On 12th November 1859 Jules Leotard performed his pioneering aerial trapeze act for the first time at Circe Napoléon in Paris.
Leotard was born in Toulouse in August 1838. His father owned a gym and swimming pool where Leotard practiced on a trapeze hung over the water. Despite training to become a lawyer, at 18 Leotard joined Circe Napoléon.
On 12th November Leotard performed his 12-minute act for the first time. It included a somersault in mid-air and a leap from one trapeze to another. The act was a huge hit.
In 1861 Leotard travelled to London where he performed at the Alhambra. He returned to London several times during the 1860s, performing in music halls and pleasure gardens, stunning crowds with acts involving up to five trapezes, with Leotard leaping and somersaulting from one to another. Such was his star status, his salary was reputed to be £180 a week, a huge £5000 in today’s money.
But Leotard is also famous for another reason. As you may have guessed, he was responsible for inventing the leotard. Originally a knitted all-in-one garment, it allowed Leotard absolute freedom of movement during his act and also served to showcase his enviable physique, winning him an army of admirers.
Sadly Leotard’s bright career was cut short, he died at 28 of smallpox.