July 25, 2023
AFTER 20 YEARS AND THOUSANDS of shows performed for more than 16 million people, O by Cirque du Soleil has established itself as one of the most legendary shows in Las Vegas history.
The water-based set design is stunning. The music is majestic. And the acrobatics electrifying.
Dan Headecker knows a thing or two about electric performances.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ Local 230 (IBEW 230) Red Seal electrician spent the early days of his career as an acrobat on Cirque’s O. (The title is a play on the French word for water, eau).
Headecker did the parallel bars high above the water, he swung daringly from aerial hoops. After eight years of performing the show 10 times a week, he did every acrobatic job the production had to offer. The performances were challenging. They were filled with bursts of intensity and adrenaline. And it all happened in front of sellout crowd after sellout crowd.
“We were a family and at the end of the day that was my office. And my office was pretty awesome,” said Headecker, who currently works for Houle Electric in Victoria. “I got to jump around in a pool with a lot of like-minded acrobatic, healthy young people and that was a pretty fun office. Every job has its ups and downs … but at the end of the day, how many jobs do you go to where you stand in front of an audience that claps when you’re done?”
Headecker grew up a gymnast, but eventually left the sport because of a lack of opportunities. But so often, when one door closes another one opens. One of Headecker’s former coaches was a recruiter for Cirque du Soleil and invited him to a tryout in Montreal. Next thing he knew, he was on a flight to Las Vegas, about to become an acrobat in what would become a staple show at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino.
After eight years with Cirque, Headecker moved to Los Angeles to become a stuntman. He found work in television, movies and live shows at Universal Studios, Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm.
After five years as a stuntman, Dan started yearning to return home to Vancouver Island. He had worked construction with his dad growing up and decided an electrical certification was the best way to go.
“I figured electrical was one of the drier ones,” he said. “The electricians always seemed intelligent and dry and so I thought ‘that seems like one I’d like to try.’”
The acrobat who worked for eight years on stage, essentially in a pool, just wanted to stay dry. It was a reasonable goal, but you know what they say about the best-laid plans.
“My first two jobs were outside in the rain for winter,” he chuckled. “So it was a nice wake-up call: be careful what you wish for.”
Though the dots between a high-flying career in acrobatics and a more traditional one in the trades may seem hard to connect, Headecker sees the similarity in the frame of mind required to solve problems inherent to both jobs.
“The way my brain works and the way artists’ brains seem to work is an outside-of-the-box kind of thinking,” the IBEW 230 member said. “In the trades, if you have that critical thinking … you kind of go ‘Here’s a task, there might be 17 different ways of accomplishing that task’ and you narrow it down to ‘What does this situation need?’”
Now, at the age of 43, Headecker is looking forward to another exciting career move, albeit a more grounded one in the skilled trades.
“Coming into the trade at 43, having taken a bit of abuse on my body, I just want to stay healthy and learn as much as I can as quickly as I can and then pass on that knowledge to the young apprentices coming up behind me,” he said. “Anything I can do to help build better apprentices and make this easier for anyone, especially if they’re jumping into it as a second or third or fourth career like I am. There’s no reason you can’t start later.”
By Jeremy Allingham