If you’ve ever seen a performance of The Wheel Of Death, you’ll know how magnificent, yet absolutely terrifying to watch, it is.
If you haven’t seen it in action, or even heard that it was a thing, here’s a bit about it:
The Wheel of Death, in the context of acrobatic circus arts, is a large rotating apparatus on which performers carry out synchronised acrobatic skills.
The “wheel” is actually a large space frame beam with hooped tracks at either end, within which the performers can stand. As the performers run around on either the inside or outside of the hoops, the whole apparatus rotates. Performers also perform balancing skills with the wheel in a stationary position.
The Wheel of Death is said to have originated in America during the early 1930s and was also known as the Space Wheel. Some early versions were performed by a single artist and incorporated a counterbalance on the other end.
Following fatal accidents, the apparatus fell out of favour for a time until it was re-introduced in the 1970s under the name Wheel of Death. For its 2007 touring edition, Ringling Bros. started using the name Wheel of Steel, as the word ‘death’ was not seen as family friendly from a public relations perspective.
Here’s what it looks like:
Designed by acrobat, Clay C. Beckett, the then named. “Occupant Propelled Amusement Device”, was given the patent in 1953 and it’s thought that this was the precursor to the current Wheel of Death/ Wheel of Steel/ Space Wheel.
The Wheel Of Death even features in the Guinness World of Records, perhaps not surprisingly!
In 2007 and 2008, Nik Wallenda was a featured performer in the Ringling Brothers production Bellobration, performing with Bello Nock on a newly contrived, double version of the Wheel of Steel. At the beginning of the act, Wallenda and Nock stood balanced atop twin circles 39 feet in the air. To the audience, the circles appeared to be connected until the act started with a burst of fireworks. The wheels then split, sending the performers in opposite directions without safety nets or harnesses. To stay on the device, the duo had to move in unison, running at up to 20 miles an hour. Vibrations were transferred from one wheel to the other, meaning each performer was affected by what the other was doing. At the top of each arc the performers were rendered weightless, while being subjected to several times the force of gravity at the bottom.
The double Wheel of Steel was invented by Wallenda and Nock.
Here’s what the wheel looks like now:
Due to fatal incidents and its subsequent falling out of favour, Wheel Of Death acts are rarely seen.
Watch an excerpt of the Wheel in action here:
Anyone else suddenly thinking of hamsters?