How many times has this happened? You’ve had a super-stressful day at work: phones ringing off the hook, boss yelling in your face, long on hours and short on appreciation. You lean back, close your eyes for a minute. You picture yourself letting go and flying through the air, weightless and unburdened. Soaring like a bird, looking down on your office building, which suddenly looks tiny. After a few deep breaths, you are refreshed, ready to finish up that report in time to have it in your boss’s inbox by 8:00 am.
While its possible that you are a bit less mental than me, and don’t often engage in this fantasy as frequently or at work, every girl has dreamed of flying at least once. So, you can imagine my childlike glee when I learned that I could fulfill my lifelong dream by enrolling in a lesson at New York’s Trapeze School. Along the West Side Highway in downtown Manhattan’s Hudson River Park, the trapeze school operates outdoors in the summer and under a big-top tent when it gets colder.
This summer, I went for a beginner’s trapeze class with my boyfriend, who signed up for lessons as the best birthday gift ever. We got up early, and I put on a comfy long sleeved shirt and yoga pants.
Once we arrived at the Trapeze School, I started warming up by stretching crazily, hoping to avoid a serious pulled muscle. From the ground, I looked up in awe at the circus act going on above me. A compact muscular woman was practicing swing and release moves on the trapeze. She would launch herself off of the pedestal hanging onto the swinging bar, then release it mid-air, flip, twist and grab it again. Those little girls who do gymnastics in the Olympics had nothing on this chick. She was incredible!
Our instructor, a highly pierced and tattooed gentleman who reminded me of Criss Angel came by and gave us beginners a lesson. Point your toes, put the bar between your knees, don’t let go with your hands until you’ve locked your knees on the bar, and so on. We practiced on a low bar first, to perfect our form. “This is easy,” I thought. “No prob.”
I watched a couple of people practice the basic move. You launch off the platform gripping the bar with both hands, arms stretched out. When the instructor gives the signal, “knees up!” you bring your feet over the bar and hook it behind your knees. When he says “hands off!” you let go of the bar and swing by your knees.
I spoke to my fellow classmates on the ground. One, a gorgeous 40something marketing exec said she started going to trapeze school after her divorce, and it helped her build back her confidence. Another woman, a young I-banker on Wall Street, said that she had attended trapeze school as part of a corporate team building event, and gotten hooked. She was back for her third class. A couple other beginners looked on with me, shyly.
When it was my turn, I climbed up the ladder and the instructor hooked in my harness. I tried to assuage the fear rising like bile in my throat. “You can do this,” I told myself. “You were always great at the monkey bars in elementary school.” If it turns out to be a little different in practice, there’s always a net.
I had to lean far forward to grab the bar, which put me off balance. The instructor held my waistband from behind, but I felt particularly scared of missing the bar and crashing into the wooden platform right out of the gate. But, when the instructor yelled “Hep!” I knew that was my cue to go. I took a deep breath and jumped forward to grab the bar.
A nauseous roller coaster feeling welled up in my stomach as I realized I was flying through the air at a high speed. At the top of my swing, I tried to use gravity to my advantage to scoop my legs up over my head and onto the bar, locking my knees. For a few swings, I just hung there in a ball, too terrified to let go of my hands. When I started to lose momentum and the instructors started to lose patience, I dropped my hands. “Look at meee! I can swing from my knees on a flying trapzeeze!” I hope someone got a picture!
When I slowed down, I let go of the bar, tucking and rolling into the comforting embrace of the net below. I lay in the net shaking for a minute before I could get up. But I was filled with a tremendous sense of freedom and accomplishment. I did it! The next time around, I tried that flip at the end, and nailed it. (The third time, I face planted in the net, but it didn’t hurt too bad. Still, I learned not to get cocky).
On the final swing, I tried another advanced move. An instructor hung from a bar on the other side of the trapeze. When I was swinging by my knees, I was to grab his wrists and release my knees from the bar, so I was swinging only by his hands. When the moment came, I reached for the instructor’s hands, and made a solid lock. He pulled me firmly, and everything seemed like it would go off without a hitch. Then, I realized I was hugging the bar with my knees like a baby with a blankie. The force of the instructor’s grasp pried my knees (and the skin on the back of them) off of the chalked bar with a ripping sound. It didn’t look graceful, but the transfer was accomplished.
I left the trapeze school feeling vaguely smug and empowered, as if I had a secret super power. You better believe I ordered the photos, at 20 bucks a pop. The next day, I woke up with solid black bruises across the backs of my legs that looked like I had been beaten with a baseball bat. But overall, the experience was totally worth it. I think I understand why their motto is “Forget fear. Worry about addiction.” I’ll be back.
If you want to try trapeze school, either as a corporate team building or mentoring activity through work or as a great way to blow off stress and feel an extreme sense of girl-power, contact the New York Trapeze School for more information.
Two-hour classes range from $47-65 per person. This might be your last week to try it before it gets too cold out, so hurry up and fly!