The meaning of the dream symbol: Acrobat

If the acrobat is bungling and falters in her performance risking harm to either herself, her fellow performers, or the audience itself, a deep distrust in ones own abilities is being expressed rather colorfully. The indication of this illustrious symbol is an apparent lack of discipline in ones own life. This unfocused behavior may be causing a psychological or emotional imbalance which the dreamer is struggling (perhaps in public) to change. Conversely we find the alternate side of the dualistic Acrobat which is poised, talented and innately coordinated. She represents a balance in ones life in dealing with psychological and emotional obstacles with apparent ease.

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An acrobat can symbolize agility and balance of the mind, depending on how well you perform the gymnastics in your dream. This type of symbol could be used to explain how you are expected to pull off amazing achievements with the energy that you have available to you, it can also help you to acknowledge that some people expect too much from you.

To watch acrobats perform is a way for you to understand what it is like to stand by and watch as other people use their skills to negotiate difficult routines, perhaps you are to acknowledge that with practice you too can achieve and strive with hard work and stamina.

In every civilization acrobats, circus performers, clowns and jugglers have been held in high regard. Indeed, in Moscow, in a cemetery reserved for the famous, clowns have their marble tombs alongside dancers, writers, philosophers and statesmen of both the old and the new regimes. Acrobats have been a source of inspiration both to literature and to the plastic arts since, although they provide no sharply defined symbolism, yet they can be seen to represent one of the most persistent themes of human imagery and dreams. They may well stand for the joyous freedom of those who are released from the constraints of everyday living (see stumbler).

This reversal of the established order, of hidebound attitudes of mind or behaviour - pilloried by the wide-ranging skill of the acrobat - does not necessarily relate to a regressive phase in individual or group development. Of course if acrobats reveal a crisis situation, it is only to suggest the solution - which must lie in a degree of mobility. The acrobat is therefore seen as the symbol of a critical balance based upon mobility and nonconformism. In this sense he or she is an agent of progress.

Some acrobatic or gymnastic exercises can be linked with those ritual or dance movements which, in defiance of the laws of gravity, either place their performers in the very hands of God or else assume in them a superhuman virtuosity. Acrobats or dancers push freedom from the everyday laws of nature to its human limits and seem to entrust themselves to the power of God alone. It is as if this power worked in them, for them and through them, so that the movements of their bodies should become identified with God the Creator and should bear witness to his presence. Of sacred dance in Ancient Egypt, Henri Wild writes: ‘The repeated leaps would grow higher and higher and faster and faster as in the present-day Zikr which is, perhaps, a survival of the ancient incantatory dance. In both, the object of the exercise is temporarily to annihilate the individuality of the performer by producing in him or her a state of ecstatic exhaltation which allows the god to possess him or her’. Similarly in Cambodia ‘dislocation alone enables the dancer to escape the limits of normal body movement and to encompass those of myth. With elbows pointed out, hands bent back and legs set as though to take flight, hers is no mere show of acrobatics but the imitation of supernatural beings’.

The search for identification with the godhead through acrobatic dance comes to its full fruition in Bali and Java in the dances of the sang hyang dedari. These little girls, in a state of trance, their bodies completely possessed by a female deity, go through a series of acrobatic dance movements, ‘eyes closed and in a somnambulistic state... after their heads have been held over a chalice in which incense is burning and after the thick smoke has put them to sleep in two or three minutes’. After Voodoo dancers have undergone preliminary exercises and inhalations, they scatter red-hot cinders on their heads and leap on white-hot coals without suffering burns.

Acrobatics symbolizes taking wing to a superhuman state: it is corporeal ecstasy. Walking on his or her hands, with head down and heels in the air, the acrobat is reminiscent of the figure of the twelfth Tarot, the hanging man. He or she therefore symbolizes the reversal of values in all its initiatory complexity.