My friend and I signed up for a Flying Trapeze class. It felt daring and adventurous, and I imagined the thrill of flying through the air—with the greatest of ease, of course. I pictured lithe circus performers, their long graceful bodies making perfect arcs above the awestruck crowd, and I thought, “I want to do that.”
My reality was a tad different than my fantasy. I wasn’t prepared for how high the trapeze platform looks when you’re standing on the ground looking up at it, but I felt sure we’d be doing lots of on-the-ground practice before climbing the ladder and leaping into nothing.
A brief explanation of procedure and I was off up the ladder. I climbed with confidence, not looking down, and hauled myself onto the platform.
From my vantage point I could see the whole of the Santa Monica pier, the rollercoaster rumbling by behind me, and the mountains in the distance. If I’d had the nerve to look down, I would have seen the tiny dots that were my friends looking up at me.
This is how trapeze works: You stand on the edge of an already narrow platform while the assistant pulls the bar to you. I had a safety harness around my waist, with a rope threaded through a pulley system, and the other end controlled by a spotter on the ground. Below is a net. Or rather, a long way below is a net.
Once I had the bar in both hands, the assistant held onto the back of my belt and instructed me to lean out and push my hips forward. The physical act of standing on a platform and leaning out over my center of gravity, looking down at a distant net and the ground below, goes against everything instinctual about self-preservation.
“I got you” said the assistant, and I had to trust that she did.
I leaned out and she leaned back and and we held our gravity-defying position until it was time for her to let go and for me to jump.
And jump I did.
The physics of trapeze is such that you are holding up your entire body weight for only a fraction of the swing, and at certain points you are almost weightless. The sensation was everything I’d imagined it would be.
But at some point you have to let you. Against all instinct of personal survival, you must drop backwards into a net and trust, yet again, that the spotter will help control your fall.
And then, when your blood stream is so pumped with adrenalin that your legs and arms shake, you have to execute a dignified somersault out of the net and back onto terra firma.
I succeeded (although not on the “dignity” count.)
On the next attempt, I did a knee swing, hanging upside down from my knees, and then moved on to a catch-and-release, the move you’ve no doubt seen, where the flyer swings, leaves her own trapeze and is caught mid-air by a chap hanging upside down from his trapeze. The move takes perfect timing and absolute trust.
I failed on all counts and I have the video to prove it.
By the end of the two-hour class I was completely exhausted, having run on adrenalin the whole time. My body was tired from the physical moves and battered from dropping over and over into the net. But my pride was surprisingly intact.
I didn’t make the catch and release, but I climbed, and I trusted, and ultimately, I jumped. And for that, I am quite proud of myself.
You can see my catch-and release attempt here. I thought it looked quite impressive, right up until the part where I missed!