A tightrope is a length of rope or braided wire that is strung tautly between two locations, typically high above the ground. Performers such as acrobats can then walk across the tightrope, occasionally performing feats of skill in addition to simply walking. It is also sometimes referred to as a “highwire,” referencing its thin nature and the classically extreme height at which it is installed.
Tightrope walkers are acrobats who have specially trained so that they can walk on the rope. They typically wear flexible shoes made from materials like cloth and thin leather that allow them to curve their feet around the tightrope for greater security, and in some cases they may go barefoot, so that they can use their toes as grips. Walking across a tightrope alone is a feat; adding in things like juggling, handstands, and various other acrobatics moves can be quite challenging and even more impressive to see.
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Depending on the venue and the walker, the materials used to construct a tightrope vary. Wires tend to be easier to make taut, but they are harder on the feet, and they can become slippery, especially in humid conditions. Ropes need to be re-stretched on a regular basis, as well as being weight-tested to make sure that they are safe, but they offer more traction, which can make them safer to use. In both cases, safety nets are highly recommended, to ensure that tightrope walkers are not injured in falls.
Circuses often feature an assortment of tightrope stunts along with other acrobatic acts, and such acts are also sometimes used in promotions for the circus. Walkers have also historically strung tightropes between unusual places and crossed the rope as a publicity stunt; for example, a rope could be strung between two very tall urban buildings for this purpose. Tightrope walkers have also done things like cross Niagara Falls on a rope.
Learning to walk safely on a tightrope typically starts with refining one's sense of balance, and learning to control one's center of gravity. Working on tightropes which grow progressively longer and higher, aspiring acrobats can practice learning to move and then develop tricks to make their acts more dynamic and engaging. Many circus schools offer tightrope training as part of their acrobatics programs, and some teach advanced skills, like cycling on tightropes, and working with a team of acrobats to do tricks together.