How do tightrope walkers stay on the wire without falling off?

There are no real tricks to staying on a tightrope. One does it the same way one gets to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice.

Angel Quiros, a high-wire artist for Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus has been walking the wire for sixteen years. One must be in good physical condition, he says, “but the main thing is to practice a lot.” Acrophobes need not apply.

Quiros learned his trade in his grandfather’s circus in Madrid at twelve years of age. First he and his siblings tried their natural abilities on a taut elevator cable held three feet in the air. They got up, tried to walk and often fell the short distance to the ground.

Within three years they were walking, running, dancing, jumping rope, doing gymnastics and sword fighting on the cable, still at an altitude of three feet.

When they had mastered these skills, they gradually raised the cable in approximately seven-foot increments until the Quiros clan was doing its act some forty feet up in the air. This is the height at which Quiros performs for Ringling Brothers with no net below and no safety wire, a clear line attached to the artist’s belt.

Using a pole gives the high-wire artist a better sense of balance, when Quiros uses one he is able to carry his brother on his shoulders, but the added weight of the pole slows down running and makes jumping more difficult. It’s also easier to balance barefoot, but this is tough on the feet, so Quiros wears Capezio dance shoes with rubber soles.

Still, no matter how much an aspiring tightrope walker practices, there is no guarantee that he’ll stay on the wire. Angel Quiros has had broken ribs to prove it.