Inside Harrah’s Peek Nightclub, the beats pounded through the Saturday night crowd. Beams of blue, red and green light flickered this way and that. Drinks flowed freely, splashing from plastic cups onto the already sticky, but vibrant dance floor.
On a cue from the disc jockey at the head of the room, three women dressed in all white slipped from a hole in the ceiling onto a large metal cube. They launched into a series of graceful maneuvers, hanging and swinging and flipping, drawing all eyes upward. These women are South Lake Tahoe’s majesties of the air. They dance high above the crowd and disappear again into the tiny round opening in the ceiling to a roar of applause.
Performer Alli Meetze was one of those performers. The first of now five aerialists contracted for Peek through Zenith Artistry, she’s been dancing at the club for seven years. Meetze took a minute to explain to Lake Tahoe Action the ups and downs of aerial performance.
Q: How did you learn aerial dance?
Meetze: I took classes in Los Angeles. I first saw aerial on a climbing trip in Thailand. A girl had her silks hanging out of a tree. I was amazed. It was like “oh my god.” I didn’t know anything like that existed. I immediately was like “I want to do that.”
Q: What do you like about it?
Meetze: I love the creativity of it. I like the physical aspect. It’s very physically demanding and challenging. It’s like any other sport. You get those endorphins going. Being up in the air is so exciting. I loved rock climbing first. You get that adrenaline rush and it’s kind of scary, but you can overcome those fears and have fun at the same time. Also, the problem solving, trying to figure out how to do the things you’re imagining.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges of doing it regularly?
Meetze: Sometimes after a long workout and being upside down, I’ll get a headache. It’s kind of like a brain freeze, like when you eat ice cream too fast. It’s the same sensation. It’s a really thumping, deep headache that sucks. But you just have to lay down, I’ve found, and it will go away in a few minutes.
It’s very physically demanding in odd ways. You have to keep your body really strong and supple at the same time. You have to be flexible. You’re contorting in strange positions so there’s a lot of opportunity for stress injuries.
Q: Is it difficult to earn a living as an aerialist in this area?
Meetze: I think we have it pretty good, with the casinos. Being able to live here in Tahoe and perform is special. Most performers have to live in Las Vegas or San Francisco. In those big cities, there’s a lot more competition.
Q: What’s it like performing in the club atmosphere?
Meetze: I really like it. At the same time, it’s kind of the only thing I know. It’s been my only consistent aerial gig. I’ve been doing it for seven years. It’s just kind of like being at home now.
It can be very difficult performing over people, especially if they’re smoking. You’re working really hard and breathing really hard, all of a sudden you’ll have smoke coming at you. That’s pretty challenging to deal with.
But it’s really exciting to be there, especially when it’s a good crowd. You feed off that energy. It feels so good to see how people are inspired. It makes them feel good to see you up there. It’s a great give-and-take.
Q: How do you go about developing a routine and where do you get the apparatus you dance on?
Meetze: We actually find people to make them. We’d seen (the cube) before. Since we have a three-person act, which is pretty unique, we thought the cube would be really great for it. We can fit three people on it.
Q: Have you ever had any awkward moments up there?
Meetze: Ya, it just goes with show business. Everybody has got some kind of story. When I first started, I’d wear my hair in a bun. I thought I had to have my hair up to perform at that time. I’d wear a hair piece, like a piece of fake hair that was curly and looked pretty.
I was on the silks and I went to cross them behind my back. It must of caught on my hair piece. As I’m going upside-down, I saw this rat-looking thing falling through the air. It looked like a dead rat falling from my head down onto the stage. It was terrible. That was the end of that.