Nerveless Nocks take extreme sports to new heights
Father-daughter daredevil team carries on family legacy at North Dakota State Fair
MINOT — Some people are terrified of heights, but not Michelangelo and Angelina Nock. This father-daughter stunt team and dare-devil duo aren’t afraid to defy gravity. The pair are known for their breath-taking sway pole act as seen on America’s Got Talent and at the North Dakota State Fair. Every performance is a life or death situation, but the family’s legacy prevails.
Michelangelo Nock, President and CEO of The Nerveless Nocks Corporation Inc. describes their sway pole act as: “A 100-foot flagpole without the flag. We climb up the pole without any safety devices and sway back and forth. The pole shoots straight up from the ground and we exchange places in mid-air. For the grand finale, we slide down head-first, upside down, all the way to the bottom. Our nose comes within one inch of the concrete. I occasionally do a sound effect like eeeerrrrt.”
At the top of each pole, there is a small platform and two metal foot stirrups to stand on. The Nocks perform aerial stunts such as one-arm and two-arm handstands, sideways superman poses and many other mind-boggling maneuvers. During their second debut on America’s Got Talent (AGT) August 2, they even performed the life-threatening act completely blind folded.
“It was a great experience on AGT,” Michelangelo Nock said. “Simon Cowell gathered all the greatest dare-devil stunt performers in the world for his show. He really appreciated us and was so kind to us. He respected the circus and the stunt industry.”
The Nocks circus and entertainment roots date back nine generations to the early 1700s. The family opened Switzerland’s first circus in the Swiss Alps in 1840. Members of the Nock family performed their act for Queen Elizabeth in 1954. When she called them “simply nerveless,” the family’s circus business name, The Nerveless Nocks was born. Michelangelo’s father, Eugene Nock Sr., moved to America shortly thereafter and became the headliner for Ringling Brothers Circus. He and Michelangelo’s mother also performed on the Ed Sullivan show, the same episode as The Beatles in 1964.
Michelangelo says both of his parents trained and mentored him in the aerial art. At an early age, they introduced him to equilibristics, handstands, tumbling, juggling and gymnastics to help him develop the balance and confidence needed to perform such a dangerous act. He started performing on the sway pole in 1981 when he was 15 years old.
“When I’m performing, I’m just thinking about what I’m doing for 7-10 minutes,” Michelangelo said. “I’m thinking about the apparatus. Even though I can’t help her and she’s 20 feet away from me, I’m more worried about my daughter than myself.”
Both Michelangelo and Angelina have had close calls at the top of the wobbly pole, but no one in their family has ever died or been injured performing the act.
“I think it’s because of the training,” Michelangelo said. “If I’m not performing three shows a day, it’s 3-4 hours per day of weight training, running or even walking. I’m 56 and this forces me to be in shape. I have no choice.”
In 1988, Michelangelo was producing a show at Sea World in San Antonio, Texas when he was confronted with high winds, condensation and rainy weather while dangling at the top of the pole.
“That can throw you off. But luckily, I was okay,” Michelangelo said.
Angelina’s most frightening sway pole act was her performance on AGT Extreme because it was her first time doing the stunt after recovering from a broken leg. She says her confidence wasn’t as high as it used to be after the injury.
“Naturally I believe that I have a strong tolerance for this act because it is in my blood,” Angelina said. “I have gotten so much training from my parents and grandparents but naturally too, I do have a bit of fear. I think that’s a good thing to have because I am aware of what could happen. It’s very important to not let that overcome you.”
When Angelina was three years old, her parents dressed her up in a costume and introduced her to an audience during the finale of show in Bangkok, Thailand. She remembers doing a split while her parents hoisted her in the air. It was one of her favorite circus memories because her grandfather was alive to see it.
After many years of training, Angelina performed on the sway poles for the first time with her mother at a show in the Wisconsin Dells when she was 18. She says it was special because it was uncommon for two women to perform the act together. Her favorite trick on the sway pole is the “death drop” or free fall because it gives her an adrenaline rush that she doesn't get from anything else.
“Every time I perform the sway poles, it means so much to me,” Angelina said. "I’m passionate about everything my family has put into it. They have sacrificed so much and dedicated their time to the next generation, and I want to make them proud.”
In addition to the sway poles, the Nocks practice several other danger acts including “the globe of death,” and the spinning steel wheel. They also perform stunts on water skis like the human pyramid and do tricks on fly boards or water jet packs.
“You’re only as good as your last show," Michelangelo said. "That’s really so important, safety and success."