Jules Léotard

Jules Léotard, mid 19th century

Jules Léotard, mid 19th century

Jules Léotard invented the flying trapeze act.

Born in France in 1842 he was originally trained by his father who ran a swimming pool in Toulouse. Jules would practise on his trapeze over the swimming pool.

Léotard started performing with the Cirque Franconi in Paris as their main aerialist. He first performed in London at the Alhambra in May 1861.

At the Ashburnham Hall in Cremorne, Léotard performed on five trapezes turning somersaults between each one. He appeared again in London in 1866 and 1868 mainly in music halls and pleasure gardens where he was immensely popular.

Jules Léotard's other great legacy is the item of clothing named after him - the leotard.

The original leotard was an all-in-one knitted suit. It allowed freedom of movement, was relatively aerodynamic and there was no danger of a flapping garment becoming entangled with the ropes.

Even more importantly, it showed off his physique to its best advantage, making him a huge hit with women and inspiring George Leybourne to write the popular music hall song about the 'daring young man on the flying trapeze'.

Illustrated music cover for 'The Daring Young Man on The Flying Trapeze' as sung by George Leybourne, 1842-84

Illustrated music cover for 'The Daring Young Man on The Flying Trapeze' as sung by George Leybourne, 1842-84

“He’d fly through the air with the greatest of ease
A daring young man on the flying trapeze.
His movements were graceful
All girls he could please
And my love he purloined away.”

Jules Léotard died at the young age of 28 from an infectious disease (possibly smallpox).

 

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