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Circus Stars:  Partner/Group Stunts for Fun, Fitness, and Show

Richard V. McGehee

Thomas R. Pate, Ph.D.

Concordia University at Austin

TAHPERD  80th Annual Convention,  2003

Learning to perform partner/group gymnastics stunts won’t guarantee your physical education students a contract with the circus,  but these activities should make them enjoy their  classes while they build strength, balance and self-confidence.

If you remember circuses you have seen, including the spectacular presentations on television of the Cirque du Soleil, you may recognize that the simple stunts we will be doing today are basic forms that are used in several kinds of professional acts, particularly partner hand balancing, Risley (foot juggling), and tumbling acts.

Partner and group stunts for all ages

 Benefits of partner stunt activities:

Ø      Build courage, self-confidence, and trust in partner.

Ø      Build sense of responsibility for others’ safety.

Ø      Require and thus, develop, physical conditioning, especially strength,  balance,  and flexibility.

Ø      Develop spirit of cooperation/teamwork.

Ø      Produce feelings of accomplishment and pride.  Many of the activities cannot be performed well on first attempts;  they require work and repetition.

Ø      Provide opportunities to teach concepts such as center of gravity and base of support.

Safety considerations

Ø      Spotting

Ø      No horseplay allowed;  have fun while maintaining concern for others’ safety

Warm-up:  A useful, brief warm-up can consist of push-ups, sit-ups, and flexibility exercises for hamstrings, back, ankles, neck, wrists, and shoulders.  Forward and backward rolls, headstands and handstands can also be performed as warm-up activities.


Form groups of three or four.  Alternate roles within members of group:  base,  top,  spotter(s).  (Only use spotter when actually needed for safety  or  needed for physical execution of the skill.)  Don’t attempt skills until you are familiar with: (1) technique of base, (2) technique of top, and (3) correct spotting position and action.  Both top and base should  take off shoes;  top will probably function best barefooted.  Base should wear shorts.


In partner stunts that involve a top person balancing on a base, the base is in charge and gives the instructions that should be followed by the top.  The role of the top is to move correctly and maintain correct body orientation; the base controls the movement and does most of the balancing.


1. Front swan on feet

2. Sit on feet

3. Front thigh stand

4. Back thigh stand

5. Double thigh stand

6. Stand in hands

7. Swan in hands

8. Knee and shoulder balance

9. Back swan on feet

Routines and combinations

Balance positions can be finished with a flourish by top doing a forward or backward roll upon returning to ground.  If base is standing, he/she can do a roll.  Top can move immediately to another base to perform another balance.

Several different partner balances (or several different sets of the same balance) can be performed simultaneously.

Circus program

Can use stunts plus simple juggling, simple tumbling (cartwheels, rolls, etc.), stilt walking, etc.


We would like to receive comments about what you liked or did not like about this program and suggestions that you feel would have made it more valuable for you.  Also, if you introduce any of these activities in your classes next school year, we would like to hear from you about how they turned out with your students.  Thanks very much for participating in the program and for helping us with your feedback.


Correspond with Dick McGehee at: