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Thursday, April 4, 2013

The One On The Flying Trapeze

Last week I found myself standing on the Santa Monica Pier in LA staring up at people flying through the air 30 feet above the boardwalk. Upon spying the trapeze one of my friends jokingly suggested that is what I should be doing on my vacation. After a few slack jawed moments of sheer wonder and excitement I got my wits about me enough to locate the office and sign up for my first class in flying trapeze.
Trapeze School New York has several facilities across the country, Santa Monica Pier being their newest, which specialize in flying trapeze. Their trapeze class is taught as a 2 hour session in groups of 10 students or less. The classes are priced between $50-60 a lesson which is a bit expensive but in a discipline where safety and equipment is a priority you may need to be prepared to pay a little more to ensure the quality of your instructor and the maintenance of the equipment.

I arrived the next morning bright eyed and bushy tailed for my first class. I had been advised the day before on best choices for clothing which was the usual leggings and tank top. Lucky for me I was traveling with silks attire in anticipation of attending a work shop at a local circus school later in the week. I was surprised that they did not recommend leg warmers which are usually quite useful for apparatus where there are hoops or bars. In retrospect compared to lyra or static trapeze my shins and calves did not come into much contact with the bar. Leg warmers would have done little to protect the back of my knees and that is where I took a majority of the strain from the class.
After I quickly signed a waiver they took me and all the other first time flyers to receive a quick briefing on what to expect on the platform and what we would be trying to accomplish as we hurtled through the air. We were taught how to stand on the platform, prepare and when the order was given to jump. The instructor also covered the first trick we would be attempting to learn. We would be jumping from the platform and attempting to negotiate a basic knee hang and if we were lucky a catch at the end of class.

We were also fitted with nylon waist belt cinched down as tight as humanly possible. These belts represented our link to safety. If you are going up the ladder to the platform you are clipped to a safety pulley, once on the platform you transfer to another safety clip, and when it comes time to jump yet another series of clips are attached to your belt so they can control your descent should you lose your grip on the trapeze. At this point they also informed us that in order to reach the trapeze bar we would need to lean out over the platform and trust all of our weight to the assistant on the platform who would be holding us by the back of our belts.

After we had practiced all of the actions as much as possible from the ground it was now time to get in the air. My time with silks has definitely brought me more comfort with being in the air but had not completely prepared me for my first climb and jump from the platform. The trapeze rig is tall…very tall. As I made my first assent I looked out over the beach and tried not to think about how high I was going. As I transferred my safety clip to what had once appeared to be a generously sized platform and now seemed barely adequate for my and the instructor I could barely keep all the instructions in my head.

My first attempt was far from steller. When it came time for me to trust my instructor and lean out over the edge it was a struggle. I tucked my hips and did everything in my power to remain under my own control rather than relaxing into the correct position. Once the command to jump came I did not hesitate but then had a moment of complete terror where I was swinging out toward nothingness. I had this moment or realization that I had just jumped off a platform 30 feet in the air and had no way of getting back and nothing to save me except this puny little bar overhead and I was not even sure how I was going to get down. As I started to swing back I hear my instructor shouting “KNEES UP” which was the command to go into the knee hang.

The major difference between flying trapeze and all of the other disciplines I have been learning thus far is flying trapeze is all about timing. If you execute your actions during the right moment of each swing they are relatively effortless. I will not say there is no effort but in comparison to trying to lift your knees above your head on a static apparatus it is much easier provided you do it in the right moment. In the case of my first attempt I completely missed the right moment and was left struggling against gravity. Once I actually had my knees over the bar I was able to lean on my lyra experience and tried to bring my heels to my thighs and relax into a back arch.

The last part of my first swing was the dismount. My only experience with landing on something from the air has been the trampolines we use at the gym for conditioning. I was very hesitant about landing on the net because I was expecting it to be much firmer. It makes sense though that it is softer because a trampoline is trying to spring you back in the air vs the netting being there to slow and then stop you descent. You are also connected to guide wires that should you begin to fall improperly an instructor will manually slow your fall. With all of these things working for you I was pleasantly surprised that the dismount was not as bone jarring as expected.

After each attempt you will receive some coaching on what to work on during your next turn on the platform. Over the course of about 3-4 attempts depending on the number of students you will hopefully start to understand the trick and solidify your timing. If you are able to successfully complete your trick solo you will be allowed to attempt a catch. A catch means that you will have a partner on a trapeze across from you and you will attempt to make a transfer from hanging on your trapeze to your partner. Remember the trick is all about timing and in this case it is the timing for two.This time instead of being prompted from the ground you partner is giving you instructions and the success of your catch is based on executing those instructions without hesitation or error.

After 4 attempts on the platform with the solo trick some of the initial butterflies in my stomach had subsided and I was completing the knee hang reliably but I did not expect to make my first catch. On the platform I watched as my partner started his swing and waited for the command to ready and then jump. Once I left the platform I tried to forget about the impending catch because if I did everything properly it should come naturally. I completed my knee hang and when I came up from the third swing and looked out there was my partner ready to grab my hands. I immediately released the hanging grip I had on my own bar and found myself being suspended from another person high above the ground. Flying through the air I thought to myself "This was the stuff dreams are made of." I was practically giddy when moments later I landed on the net below.

After finishing the class I would highly recommend the experience to anyone who ever thought they might be interested in circus arts or had any passing fancy with the flying trapeze. The way they have structured the class and from what I saw of the other students I believe you can have a successful first lesson even if you have no prior experience with the aerial arts. If you are aerial experienced the flying is a fun departure from the static apparatuses most of us use. The Trapeze School New York was a pleasurable experience I hope to repeat on future visits to California or any other states where they have facilities. 


  1. I just found your blog today from a flying trapeze Google Alert, and as soon as I saw it, I smiled. Good for you for trying flying trapeze! It really does make you feel alive. On an unrelated topic, I, too, in a way am a "corporate convert." And I liked flying trapeze so much that a year ago I quit my job teaching at the University of Colorado to join the circus! You might enjoy my blog at . Have FUN!

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I am still relatively new at the aerial arts so it’s always good to know that I am least doing something comparable to right if I make a more experienced performer smile.

      I have added you blog to my bloglovin’ account. I look forward to hearing about flying trapeze experiences beyond the classroom. I am totally inspired by your choice to trade in your corporate job for the circus. I don’t know if that is in the cards for me but running away with the circus sounds pretty amazing