Jun. 12, 2006
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal
tries out his wings as aerialist
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.
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.
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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.