Oksana Kroshkina's background is as intriguing as her alluring Russian accent.
The 31-year-old Soviet-born beauty spent almost a decade traveling the world, masterfully engaging in thrilling and danger-filled exploits on behalf of her motherland. Was she some Communist femme fatale or secret agent? Goodness, no. Kroshkina starred as a high-flying trapeze artist with the globe-hopping Moscow State Circus. Before that, she competed as an adolescent gymnastic prodigy throughout Europe. Recruited in kindergarten into an intense government-sponsored athletic program, she dreamed of making it to the Olympics.
Though never reaching that level, Kroshkina got to entertain audiences from South Korea to Mexico, and utilizes her skills today as a soaring aerialist and acrobatic dancer (a herniated spinal disc forced her to ditch the big-top life in 2002). Since immigrating to Arizona five years ago, she's become an attraction at numerous private parties and joined local cabaret troupe Scandalesque as the saucy "Naughty Niki-Ta."
At venues like Club Palazzo or the Wrigley Mansion, Kroshkina ascends 20 feet or more of rope-like nylon netting that hangs from the ceiling. Wrapping it around her legs and hips, she twirls like a dervish (often upside down), conducting a scintillating sky-high ballet of pirouettes, brisés, and arabesques while exotically dramatic music plays. (You can view video of such aerial stunts on her Web site, www.40ftabove.com.)
Kroshkina strengthens her body as a Pilates instructor and through incessant rehearsal.
She's usually costumed in silky, lingerie-like outfits, one of the ways she has more creative freedom than working in the big-top industry.
"In the circus, they'd always put restrictions on you: costumes, makeup, the move you'd make," she says. "In Scandalesque, you express yourself however you want."
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And one of the things she's expressing is her penchant for saucy behavior. In routines, Kroshkina considers the objects she works with as something akin to dance partners she's flirting with.
"I just kind of play with things, like the chair is a guy I flirt with," she says. "And in the end of the dance, I accept him."
Although she also studies kinesiology at ASU, Kroshkina lives for performing.
"It's a great hobby and it energizes me," she says. "I feel like I'm missing something if I don't have Scandalesque once a month."