Story of a... Snake Charmer
Maria Wood, 38, and her slithery companions educate and delight audiences of all ages.
“I don’t wear a turban or play an instrument, and the snake does not dance out of a basket. That’s not what I do. That’s mainly in India and ancient Egypt and the Middle East.”
Wood, the owner of Gimme Shimmy in Lake County, has been entertaining crowds for three years as a snake charmer and handler, as well as a belly dancer. Her shows provide a personal and educational experience for her audiences.
“It’s more about playing off the emotions it brings out of people. It can be really exciting, or it can be really scary. Generally, I take the snakes out of a basket and do a slow belly dance with them. The smaller snake will actually wrap around my waist and hold on like a belt.”
Wood, who has six snakes—all non-venomous and without fangs—has a license with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to display and maintain non-venomous reptiles.
Not all of her snakes are performers just yet; some are in the process of being trained. “It’s really just the personality of the snake. Some will absolutely be good dance partners. It’s best to look for a python or boa—they are the best choices.”
“My largest one is a 6-foot Colombian Red-Tail Boa—that’s Slytherin. He eats jumbo rats, and he’s a bit difficult to dance with. He’s very strong and has a mind of his own.”
Wood gets her snakes from different places—friends, reptile conventions, even her own backyard. Once, she had a black racer named Midnight that she caught in her yard, but she eventually had to let it go. “He was too wild to train.”
Andreas, a 4 ½-foot ball python, is her number-one performer. “He’s the one who likes to wrap around my waist. I have some smaller ones that I am currently training by getting them used to being handled and playing music, because the vibrations of the music affect them. I just see how they react when I put them into different positions and spin them around.”
Wood gets a variety of reactions from people when she tries to teach them about how great snakes are. She wants them to know that not all snakes are venomous and slimy creatures.
“At Halloween, I’ll dress as Medusa and do snake shows for kids. I explain to them how the snakes eat and how to take care of them. Then I let the kids touch them and take pictures.”
“Last year, I went to a school and did three shows for third-graders. There were more than 600 kids. Just showing the snakes around the room—the mass hysteria and screaming—there was nothing like it. Adults tend to have more of a problem with it, but the kids are definitely into it. I love teaching them that they don’t want to go out and handle just any snake they find lying around, but they don’t have to hate snakes and be afraid of them.”