subcultures

Meet the Woman Planning to Hang by Her Teeth over Niagara Falls

Erendira Vasquez Wallenda has planned the feat for June 15.

by Allison Tierney
Jun 8 2017, 8:00pm

Photo courtesy of DSW Entertainment

Niagara Falls played host to famed circus performer Nik Wallenda who walked across the natural phenomenon on a high-wire passing between the US into Canada just short of five years ago. Now, on the anniversary of his performance, his wife Erendira Vasquez Wallenda will attempt a world recording-breaking feat as she hangs from a helicopter above the falls on June 15—by her teeth.

"I come from eight generations of the circus on my mom's side, and seven generations on my father's side, so this has been something that's been in my life for a long time," Erendira, who is an aerialist, told VICE. "I started performing when I was five years old—I've been around people doing this sort of thing my entire life."

We reached out to Erendira to ask her why in the world someone would want to hang by their teeth over the Falls and about what it's like to come from a long hereditary line of circus performers.

VICE: How did you develop this specific stunt? Why by your teeth?
Erendira: This is the five-year anniversary of Nikolas walking over Niagara Falls, and they wanted us to do some sort of stunt. He was like, "Well, we obviously can't walk across the Falls anymore," so he was gracious enough to be like, "Honey, why don't you do something?" So this is not the first time I've hung beneath a helicopter. I've done it I think three times before, but this will be the first time hanging by my teeth under a helicopter. Nik hung by his teeth a few years back and set a world record. I will be breaking his world record by going 100 feet higher.

What kind of equipment is used to enable you to hang by your teeth?
It's sort of hard to explain to a normal person the sort of things we use, but I guess it would be like a night-guard that molds to my teeth exactly. My dentist made it for me, and I bite on with that… I know a lot of people think it is your teeth that you're hanging on with, but it's really your jaw strength, the muscles in your jaw, that keep you up there.

Erendira hangs from a helicopter during a previous stunt. Photo courtesy of Charlotte Motor Speedway

Is there anything you have to do to prepare your jaw for that kind of stunt?
Obviously, you can't just go and hang by your teeth—it took some time to build up that strength. It's just like anything: Little by little, I put more and more weight on it until I could finally hold my own weight. At first, it was for a few seconds, and then the more you build up that muscle, the longer you can hold it for.

What do you do the night before a stunt to mentally and physically prepare yourself?
Like I said before, my first professional performance was when I was five. To the rest of the world, this is a big stunt—yes, it is—but to me, this is just life. This is how I pay my bills, and I absolutely love what I do. I'm passionate about it. But I'll just be with my family, we'll go out to dinner. I don't do anything special [laughs.]

What is it like to grow up in a circus performer family? Did you always know that this was what you wanted with your life?
Yeah, I did. I actually think it was wonderful growing up in a circus. We were a tight-knit family; my mother never had to drop us off at daycare, we were always together. By the time I was 12, I pretty much saw the world. The best part about it is you're making people happy and inspiring people with what you do. It was a wonderful lifestyle.

I was born and raised in Sarasota, Florida, but it's kind of funny: When you're in a circus, you're from everywhere. My mother is from Australia, and my father is from Mexico.

How did you and your husband meet each other?
We met each other in the circus, and the first time I met him I actually don't even remember because I was only two weeks old. Our parents were performing together. So we go way back. Our grandparents performed together, even our great-grandparents performed together in the circus. I always joke around and say we were betrothed.

What's it like to watch your partner do such challenging stunts, such as tightrope-walking across the Falls?
I would be lying to say it's not nerve-wracking, but I know he's capable of doing it, and it all goes back to being a little kid and seeing your parents do it. That's not to say I'm callous towards the idea, I do know what can happen. But I know that he trains well enough, and it's actually a beautiful sight for me to see because he is my best friend and I love him. He's getting to live out dreams he's had since he was a little boy.

I'm sure he feels the same [for me.] You do get a little nervous because it is real, and something could go wrong. But again, this is something that we've trained for. We're definitely not the type to live our lives being super careful about everything—and I don't think anybody should, otherwise you'd just end up staying in your house all day long and doing nothing.

Do you still experience fear or any sort of anxious feelings before or when you're doing stunts? Or is that not something you deal with?
About an hour and a half before. It's not fear—it's just I guess adrenaline. If you were fearful, it would be very dangerous to go and do anything like that. You should never be fearful. I do get some butterflies and excited, but any performer is like that.

What will you be doing after you complete your stunt on June 15?
It's funny, I will be getting on a plane and heading to Paris Islands, South Carolina because my oldest son is graduating from the Marine Corp. I'm super excited to see him.

I have three children: a 19-year-old, a 16-year-old, and a 14-year-old. Both of my boys walk the wire, but obviously, the oldest one is not going to carry in the family tradition—he wants to be a marine. My middle son, he is really not into it either. He's a great wire walker, and he wrestles, plays football for his high school, and he plans on joining the Navy when he gets out of school. My daughter is still too young yet, she loves animals, so she might want to do something with that. But there will be no ninth generation… You know, I'm cool with it. I want them to do what they want to do. I want them to be passionate about what they love, just like me. I love what I do, and I want them to have that same love and follow their dreams doing whatever that may be.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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