Baltimore woman joins Wallenda at Niagara Falls

A Baltimore circus-arts instructor and her students are at Niagara Falls today, where they'll be helping to prime the live audience for Friday's televised walk across the falls by high-wire artist Nik Wallenda.

"It's going to be chaotic," Erica Saben, founder of Charm City Movement Arts, said Friday morning after arriving at Niagara Falls the previous afternoon. "I hope we'll get a good spot to watch the walk ourselves. We'll have to see how big the media hype is."

Wallenda's family has been walking high wires as the Flying Wallendas for generations. He'll be inching his way for some 1,800-feet (according to across the two Horseshoe Falls — the largest of Niagara's three falls — for a television special airing on ABC (WMAR, Channel 2, locally) beginning at 9 p.m. Stunts like Wallenda's have been banned for 128 years.

"This is going to be the biggest event on the planet!" promised a hyperbolic Niagara Falls, Ontario, Mayor Jim Diodati. Wallenda and his team have spent more than a year planning for the event, and had to convince officials on both the U.S. and Canadian sides of the falls to issue the necessary permits.

Saben, a trained-dancer-turned-wire-walker who opened her school in Canton in November, met Wallenda last month, when he walked a high wire strung across the Inner Harbor to promote the opening of Ripley's Believe It or Not Odditorium at Harborplace. Realizing he'd probably want to keep the live audience engaged in the hours leading up to tonight's walk, Saben figured she and her students could fit the bill.

"I made a phone call," Saben said. "There's not a lot of wire walkers in the United States. I said, 'I'm planning on coming to the event with a car full of wire-walking students. I'm sure you can use us in some capacity.'"

Saben and her two students will be set-up near the falls, she said. They'll demonstrate wire-walking skills for spectators, and offer them the chance to try balancing on a wire themselves. Their wire, however, will only be 24 inches off the ground; Wallenda's will be strung 173 feet above the roaring falls.

"We'll get an opportunity to get a lot of people across the tightwire," Saben said. "The idea is to show people how difficult it is, but also how do-able it is, with practice."

Tribune wire services contributed to this report.

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