, 17. September 2016
This is a Balancing Act!

Artistic Performances on the Brink of Death

"On the rope death is always there. That is good, because one has to take the matter seriously”, said once Philippe Petit, the most famous tightrope walker in the world. In 1974, he balanced eight times at a height of 417 meters from one roof of the World Trade Center to the other. We look at the history of tightrope walking and the different styles that represent the art of tightrope walking.

x-working This young woman performs a dance on ropes.
This young woman performs a dance on ropes.

Rope dancing can be attributed to the ancient times of Greeks and Romans. In the beginning, a distinction between the rope styles "Funambuli" (strong ropes) and "Neurobatae" (gut strings) was drawn. A little bit later in history from India and Egypt then acrobats came to Constantinople. Moreover, there are records from the Middle Ages in view of Indian, Persian and Oriental jugglers who practiced the art of tightrope walking. The typical balancing act then evolved with the invention of the wire rope in 1834.

Nowadays, in general a distinction in between the slack rope, the rope dance and the high wire is drawn. The slack rope is a loosely hanging rope between fixed points. The artistry with the slack rope is no longer just an artistic art, but also a trend sport called slackline. The dance rope is fastened at approximately the same height as the slack wire, usually about four meters high. The difference concerning the slack rope makes the pulling force, which is taut at the dancing rope with up to 40kN. On the dance wire, artists can perform jumps, spins and step sequences that are more feasible due to the better suspension. About the tightrope, we refer to a highly tensioned wire. It is, as the name suggests, stretched at high altitude. Tightrope runners often use a balancing pole to reach a higher state of inertia and a lower center of gravity. This approach facilitates balancing. On the tensed high ropes artistries such as bows, splits, cracks or cartwheels are performed. Some artists take a unicycle on a wire or sit with a chair on it.

In the 20th century, great tightrope walker surpassed with their actions. The illegal tightropes from Philippe Petit are legendary. Before he balanced between the towers of the World Trade Center, he was already on the road between the steeples of Notre Dame and between the bridge towers of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Moreover, his balancing act between the towers of the World Trade Center was recently filmed. The Oscar-winning and acclaimed by the press at his movie premiere, poetic documentary "Man on Wire" by James Marsh, lets again evolve Petit’s purposeless feat in our eyes.

Nik Wallenda is also one of the great tightrope walkers. He was born into a family of artists and was already on the rope at the tender age of two years. He got much attention in 2012 when he balanced over the Niagara Falls. Additionally, in the following year his run on a 425-meter long rope in 457 meters height above the canyon of the Little Colorado River, close to the Grand Canyon National Park, was very spectacular.

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