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mental_floss's Be More Interesting series will teach you new interesting skills. This week, Max Silvestri learns to walk on a tightrope.

(And don't worry--the regular list show will continue on Wednesday!)

Music provided by Scorebuzz Music.
Max Silvestri: Walking a tightrope seems pretty easy. It's just a tiny bridge between skyscrapers. But it's actually pretty hard. Luckily we've got Sonja Harpstead from Circus Warehouse to teach us how to walk a tight-wire.

(Mental Floss intro)

Max: So Sonja tell us what you do here at Circus Warehouse?

Sonja: So at Circus Warehouse we have an intensive program. We've produced a couple of students who've gone on to work on other circuses, they've traveled the world with Ringling, and then we also have recreational students who come here and they just come to learn, you know, what it's like to fly on the trapeze, or hang from a silk, or walk on a wire.

Max: How long have you been tightrope walking?

Sonja: I've been tightrope walking for three years.

Max: Three years? That's not that long.

Sonja: Not that long. But I've been it for about ten hours a week. So -

Max: Ten hours a week?

Sonja: It makes a little bit more of a difference, when you do it, rather than once a week, if you make it a daily practice then it becomes...

Max: It's like brushing your teeth, it doesn't really help unless you do it often.

Sonja: Exactly.

Max: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Um, am I going to want to be loose or am I gonna wanna keep a tight balance? Or is it both?

Sonja: Depends on your joints. 

Max: Okay.

Sonja: So, so, your core, so between your hips and your shoulders. So everything that's like, the basic holds in the organs.

Max: Yeah.

Sonja: You want to keep that tight.

Max: 'Holds in the organs area', my organ bag is kinda what I call my core. My 'corban bag'. I've seen those guys with the big poles. Is that a real thing? Or is that kinda for show?

Sonja: Um - people do use poles. The person who taught me how to walk wire, taught me to walk freehand.

Max: Freehand.

Sonja: That basically means you're not going to hold anything in your hands. 

Max: That seems like a cooler way of doing it. 

Sonja: It is a cooler way, it is a harder way to do it. So most people, when they go up very high, they use poles. Because it is a little bit easier to walk, it's a little bit safer to walk. But starting freehand helps you find your balance faster.

Max: Okay, I want to find that balance quickly. I think I'm ready to learn about my body and how it balances, so lets get tightrope walking.

Sonja: Okay, let's go. 


Sonja: So we're gonna start just by standing up and balancing on the wire.

Max: Okay, and this is a very -

Sonja: It's a tight wire - 

Max: It's steel. It's not, there's not rope.

Sonja: - No, it's a steel. No this is not, we don't use rope anymore. That was an old day thing, but since we invented cables that hold up bridges we've been using that ever since. 

Max: So we're just gonna stand on it?

Sonja: Yes. So all you're gonna do is you're gonna put one foot on it, alright just front to back, facing down the wire. And you're just gonna stand up. I want you to put your arms way out to the side and just move them around.

Max: Like I'm scaring someone in like a haunted - like just a kinda a ghost movement.

Sonja: Yes, exactly. Go ahead, give it a try. Nice. So right now, I just want you to get in the habit of using your arms trying to keep your core still. Good.

Max: Cause I'm too hippy. 

Sonja: You're moving your hip a little bit.

Max: A little bit. It's very uhhh hard.

Sonja: Yes it is. It's steel. So now we're gonna try a -

Max: Steel's hard. If you don't know, steel is hard. It's a hard material they use. It's metal.

Sonja: So now we're gonna try walking.

Max: Okay

Sonja: Alright? The first time I'm just gonna hold your hand across. Alright?

Max: Okay.

Sonja: I want you to take your other hand -

Max: Still use my arm?

Sonja: Yes. And still use your free arm.

Max: Okay.

Sonja: Okay, make sure that when you're walking you look at the orange tape at the end, we have orange tape on both ends.

Max: Don't look at the rope, look at the -

Sonja: Don't look straight down at your feet.

Max: Okay.

Sonja: Hand. Up you go. Good. Keep moving that free arm. Good. That's it. Yeah. Exactly. Alright then you're going to stand on one foot again, and balance. Good. And now come on down. I don't believe that you've never done this before.

Max: Alright, I want to see if I can do it without - from start all the way. 

Sonja: Spot.

Max: Oh yeah, spot.

Sonja: Yep, you go it.

Sonja: So one of the reasons you're having a hard time in the beginning is that the middle part is the wobbliest part.

Max: So it's the wire's fault?

Sonja: Yes.

Max: So it gets harder before it gets easier?

Sonja: Yep.

Max: Seems unfair almost. I don't know.

Sonja: That's life.

Max: Genuine lesson about the 'L curve' of unfairness that is life.

Sonja: Yeah that was way better!
So now you're starting to get to the point that a lot of people start getting to-really focused on that point.And they're really like 'I'm gonna get there'.So you just start getting hunched and hunched-

Max: Am I doing that,where I'm sort of like-

Sonja: -you are hunching!Yes!

Max: Hunching!But I don't wanna be hunching

Sonja: You don't wanna be hunching,you wanna keep your chest up over your hips because you want all your body just up one line.

Max: I've only done thins like,a couple of times,and I'm already like sweating through my shirt

Sonja: Well if you're not sweating then you're not doing wire right

Max: all right-I' feel like I'm gonna nail this.I'm gonna try it a few more times,and then you can show us how it's actually done.

Sonja: Sure!
 (Max starts walking the wire) got it!
(Max reaches the end)


Max: We were rolling on that right?
Thank you Sonja!

Max: I'm trying to think about how it was created.Tight-wire walking has always been about showmanship a little bit right

Sonja: Yeah-it always has.And it has a very long history of always trying to be bigger,better or possible more strange.So you have Nik Wallenda,who walks across the grand canyon,plenty of people have walked across the Niagara as well-there was this one girl who walked across it with peach baskets on her feet

Max: Do we have any peach baskets that I could try?

Sonja: We don't have any peach baskets

Max: I feel like that would be easier-they're so big-I don't know

Sonja: I don't know,I think they would probably make it harder

Max:-make it harder.
Sonja you're clearly a master at this.I appreciate,after working very hard to do my own version,you could come in and show me how bad i was at it.

Sonja: I'm happy to,any time

(new section)

Max: Now I know how to walk on a tight-wire.I'm sure I'll use that skill constantly.For now I'm exhausted so I'm gonna cool off with a Dos Equis.From Mental Floss and Dos Equis,I'm Max Silvestri reminding you to stay interesting