Angelina Nock sized up the 70-foot pole planted in the Ohio State fairgrounds before shimmying her way to the top with monkey-like expertise.
She tempted the pole’s flexibility, intentionally waving it side to side as she dangled by one foot and whirled in a circle upside-down. State Fair patrons released a collective gasp when she plummeted face first down the pole, safely catching herself just before the ground.
The 26-year-old is far from a novice in stunt entertainment, and she is especially no stranger to the sway pole — it’s her family’s signature stunt from centuries ago.
The “Nerveless Nocks,” the Sarasota, Florida-based stunt family — who claim nine generations in the circus business — are descendants of Swiss Circus Family Nock, Switzerland’s first official circus, established in 1840.
“When I was growing up, I thought everyone’s family did this,” Angelina said. “Once I started school, I realized we were different.
“Their playground was in the schoolyard. My playground was this,” she said, motioning to the metal contraptions behind her.
The Nock family brought their act to the United States in 1954 when Eugene Nock Sr., Angelina’s grandfather, emigrated from Switzerland to join the Greatest Show on Earth alongside then-owners John and Henry Ringling North. Eugene and his wife, Aurelia, performed for years alongside one another, eventually bringing their son, Michelangelo, into the family business.
Now, the tale has come full circle for Michelangelo, 51, who is performing with his daughter at the Ohio State Fair through Aug. 5. Performances of The Nerveless Nocks All-American Stunt and Thrill Show are at 2, 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. on weekdays and Sundays, and at 12:30, 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays.
“It’s in our blood,” Michelangelo said. “I am blessed that my kids want to do it. I love performing with my daughter.”
The troupe also includes four additional stuntmen who are not family members. Despite the brutal July heat baking the metal bleachers, the performance draws an audience that fills three sets of bleachers.
“Those people are real daredevils,” said 11-year-old Andrea Lab from Dover after getting her photo taken with the Nocks. “I was scared they were going to fall. It was really cool.”
Stunts include performers doing motorcycle tricks in a metal globe, handstands on top of 10 stacked chairs, daring balancing acts in spinning wheels, and of course, the signature sway pole act.
“That act is always appealing,” Michelangelo said. “There are no safety nets. There are no crash pads. It is death defying. People want to see that risk.”
Among the awe-struck crowd is Aurelia Nock, 81, who despite her age, joined her family on the road to see her son and granddaughter perform every day at the State Fair.
There are currently four Nerveless Nock acts touring the country, each featuring about one to two family members.
“What we do might be unique, but we’re just like any other family,” Angelina said.
Originally published by The Columbus Dispatch on July 27, 2018.