SARASOTA — With several hundred spectators sitting on the lawn, Nik Wallenda and his wife, Erendira, performed acrobatics 75-feet in the air in the center of St. Armand’s Circle.
Unlike past Wallenda performances where Nik Wallenda walked or rode a bicycle across a high wire suspended hundreds of feet above the ground, Friday’s act involved two thin poles.
The poles swayed precariously when the Wallendas leaned one way or another and there was no safety net to catch a mistake.
The Wallendas made no mistakes Friday and, although the crowd gasped at a few “slips” by Nik Wallenda as he was climbing the pole, everything went smoothly.
Nik Wallenda’s great-grandfather was Karl Wallenda, founder of The Flying Wallendas. Wallenda is part of the seventh generation of this circus family which calls Sarasota home.
Before Discovery Channel cameras, which were taping them for a TV documentary, the Wallendas each scooted up their poles at about 6:40 p.m. and did various tricks while clinging to their tiny perches at the top.
They stood on their perches and waved and also did hand stands, leaving the audience gasping.
There were two highlights of the couple’s roughly 20-minute act.
First, the pair completed a mid-air exchange of poles. Second, they vacated their poles in a head-first slide that would make a firefighter jealous.
For their switch, the couple locked their feet onto their perches and swayed together until they were close enough to transfer.
They repeated their performance after a short break and afterward stayed around to sign autographs for donations to All-Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, which was one of the reasons for the show.
“We have three children so I know how important All-Children’s can be,” Nik Wallenda told the audience.
The crowd was adoring throughout, especially toward Erendira Wallenda, who is graceful and athletic.
“He was sweating, but she didn’t seem to sweat at all,” said Sarasota’s Deborah Bond, who was there in February when Nik Wallenda walked about 600 feet on a thin metal cable suspended 200 feet in the air from One Watergate Condominium to the Ritz Carlton Hotel in downtown Sarasota.
“She looked cool,” commented Judy Mangus, who was seated on the grass next to Bond.
Both Bond and Mangus decided that the couple wore special shoes with grooves to grip the poles, which they scaled as easily as a cat does a tree.
“I like the way they came down the pole head-first,” said Michigan’s Tammy Martin who attended the performance with her mother, Carole Boardman of Nokomis.
Erendira unfurled her body like a flag attached to a pole during the mid-air switch, which amazed Bond.
“Did you see how she extended her body out?” Bond said. “That is not easy.”
Marissa Vela, 11, and her grandmother, Elvia Reyna, of Palmetto, were among the spectators.
“I was nervous when they switched poles,” Marissa said.
Her grandmother agreed.
“That was the moment that scared me the most,” she said, with a grin.