"It always floated in the back of my head," he said. "But I never did anything about it."
It took 21 years before he actually took the plunge, Salberg said. A chiropractor who practices in Orange, he has been a part-time cabaret and club performer and juggler for the past eight years. But he didn't begin to incorporate whips into his act until two years ago.
He bought his first "cheap" whip from a trading post in Netcong and began to teach himself the basics. But he was able to go only so far with his self-taught methods.
"Learning the whip was almost like a magician's art," he said. "The performing whip artist would not show anybody how he does it."
On the advice of a friend and fellow whip artist, Salberg rented a video, "The Art of the Bullwhip," by Mark Allen of Oyster Bay, N.Y., three years ago. He called Allen and met him at his home. Under Allen's influence, he became hooked.
"Watching (Allen) broke the barrier for me," he said.
"It used to be that in order to learn the performance whip, you had to apprentice with a master," he noted.
Now, he added, it's possible to watch videos or learn from others through groups like the Wild West Arts Club, a national organization.
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Salberg said he quickly grasped the basic techniques of cracking whips and before long began to create new styles.
"There are three ways to make a whip crack or pop," he said. "There is the straight overhand, which is used for cutting targets out of people's mouths and hands; the lion tamer's overhead, traditionally seen at the circus, and the sidearm or three-quarters, where the whip is brought from behind you in a forward motion. I can also use two whips at once."
"I have developed another variation, where I throw the whip underhand in
front of me and then make it pop behind me. I haven't seen anyone do this
[I don't know what trick he meant by this]
To create the "popping" sound, he said whips must travel faster than 750 miles per hour - the speed of sound.
Salberg didn't start using human assistants until he was comfortable working with a prop. When "really cranking," the whip can slice through human flesh, he said.
"I practiced with a piece of wood made to human scale, with arms extending from it," he said. "The first assistant I ever hit was my sister-in-law, but luckily she has these really thick acrylic nails, so it didn't hurt her."
Salberg himself has gotten away relatively unscathed.
"Once the tip of the whip hit me in the stomach," he recalled. "It went through the shirt and raised a welt 3 inches long that stayed with me for a week. The only other time was when I was experimenting with inventing a new trick and hit myself in the eye. I didn't scratch the cornea, but my eye watered for a half an hour."
One of Salberg's favorite tricks is "spank the baby." For this, and assistant turns his back to the audience while holding a paper target in his hand and between his legs. Salberg cuts the target while the whip cracks.
"The audience loves it," he laughed. "You can really add a lot of comedy to this act."
Salberg, who usually performs in a black suit or tuxedo, said he considers himself a comedic performer as much as a whip artist.
"The comedy comes from the audiences' fear of the whip," he said. "I perform on a small proscenium stage, where I can get close to the audience and play with their fears. As a performer, you let them think the whip can hurt the assistant or the performer. There is always a lot of nervous laughter after I perform a trick."
He said he has built an almost mystical relationship with his whips; he has come to respect them as though they are living creatures.
"Every whip has its own personality," he mused. "Every whip is going to be slightly different. Some whips will tend (to shift) toward the left or right, up or down. When you have broken in a whip, it becomes an extension of your arm."
Even though he doesn't consider himself a "whip historian," Salberg said the whip has been a symbol of power throughout the ages.
"Being involved with whips, you can't help but be fascinated with their evolution," he said. "There is definitely evidence of whips dating back to prehistoric times. In the Egyptian wall paintings and tombs, the emperor can be seen with his ankh (cross) and whip. The whip is definitely a symbol of power."
But, Salberg said, he is still a chiropractor first and a whip artist second.
"I perform a couple of times a month," he said. "This stuff lets me have fun, and it is fun. It's great to be a doctor all day long and then go out and fascinate people with the whip."