in the early 1880s – one being successful, one ending in Australia's first emergency parachute descent, and the last culminating in a massive fireball causing property damage, personal injury and a human stampede. He tried to return to his original career of tightrope walking but, with new forms of entertainment, humiliating falls and other Blondin imitators, he found success elusive. Public benefits were held in his honour to recoup financial losses and he dabbled in setting up amusement rides but ultimately he faded from public attention and was last recorded to be living in Fitzroy, Victoria in 1894.
Nik Wallenda: Beyond Niagara was an American documentary/reality television program that aired on the Science Channel. The hour-long show followed daredevil and highwire artist Nik Wallenda and his family as they traveled the country performing dangerous feats. It focused on the science and engineering that go into Wallenda's acts, as he pushes "the limits of science further than ever before." According to Science Channel's general manager Debbie Adler Myers, the program gave "viewers some insight into the passion, skills, ingenuity and science behind the thrills, that has driven the Wallendas to world-renowned fame."
Skywire Live with Nik Wallenda is a Discovery Channel special that aired on June 23, 2013. The special was billed as a highwire walk across "the majestic Grand Canyon". Interpretations varied as to whether the actual location – the Little Colorado River Gorge in Navajo territory outside Grand Canyon National Park's borders – was truly part of the Grand Canyon.
Jim Moore is an American photographer who has documented the variety arts since the 1970s. His photographs helped Philippe Petit plan his tightrope-walking stunt between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974 and were prominently featured in the Oscar-winning film Man on Wire.
Skyscraper Live with Nik Wallenda is a Discovery Channel special that aired on November 2, 2014. The special was billed as a highwire walk by Nik Wallenda across the city of Chicago in the United States. Specifically, he walked wires between three skyscrapers "all of which are taller than the Washington Monument." On one of the walks, he was blindfolded; on the other the wire was at a 19 degree incline.
Slackwire is an acrobatic circus act that involves the balancing skills of moving along a flexible, thin wire suspended in the air, connected to two anchor points. Slackwire is not to be confused with slacklining.
Vertelli, or Professor Vertelli, was a British-Australian tightrope walker and stage magician, and the brother of cricketer Samuel Morcom.