The Risley Act: Japanese Foot Juggling From 1904

On August 27, 2014 by Tim Newman

Richard Risley Carlisle - Circus

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that anything impressive happened in the entertainment industry before X-Factor. However, it is important to remember that people have always been weird, mental, skillful and obsessed with nuance.

Richard Risley Carlisle (1814–1874), otherwise known as Professor Risley, invented the neat skill of juggling a human with his feet. That sentence doesn’t make a lot of sense until you see the video below, but I promise you’ll be impressed.

Carlisle invented a circus performance act, now known as the Risley Act. It involves one chap lying on the floor and another being gamboled around by his feet.

Richard Risley Carlisle - Circus display japan

In itself that doesn’t sound like much of a fascination, but you will soon hold your suspension in willing disbelief as you witness the incredible things that one man can do to another with just his feet.

Risley moved to Japan in 1864 to pursue his madcap invention of foot-based shenanigans. Things didn’t go all that well over there financially, and he reverted to the dairy trade. Apparently Risley became the first person in Japan to sell milk and ice: cool kudos. Eventually he moved back to the US with a couple of his performers.

The demonstration below was filmed following his return to America; it was filmed by none other than Thomas Alva Edison in 1904.

Risley’s invention is clever and physically daring:



I’ll be honest with you here (I think you deserve my honesty)… If I were to see a similar performance in glorious post-2000 technicolour I would be much less impressed. That doesn’t make any sense does it? I feel like I subliminally consider people from just two generations past as dullard neanderthals. That’s not right at all.

Asia Collection





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