Plate spinning is a circus manipulation art where a person spins plates, bowls and other flat objects on poles, without them falling off. Plate spinning relies on the gyroscopic effect, in the same way a top stays upright while spinning. Spinning plates are sometimes gimmicked, to help keep the plates on the poles.
Many Chinese acrobatics troupes feature plate spinning, usually in combination with contortion or acrobatic skills. These usually feature performers holding several plates in each hand spinning on sticks.
Western plate spinning performers usually present comedy acts and typically feature one performer with an assistant, spinning multiple plates on sticks held vertically in stands.
Other forms of plate manipulation include plate waltzing, where plates are spun on their edges on a table top, and plate juggling, where plates are manipulated and thrown by the performers. Some performers have combined several of these elements into restaurant or kitchen-themed acts.
The Guinness World Record for spinning multiple plates is held by David Spathaky, assisted by Debbie Woolley, who spun 108 plates simultaneously in Bangkok, Thailand, on television in 1996. He had previously held and broken his own record four times since 1986.
In popular culture 
The tune "Sabre Dance" is often played in the background. This was a popular act on The Ed Sullivan Show (by Erich Brenn) and other American variety and talent shows during the early years of American television. Tom Griswold, co-host of The Bob & Tom Show, a syndicated American comedy radio program, occasionally says he wishes he could see a plate spinner on TV again and wants to book one for his staff's annual Christmas party, which Chick McGee cites as further evidence that Griswold is out of touch with contemporary entertainment. In an episode of the Simpsons, at the Springfield Retirement Castle talent show, one participant does a similar act, but uses the dentures of several of the residents. Plate spinning was often seen in HBO's prison drama Oz, where an unnamed prisoner would often be seen spinning a book on the tip of a pen.
On British television, the popular game show The Generation Game would regularly feature a plate spinner demonstrating his skills, then inviting the contestants to have a go - with smashing results. During the 1960s & 1970s Wolfgang Bartchelli popularised plate spinning in Europe and regularly appeared on television. From the 1980s onward, plate spinner Andrew Van Buren regularly appeared and still can be seen presenting this format on game shows, on television and performing around the world. It was during the 1980s that Van Buren coined the "multitasking" reference as "plate spinning" when working at corporate events, a phrase you hear in everyday use now.