Acrobatics has existed in some form for millennia and predates the organised Gymnastics found in Ancient Greece and Rome. Bronze Age art depicts primitive forms of Acrobatics, most notably bull-leaping - somersaulting over a bull found in ancient cultures with traditions of bull worship. Both of Homer’s epic literary works The Iliad and The Odyssey contain frequent references to Acrobatics. Likewise, China has had a tradition of Acrobatics since the Han Dynasty, when Acrobatics were part of harvest festivals, and art from the Wei Dynasty depicts hand-balancing. Acrobatics as entertainment was also found in Ancient Greece, where it was a key part of social events known as symposiums.
Acrobatics as entertainment for the upper class continued as a maintain of European courts during the Middle Ages, when troupes of acrobats, tumblers and jugglers would travel from town to town to put on displays in early circuses. Handstands and other Gymnastics skills were typical feats of the circus "strongman". Acrobatics and tumbling were an important skill through the vaudeville era, because of their immensely value as entertainment.
In the early 20th century, two directions emerged in the development of Acrobatics. The first was Acrobatics on the apparatus (trapezes, ropes, etc.), which remain a fixture of circus performances. The second was tumbling and pyramids. They were initially used only to show the efficiency of the human body, but later they evolved into a competitive sport. In the Soviet era, packed stadiums watched mass Gymnastics displays with hundreds of acrobats working together to form complex figures, including giant human pyramids, a practise which can still be seen at North Korea’s Arirang Festival.
Acrobatics as a competitive discipline emerged from the Soviet Union, where the first competition rules were formulated there. The Soviet national championships took place for the first time in 1939, but the Second World War interrupted the development of the discipline. The first international tournament in what was called Sport Acrobatics took place in Warsaw in 1957, with four Eastern-bloc teams competing - Bulgaria, the German Democratic Republic, Poland and the Soviet Union.
A world governing body, the International Federation of Sports Acrobatics (IFSA), was established on 23 November 1973 and initially represented 12 national governing bodies. The first world championships were held the following year in Moscow with teams from Bulgaria, Federal Republic of Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Poland, the Soviet Union and the United States.
In 1998, the International Federation of Sports Acrobatics was dissolved and the discipline was adopted by the International Gymnastics Federation, with the overreaching goal to unite all the Gymnastics disciplines and to have Acrobatics ultimately become an Olympic sport.
The 16th World Championships, and the first world championships of the FIG era, took place in Ghent, Belgium in 1999. Since 2007, the discipline has been known as Acrobatic Gymnastics.
With their rich history of Acrobatics and innovation, the teams from China and Russia continue to dominate in international competition in Acrobatic Gymnastics, while nations like Great Britain and Belgium have dramatically improved.