Welcome To The Chandelier Club! - CircusTalk

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Welcome To The Chandelier Club!

My name is Robert Dante. I am a professional bullwhip artist. Indiana Jones. Lash LaRue. Cowboys and Indians. Nightclub Variety act. Half-time entertainment for football fans. 6-foot, 8-foot, 12-foot bullwhips. Working with the whips has taught me some great life lessons, and here are a few:

“Show me the whip cracker who has never hit himself, and I will show you a juggler who never dropped a ball.”

We learn from our mistakes. Sometimes they are not mistakes, but we can still learn from them.

In Montreal, I had the honor of performing on the same stage that Sarah Bernhart had cavorted on at the turn of the 20th Century. I resonated with the vibe of living history as we performed.

For our final stunt, I figured I’d end with a joke, so I had my assistant stand at one side of the stage, holding a candle. I stood on the other side, about forty feet away. My whip was a four-foot bullwhip.

Do the math – It’s an impossible trick.

I twisted into a kung-fu windup and cracked the whip with as much fury as I could muster. She had been told that when she heard the whip crack, she should surreptitiously blow the candle flame out with a breath, a single puff unseen. Ha ha!

It worked like a charm, but it was met with a stony silence. I glanced sideways at the audience and saw many jaws dropped onto many chests and leather vests. The message was clear: They thought I had actually done it.

We took our bows and exited the stage, unsure of whether we had done a good thing or not.

In San Diego, a card-cutting trick that I executed perfectly horrified the audience.

My assistant wore long sleeves. She held a rubber hand inside one sleeve. I had stapled a playing card to the fingers so it looked like she was holding the card to be cut by my whip.

I portrayed the Arrogant One, the one who never makes a mistake. I set my distance, did a few warm-up cracks, then targeted the card. As the crack occurred on the card, she’d been told to drop the rubber hand so it looked as if I had amputated it.

The trick worked — too well. Instead of laughter, the room’s temperature dropped 40 degrees in a flash, even though she’d immediately poked her hand out of the sleeve to show that she was okay.

It was a flop-sweat experience because once you lose your audience, you cannot get them back, no matter how brilliant or funny the rest of the routine is.

Lesson learned: Don’t mess with your audience.

And this was where the Chandelier Club was born. I’d been booked to do a demo in a New York City hotel, in a beautiful ballroom as big as an airplane hangar, with a single great chandelier suspended in the center of the room, festooned with dozens of tiers of twinkling crystal lights glittering near the stage. Chairs had been set up for an audience beneath it. (Shades of Phantom of the Opera?)

It was still early afternoon, so I had all this delicious space to myself and a few aficionados who wanted to get the good seats up front early. I could tell that these folks had never seen my act before, otherwise, they’d have chosen seats in the back rows.

The stage was six feet off the ground, so I had room to work safely as I warmed up and got a sense of the space.

I wanted to see how the stage looked from the back of the house, so I hopped down with my 12-foot David Morgan bullwhip. As I walked up the aisle, this majestic chandelier caught my eye, and I thought – Well, what the hell was I thinking?

It would have been a fine effect (I thought) to send the Morgan out and to just lightly tap a single crystal in the chandelier. And I did, superbly, impeccably, in fact. The crystal shivered.

And it then dislodged from the chandelier and began its long drop to the casino-style crazy carpet below. And it picked up two buddies during its terrifying plunge, which did not equal the frozen horror of the falling sensation I had in the pit of my stomach as I watched this semi-celestial event unfold in slow motion.

“Oh, my God,” I thought. “I’ve just bought a chandelier!”

I thought the crystals were attached to the chandelier, but the truth was that each crystal had a small curved wire that hooked onto the tier, hanging it freely as if from a paperclip.

Audience members sprang into action and snatched up the Swarvosky-caliber debris and dropped them into coat pockets and handbags. (I saw one a few years later – it had been made into a necklace along with other mementos and colorful beads.)

I was electrified with fear, as a familiar voice from the stage behind me proudly announced, “That’s why we can’t have nice things!”

This was the day I founded the Chandelier Club.

It is not an exclusive club. Every whip cracker I know is an honorary president.

All you have to do to join is to screw up with your whip, sometime. Once is enough. If it’s not a chandelier, it’ll be a ceiling fan, or a lamp, or a potted plant. Crack – tip – and over she goes! Ta Da!

I will not name names this time (because you know who you are), but I know of a whip cracker who had an unfortunate encounter with a fire suppression ceiling sprinkler in a hotel.

Even a 5-foot whip will reach an 8-foot ceiling. Warning: If you tangle with a sprinkler, do not yank it! The little mercury-filled vial inside the sprinkler will break, setting off a biblical deluge and clanging alarm bells all through the hotel.

Let the thing swing there gently. Then get a chair or a ladder and separate the popper from the sprinkler as if you were defusing a bomb. Because you are!

And welcome to the Chandelier Club!

Connect with Robert Dante on FaceBook and LinkedIn.

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Robert Dante
Bullwhip Educator/Coach/Trainer -UNITED STATES
Robert Dante is a 4-time Guinness World Record holder, author of "Let's Get Cracking! The How-To Book of Bullwhip Skills," editor of The Bullwhip Newsletter, and Executive Director of the Bullwhip Hall of Fame. He has performed in arenas as varied as nightclubs and race tracks. He was a journalist, theater, and dance critic. He now lives in Minneapolis.
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Robert Dante

Robert Dante is a 4-time Guinness World Record holder, author of "Let's Get Cracking! The How-To Book of Bullwhip Skills," editor of The Bullwhip Newsletter, and Executive Director of the Bullwhip Hall of Fame. He has performed in arenas as varied as nightclubs and race tracks. He was a journalist, theater, and dance critic. He now lives in Minneapolis.