Iconic ‘Dancing Waters’ Show: The Spectacle that Outshone Stars in 1955 Las Vegas

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In the bustling city of Las Vegas, a spectacle outshone the sparkling personas of Carmen Miranda and Danny Thomas in 1955. This radiant beacon, captivating yet bereft of allure, wasn’t a person or a ritzy grandeur – it was water. The form was incongruous but eloquent, plain yet enrapturing. The “Dancing Waters” fountains, as they were titled, stole the spotlight from the Crown Room stage at the Royal Nevada Hotel, a tableau made picturesque by the avid strokes of water.

Long before the Bellagio fountains became a fascination, the “Dancing Waters” made their pioneering appearance at the Royal Nevada Hotel. Their charm was suddenly unprecedented for the nascent resort, upstaging even the modern attractions at the Bellagio. The “Dancing Waters” became a bona fide and permanent showstopper at the Royal Nevada. Unfolding every night against the backdrop of the Crown Room theater’s center stage, the spectacle had audiences paying to witness the fascinating display, unlike the gratis shows at Bellagio.

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The Royal Nevada curated an array of performances, including soprano Helen Traubel and comedian Dave Barry. Yet, these renowned acts found themselves in an unusual circumstance – opening for the captivating fountains. As the orchestra orchestrated a harmonious symphony and the spectators reveled in awe, the colorful streams danced a perfect mambo, a classic waltz, or sometimes whimsically pranced around.

The exceptional “Dancing Waters” was a collaborative invention by German engineer Otto Przystawik and Hans Hasslach, an impresario who was the embodiment of ingenuity, akin to Steve Jobs. A lack of advanced technology in the era did not deter Hasslach from creating a lifelike dance of the waters. Nestled atop a $250K plumbing system (equivalent to $5.8 million today), five ornate fountains danced elegantly under the maestro’s command. Hasslach manipulated a console replete with 400 switches and gadgets linked to 10,000 feet of wiring.

Resembling the complexity of a recording desk, the console maneuvered nineteen 50-horsepower engines that inspired a mesmerizing ballet of 4,000 jet streams whirling, swaying, and springing up to 50 feet in the air, propelling 5 tons of water. Hasslach’s intricate maneuvers were so captivating, the audiences often found themselves more intrigued by his actions than the water’s dance.

The humble start of “Dancing Waters” traces back to their debut at the West German Industrial Exposition in 1952. The following year, the show gained nationwide prominence when it headlined at the renowned Radio City Music Hall, receiving an eight-week streak that attracted 1.5 million spectators.

Gracing its label as “the Home of the Dancing Waters,” the Royal Nevada was among one of the 10-12 systems under the same company to offer the alluring spectacle. The fountain shows, including their inventive operators called ‘Fountaineers,’ made their remarkable comeback at Radio City on every Easter for six years.

After six turbulent years, the Royal Nevada vacated its original premises, which had turned out to be no place for permanency. Despite multiple attempts to keep its operations afloat and numerous reopenings, it eventually succumbed to insolvency in 1959. Following the closure, the adjacent resort, Stardust Auditorium, repurposed the premises for convention space and overflow hotel rooms until it was demolished in 2007. Today, the Resorts World stands as a testament to the Royal Nevada’s grand past.

Having gained experience from breaking down and reshaping equipment, Hasslach repurposed the “Dancing Waters” to grace a slew of temporary, small-scale events including the Southern California Exposition, the Community Fair, and Neptune Days. On one instance, the spectacle was displayed at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, and later, on its return to Las Vegas for a special event at Circus Circus in 1969. Iconic events at Universal Studios, Sea World, and Hershey Park also bore witness to “Dancing Waters”.

The legendary pianist Liberace also performed in harmony with one of the shows during his residency at the Las Vegas Hilton from 1978-1979. It wasn’t until 1970, however, that one of the systems discovered a permanent home within an amphitheatre specially built at the Disneyland Hotel. Two decades later in 1992, “Waltzing Waters”– another marvel designed by Otto Przystawik – became its worthy successor.

The fate of Hans remains obscured, only to be buried in the undertones of technological history. Meanwhile, the legacy of Otto lives on, with his son Michael continuing the family tradition by operating another awe-striking fountain show, endearingly titled “Liquid Fireworks.” The charm of Las Vegas continues to resonate with the rhythm of the dancing waters, reminding the world of an extraordinary spectacle that once upstaged the most famous stars.