Russia | The History of Slack


Perhaps the most interesting of funambulists live in a tiny village on Russia’s southern fringe. Though no one is quite sure why or when the tradition started, every able bodied person in the village of Tsovkra-1 is a tightrope walker.

The most popular theory holds that the young men of the village wanted shorter, faster access to the young women in a neighboring village. Bypassing the mountainous terrain by tightrope proved faster than foot travel, and so they strung a rope from one side of the valley to the other and hauled themselves across. To show off their bravado and the depth of their love, the most daring began to walk the rope and the skill became a prized test of manhood. Young women desired to reciprocate that travel convenience, and so a tradition was born.

The more likely explanation, however, is the tradition may have started due to poor weather in the region that often destroyed rickety footbridges across fast-flowing rivers. While the bridges were being repaired, villagers had to make do with a rope.

Either way, tradition dictates that training must start as soon as one starts walking-- hence, the craft of tightrope walking is passed from generation to generation at a very early age. After-school games and extra-curricular activities mean only one thing in Tsovkra-1: balancing on a wire one story above the ground. Children practice in any weather and even during the winter when the temperature can drop to minus 10C. A villager named Tuti told The Independent, “I first walked the tightrope when I was about six-years old. I was scared at first. Now I’m never scared, not of the tightrope, and not of anything.”

Because of this unique tradition, the village of Tsovkra-1 has produced many of the world’s best tightrope walkers. Their glory days came in the decades following World War II when Soviet Circuses rose in popularity. Circuses recruited the village’s best performers and made the region famous for its people’s unusual skills. The performers entertained crowds across the world with daredevil acrobatics and won the Soviet Union’s highest award for artists.

Nowadays, times have changed and most people leave the village for an easier life in bigger cities. Because of this, the population of Tsovkra has fallen from about 3,000 in 1980 to a mere 400 today. Despite this, the village is doing everything it can to revive its reputation as a world tightrope walking centre.


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