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Jun. 12, 2006
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal


R-J reporter tries out his wings as aerialist

Watch the Video

click on the photos to enlarge...

It's a bad air day for reporter Corey Levitan, shown suspended 20 feet above a packed crowd at Mandalay Bay's rumjungle nightclub.
Photo by Ronda Churchill.

During rehearsal at the club, Levitan was significantly less proficient than his trainer had hoped.
Photo by Clint Karlsen.

Levitan, spinning sideways, helps demonstrate one of the few times in life it's good to be short: when a spectator disappointed by your lack of aerial prowess reaches up to grab your leg.
Photo by Ronda Churchill.

The cocktail bar is spinning. This is not an uncommon experience for me. But tonight it's because I'm an aerialist at rumjungle, and the rig I'm attached to is rotating as it glides above the Mandalay Bay hot spot along a thin steel cable.

In my flying dream, it's the lush English countryside below me. On this very real and busy Saturday night, it's 300 buzzed barflies who expect a remarkable display of acrobatic prowess, not a rigid human streak of fear, 20 feet above their upturned heads.


But my rig isn't supposed to be rotating. I accidentally launched myself off-balance. The rotation is slow, like microwave popcorn. But flipping, not rotating, is the only skill on my aerial resume.

Of course, rumjungle decided to stop the music and announce my 12:30 a.m. performance. So all eyes are on my shirtless and white-tighted bad self.

"Do something, bitch!" yells a guy at the far end of the bar.

Rumjungle's aerialist trainer, Vitale Klochko, fully intended to teach me rotation.

"You're going to do all that," he promised earlier in the week. "Don't worry."

But rehearsal didn't go so well. In fact, most of Klochko's limited time was spent trying to convince me that rumjungle wasn't about to receive a journalist-shaped area rug.

"Go!" yelled the former folk dancer from Russia, over and over, as I stood glued to a platform over some second-story railing.

"Just go!"

As compelling as this argument seemed, it failed to induce any launch reflex in my leg muscles. I've been on ski lifts before, but never as the chair.

"Don't worry!" yelled Klochko, the same person who refused to participate until I signed a waiver holding him and rumjungle harmless in the event of my death.

Rumjungle's cable holds 2,000 lbs., significantly more than I weigh even after Taco Bell. But although my conscious mind knew I was relatively safe, my subconscious refused to take its phone calls. Clinging to the cables supporting me was how I finally got myself to step Wile E. Coyote-like into thin air.

"Let go of the cables!" Klochko yelled.

Falling out of my harness is the Big Oops, of course, but the cables present another danger that could place my photo in a different section of this newspaper. If my fingers lodge in the hooks at my waist, called Caribbeaners, one of two things can happen as I somersault: 1) my fingers can break, or 2) they can unlock the Caribbeaners and I can break.

Of course, that's if I can somersault.

"The other girls have no problems!" shouted rigger Eric Spendlove, who reeled me out, and whose Wynn Mountain-like build enhanced the emasculating effect of his words.

Twice every weekend night, the Klochko-trained Luba Kazantseva and Holley Steelley perform impressive flips, twists and kicks — forward and backward — during two twin passes on each side of the bar. Then they hang upside-down as they careen gracefully back to the launching platform.

It's not true that they have no problems, however. Last year, Kazantseva gashed open her shins after a 10-foot plummet onto the bartop during rehearsal. Each leg required 5 stitches and she was out of work for a month.

"We were trying to do something new on trapeze, and unfortunately, it didn't work out," Kazantseva explains.

To be fair, she wasn't harnessed in, so I don't face the same danger. Neither do I face another danger specific to rumjungle: banging parts of my body into the chandeliers. (None of my parts reach.)

"Try backwards!" Spendlove yelled. "Some girls have an easier time flipping backwards!"

Apparently, I'm one of those girls, because the suggestion worked and I made like a ferris wheel — that is, after Klochko honored my desperate request to stand below me with outstretched arms, pretending to be prepared to catch me.

It's a psychological thing.

"His column is very popular," whispered rumjungle's publicist to Klochko as he decided whether to comply.

Kazantseva (a former ballerina for the Moscow Theater of Opera and Ballet) and Steelley (a "Fashionistas" dancer and former "Fear Factor" contestant) trained under Klochko for months. But my training was cut off after 12 minutes — the same period that circulation to my femoral (leg) arteries was cut off. According to Klochko, three more minutes was about all the consciousness I had left.

"After that, when you loosen the harness, all the blood will rush back into your system and you're going to slip into shock," he said.

Neither Steelley nor Kazantseva would reveal what they earn as rumjungle aerialists, but their positions are highly coveted. Nearly all 18 rumjungle go-go dancers (who make $30 an hour to start) have expressed wire desire. And at least once per weekend, rumjungle gets propositioned by some drunk dude wanting to see his girlfriend up there.

"Usually it's, 'Can I give you 20 bucks?'" reports rumjungle assistant general manager Karl Schwolow. "But I had one guy who offered me 5,000, with the money in his hand."

Schwolow says he turned him down, since his bosses don't want anybody up there with unproven skills and a potential to hurt themselves and others.

That argument is about to lose significant weight.


That's me, in case you didn't recognize my voice, still making like a Tilt-a-Whirl above the crowd.

Somewhere between my first and second disorienting pass, however, something kicks in. Perhaps it's the five Dramamine I gulped to prevent nausea, with no awareness of their narcotic effect.

Perhaps it's the guy at the far end of the bar, who is now shouting, "Are you kidding? I can do that!"

Wherever the courage comes from, it powers four somersaults, hands off the cables. During my second pass, I even nudge the wire to continue my spin, making it nearly appear intentional.

Actual applause erupts when I'm done. And Steeley admires the new pose I've added to rumjungle's aerial vernacular, which she dubs "the Froggy Squat."

"It looked like you were trying to make sure you could still have kids," she says of my crotch-favoring neutral stance.

Even the guy at the far end of the bar is impressed. He's flipping me off, sure, but I can feel the admiration behind his gesture.

"Did you train him?" someone asks Klochko.

"Kind of," he beams.

Fear and Loafing appears every Monday in the Living section. Levitan's previous adventures can be found at www.fearandloafing.com.




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