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Fly on a Trapeze

Jack Bettridge
From the Print Edition:
Stanley Tucci, September/October 2013

If you’re a daring young man (or woman), part of the dream of running away with the circus probably includes taking a swing on the flying trapeze. But with a proliferation of trapeze schools, soaring through the air on a swing and even performing somersaults needn’t remain a fantasy. And you also don’t have to run away from home.

Nor do you need to be spectacularly daring to begin with. Katie Kimball, of Twin Cities Trapeze, in Minnesota, reports that students start out with a simple goal of overcoming a fear of flying. You start with a maneuver that you’ll remember from the grade school monkey bars: the knee swing. After a bit of practice near the ground, you progress to perform that same maneuver from a 25-foot platform—while you’re tethered to a harness with a safety net waiting below. Many students are of the one-and-done variety, and a very reasonable introductory goal is to swing on the trapeze and be caught by an instructor/catcher, who’ll gently drop you in the net.

But from there the sky’s the limit for students who catch the flying bug. The next big step is the return—getting back to the platform—and from there opens up a whole world of maneuvers—including departures, catches, turns, dismounts, somersaults—with exotic names like bird’s nest and gazelle. Most schools offer high levels of proficiency. Nolan McKew, of New York Trapeze School, says that some students have even become instructors and had auditions with renowned circuses. His school also arranges for recitals for proud students.

You also don’t have to be in particularly good shape or of a particular age group to start, although the trapeze can represent something of a workout. Kimball says that many students come from the world of gymnastics or dance, and static trapeze, which is similar to gymnastic rings.

It used to be that you had to come from a circus family to get a shot at the trapeze, according to Tito Gaona of the Flying Trapeze Academy in Venice, Florida. Club Med changed all that in the 1970s and today you can try it out all across the United States. (The Trapeze Net website is a good source for schools as well as general information.) Many schools are indoors (Twin Cities converted an abandoned brewery), so you needn’t be limited by the weather. Your choice of school, however, may be driven by how far you want to go on the trapeze. Gaona describes his academy as aimed more for aspiring circus performers. “And there’s no crying in the circus.”

Visit flying-trapeze.com, newyork.trapezeschool.com, titogaona.com and twincitiestrapeze.com.

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