Full disclosure: I’m deathly afraid of heights. The thought of doing flying trapeze for this story made my inner voice scream like a little bitch. But I also relished the chance to fight my fears. When I was in Portugal, I paraglided 3,000 feet above castle and countryside; this shoulda been a piece of cake, right?
Once I arrived at Trapeze School New York’s heated tent (it was a blistering Sunday morning in New York, after all), I was immediately shuttled with fellow first-timers to an assistant instructor to learn the ropes. The assistant crammed all the basics in five minutes: how to tether yourself to a safety line before climbing the 23-foot-tall ladder; the importance of chalking your hands and the back of your knees; how to step over to the ledge and, while holding onto the trapeze, crouch in a ready position. The instruction was so lightning fast you didn’t have time to panic.
As I climbed the 23-foot tall ladder for my first try, I could hear the metal clasps on my tether clanging against the ladder. I was that nervous. Once I reached the summit of the two-story platform, I knew it was too late to back out. Besides, the gal before me, a fellow first-timer, did it, and I couldn’t get shown up.
When I first leapt from the platform, hanging from the trapeze and swinging forward like a pendulum, I must say…the feeling was exhilarating. At the height of my forward swing, I immediately had to pull myself up and wrap my legs around the bar. After the trapeze swung back, I let go and just hung on by my knees, shifting the momentum forward. That beginner’s trick is called the “knee hang,” swinging back and forth upside down. I mastered that after four tries. For my fifth flight, the instructor felt I was ready enough to do a “knee hang catch,” grabbing onto the outstretched arms of a catcher swinging toward you.
The initial attempt was a disaster. I couldn’t get my knees onto the bar fast enough. The timing was off. “No catch!” barked the instructor below; neither the catcher nor I could proceed with the trick. When I fell to the net below, I was so dejected. Luckily the instructor gave me one more shot…but only one.
This was it: my final flight. I had trouble wrapping my knees around the bar, but somehow, as I swung forward and outstretched my hands, the catcher grabbed onto my arms. I released my knees from the bar, and I swung forward, holding onto the upside-down catcher. I had a feeling of weightlessness that was unparalleled to anything I’ve ever felt before. Difficult to describe but something I urge everyone to try.
Right after the class, all my muscles (including ones I never knew I had) were sore. One of the instructors had told me he had given up his gym membership altogether ever since teaching trapeze five times a week. I understood why: trapeze is a total-body workout. You end up a little bruised, too. But the battle scars are worth the experience.