Thursday, August 23, 2007

You Don't Have to Take Your Clothes Off

I was at a terrible Celtics game a few years ago when at half time these two ballroom dancers came out to perform. A bad game was about to get worse. The three of us at the game muttered something sarcastic about the entertainment being as good as the Celtics.

A few minutes later the whole crowd gave these performers a standing ovation. Easily more entertaining than the game, David and Dania stole the show.

A few month's later I came across this Slate article below about their act. More recently they were on America's Got Talent and stole the show.

I feel bad for those in the beer line. They missed the best show of the night.

So Take Off All Your Clothes
The quick-change artists who dominate the NBA halftime circuit.

Their perfectionism is a habit developed during decades' worth of circus work. Russian-born Dania Kaseeva debuted with the Moscow Circus at 14, simultaneously spinning myriad hula hoops around her waist, neck, and limbs. (NBA teams often book Quick Change for one game, then Kaseeva's solo hula-hoop act for the following one—a twofer package that makes David & Dania all the more attractive.) David Michael Maas was juggling on a tightrope at 8 and later became an accomplished ringmaster.

David & Dania launched the first incarnation of Quick Change in 1996, a year after they met. They're by no means the first practitioners of quick-change magic; the trick dates back to the 19th century, and the first English-language manual to describe the art was published in 1911. Back then, magicians connected the various layers via hook-and-eye fasteners; today, the literature describes no fewer than 15 different methods of pulling off the trick, using such devices as Velcro, magnets, and "fish bone pull fasteners." What separates David & Dania from the pack is not just the number of "transformations" they execute, but their use of ballroom dancing steps as segues—their routines have been expertly arranged by a professional choreographer. The result is a show that not only dazzles—particularly the move in which Dania's dress changes from plain red to one with an American-flag motif beneath a shower of silver glitter—but is also planned to the hilt. Night in, night out, a game-ops director is guaranteed to get the same show, right down to the hand gestures. About the only thing that changes is the jersey that David dons in one segment—in a recent addition to the show, he now does a transformation into the home team's uniform.

Popular as the act may be with the NBA, basketball engagements alone do not a career make. Jeff Wohlschlaeger, game-ops director for the Chicago Bulls and David & Dania's booking coordinator for the NBA, refused to reveal how many halftimes David & Dania play every year, or what their fee might be, but he admitted that it's not a living unto itself—especially since travel costs usually aren't covered by a team. Fortunately for David & Dania, pro basketball provides only one of their revenue streams; they're also a summer fixture on ships operated by Royal Caribbean Cruise International, and they have a huge following in Europe. They've recently branched out into product endorsement, too; Dania has her own line of aluminum hula hoops, and David sells a color-changing top hat for a cool $325.

Brendan I. Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired and a columnist for the New York Times and Gizmodo. His first book, about a 1940s murder case, will be published by Penguin Press in 2008.

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