Sword swallowing is a performance art, in which the performer inserts a sword into his or her mouth and down the esophagus towards the stomach. The name given to this art is technically misleading, as performers must learn to suppress their gag reflex and not actually swallow while the sword is down their throat. Sword swallowing is an extremely dangerous life-threatening activity, and many deaths and serious medical complications have arisen from attempting the feat. The majority of legitimate sword swallowers are officially recognized as members of the Sword Swallowers' Association International (SSAI). Of these, there are only a few dozen left actively performing as professional sword swallowers, with the remainder being either amateurs, injured or retired performers.
Circuses and sideshows became the dominant venue for sword swallowers. Traveling throughout North America and presenting their skills to the show-going public, any connection with religion or divine power was long gone. Sword swallowing became a stunt, and as such, it became competitive. Whereas the European practice of the art certainly saw performers attempting to swallow larger numbers of swords.
With the growing interest in the art came clever innovations. In fact, one could often find sword swallowers on the same bill as the magic greats such as Houdini, clearly indicating their appeal.
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