Plate-Spinning: A Vaudeville Essential by Victoria Esposito

Dating back to the Han dynasty, plate spinning has been a staple act within variety shows that have spanned across the nation. From Jiaodi in China to Vaudeville in America, the art form has inspired many to pick up some plates and start their own touring companies. Plate spinning is a circus art where a person spins plates, bowls and other flat objects. Despite sometimes being faked for applause; many troupes have utilized plate spinning as a way to heighten a variety act accompanied with other acrobatic skills.

When plate spinning began, it was just a part of variety acts in China that were known as the “Hundred Entertainments.” The shows featured magicians, jugglers and contortionists. In China, plate spinning was seen in acrobatic groups where they would all work together to simultaneously twirl dishes in a choreographed routine When plate spinning migrated to western culture, the plate spinner worked alone. There is an assistant who helps set everything up, but the actual spinning is done alone. The performance is most often a comedy routine in which the performer performs a skit and focuses on spinning different objects and tossing objects and catching them again. (Cain 2015) They emerged within the Vaudeville scene in the 1900’s when Vaudeville categorized the entertainment world with specialty acts and performances.

Erich Brenn on the Ed Sullivan television show Toast of the Town ca. 1955


Despite plate spinning most notably being a side act for larger performances, there have been some famous performers who have paved the way for future plate spinners. The most famous plate spinner is Erich Brenn. Brenn appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in the 1950’s and the 1960’s. He was one of the most famous acts in which he enamored audiences by spinning five glass bowls all on top of tall sticks while spinning eight plates as well. He was swift with his balancing act and he was considered the first “multi-tasker”. (Ed Sullivan Show 1969) In 1996, David Spathaky set the world record for the most amount of plates spinning at the same time. He reached an overwhelming number of 108 plates. (Naruhodo Za Warudo 1991) Despite the popularity of plate spinning dwindling away over time, some performers have kept the art form alive. Most notably is Andrew Van Buren. Van Buren was born into a family who performed during the time of Vaudeville. They toured an illusion/magic show and performed for Walt Disney and Jim Henson. In an interview he states, “Whilst touring and performing as a child with my parents, I became fascinated by other styles. As part of the juggling I early on added in a three plate spin, balancing them in a mouthpiece and juggling four hoops at the same time” (Van Buren 6). Influenced by the plate spinner Wolfgang Barchelli, he made a name for himself in which now he performs on famous television shows such as Scandal and has performed for Princess Diana. He writes, “My heart says in the days of vaudeville though. There is nothing better than being on stage spinning the plates and having the live reactions” (Van Buren 9).

Andrew Van Buren

Plate spinning is a variety act that has been around for centuries. Although being such a simple trick, the excitement that can be brought around the plates are what make the act such a staple in Vaudeville acts. People like Erich Brenn and David Spathaky have given popularity to the act allowing it to not just be a side performance, but a main event. Thanks to Andrew Van Buren, plate spinning can continue to thrive and stay a popular art form for years to come




Have a look at the great Erich Brenn, although he misses a trick at the start– can you spot the error?”

Works Cited

Cain, David. “The Art of Plate Spinning.” EJuggle – The Art of Plate Spinning. N.p., 25 May

2015. Web. 05 Jan. 2017.

Erich Brenn “Plate Spinning” on the Ed Sullivan Show. Perf. Erich Brenn. Youtube. The Ed

Sullivan Show, 16 Feb. 1969. Web. 5 Jan. 2017.

Van Buren, Andrew. “Interview with Andrew Van Buren.” E-mail interview. 3 Jan. 2017.

“Vaudeville Old & New.” Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Jan. 2017.

World Record Plate Spinner- The Great Davido. Perf. David Spathaky. “Naruhodo Za Warudo”,

1991.Youtube. Web.