If you’ve ever tried to walk on a cable about as thick as your thumb, don’t. I’ve tried, even when the cable was only a foot or so off the ground, and I tumbled.
Mostafa Danguir does it 33 feet in the air, jumping, dancing and hopping like a gilded grasshopper on the high wire. He’s fallen, too.
But he keeps coming back for more. Foolish, I suppose, but that’s show biz with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which blows into town next week.
Earlier this year, I tried walking the cable at the Ringling Museum of the Circus, a conglomeration of sawdust thrills in Sarasota, Fla. The authentic high wire wasn’t high, and there were cushions, but I didn’t get one foot ahead of the other before I was off-balance. Had I been on a real high wire, I would have broken my neck or worse.
I VISITED by phone with Mostafa in Austin, Texas, where the show is playing before heading north to open Aug. 31 at i wireless Center in Moline. The show’s long silver train is set to arrive Tuesday. People are already calling to ask when the elephants — tails to trunks — will parade in a slow shuffle from train to arena. The hour and day are always unpredictable.
Mostafa is not particularly interested in elephants. His only concentration is on that wire. Walking the wire is a dangerous act, next to being shot from a cannon, which is the most hazardous act in any circus.
Mostafa talks reverently about the high wire. “Not scared, just respect for the wire,” he said.
“I’m 56, a wire walker since I was 20. The first time I saw a walker up high, I said to myself, ‘Wow! That’s what I want to be.’ ”
For ever and a day, it is “the wire.” It is that way with most walkers, like the Wallendas, the royalty of wire walkers. It is in their psyche. There is no other occupation. The wire is an enchanting spell. It is danger, the roar of the crowd.
“I love the high wire more than anything,” Mostafa said. “I play with my life every day at every performance.”
Daredevil is a loose word for an artist such as him. His longest walk, he said, was 220 feet in the air for 515 feet at an outdoor performance in Spain, his homeland.
I ASK WHETHER HE has ever fallen. “I have fallen twice. Once, I was ready to finish riding my bicycle over the wire (which he expects to do at the iwC) and was going to hand the bike to a fellow performer on the platform. Things went wrong. I fell 33 feet. No net. I couldn’t move, thought I was really hurt, but I was back in the act in a couple days.”
In Spain, he slipped (always the anathema of wire walkers) on the wire and fell. He was not seriously banged up.
“Both times, I was so very lucky,” he said in a voice that sounded very humble.
Mostafa works with a troupe of four, all family. They live a nomadic life, traveling the Ringling route (about 16,000 miles a year) in a mobile home, eating (two hours before a performance) and sleeping like the rest of us.
“I have 10 years left in me,” he said.
He added, “If the wire is good to me.”
Contact Bill Wundram at 563-383-2249 or firstname.lastname@example.org.