With the Greatest of Ease
Do you want to fly 25 feet in the air? No, it's not a dream -- you can fly without becoming a pilot or skydiver.
It's easy, if you're on the flying trapeze.
This breathtaking performance art dates back to France, where in the mid-1800s, the young Jules Leotard, playing around in his father's gym, connected a bar to ventilator cords and created the world's first trapeze.
He then dazzled audiences with his aerial acrobatics at the Cirque Napoleon (known now as Cirque d'Hiver).
Today, people are attracted to the trapeze for the adrenaline rush; they often don't realize the physical benefits until after the class.
Working on the trapeze strengthens your upper and lower body; it also engages balance and core strength, says Jonathon Conant, 46, founder of the
Trapeze School New York, which has three locations in the northeastern U.S.: Boston, New York City and Baltimore.
All your muscles are activated while on a trapeze, and it involves cardio exercise as well (even just climbing up the ladder to the platform itself). The beauty of trapeze is that you can get a workout without realizing it.
And don't think you have to be experienced to fly through the air -- anyone can do it. You also don't need tremendous strength to do the basics.
There's a wide rage of people who attend trapeze school. "We have students as young as 17 months and as old as 82," says Lili Gaudreau, director of Oakland, Calif.-based
Trapeze Arts. (Most schools require the child to be old enough to at least be able to follow directions.)
Gaudreau's husband, a professional flying trapeze artist, founded the school 13 years ago. It's one of the few indoor trapeze schools in the country.
Ticket to Fly
Of course, flying isn't free.
Trapeze classes range in price depending on the school and the duration of the sessions. Classes range from about an hour and half to two hours, and most have a limited number of participants -- 10 or fewer students per class.
The classes at Trapeze Arts range from about $30-$40; Trapeze School New York offers sessions for $47-$75, which are discounted after five classes; and classes at TSNY Beantown range from $40 to $49 depending on the length, says Wendy Kinal, marketing associate.
But this is a small price for thrill-seeker to pay.
"One of the main reasons flying is so exciting is that it engages people to address what they believe is impossible for them. It hits ... on a deep level, makes them question everything they believe about themselves and what they are capable of doing. People begin to think, 'If I can do this, what else can I do?'" Conant explains.
"Flying also builds trust in strangers. You have to have trust to believe a complete stranger is going to catch you," Conant continues.
The Sky's the Limit
Don't be scared that you won't be given the proper instruction or that you will be left in midair (pun intended).
For the first 20 minutes of a class you are on the ground, says Conant. But by the end of the initial session, about 70% percent of students are already doing the knee-hang catch, which is pretty much what it sounds like: A person swings on the trapeze bar from his knees until he comes into contact with the catcher, who is on a separate bar. The person then unhooks his knees to grasp the catcher's hands and hang directly below him in midair.
"Don't worry if you're afraid of heights -- you wouldn't be healthy if you weren't," Conant points out. After flying for a while, though, students become accustomed to dealing with the unusual sensation and the fear often abates.
Before founding his trapeze school in 1999, Conant was a dancer, stunt actor and social worker.
His mother instilled in him the responsibility to make people's lives better, Conant explains.
"Flying trapeze is the perfect catalyst for translating what I learned," says Conant. He is hoping to move to the top of a building at Pier 40 in New York City, and is looking forward to opening schools in other cities.
One interesting trapeze tale he recounted involved a man who was very unhappy in his job as a waiter. After months of attending trapeze school, he revealed to Conant that he always dreamed of becoming a ceramist.
Once he had taken risks on the trapeze, he realized that he could take the chance to make a living as an artist. He since quit his job, and several months later was commissioned by the pope to make a ceramic chalice.
"We make judgments on our environment on what we can and can't do. Those judgments can stay in place for our entire life," says Conant.
You need to go back and act as if you have no clue of your own limitations, continues Conant.
Expect to feel sore after your initial trapeze lessons, especially if you are new to aerial arts or intense exercise.
The soreness will go away within a few days, though, and more quickly if you take the time to stretch.
Other than this, though, there's little to worry about. "There always
will be a net," says Gaudreau. The only place where you might see flying trapezes without a net is in the movies, she explains.
So if one of your New Year's resolutions was to take more risks in life, try trapeze school. Nothing will give you more of an adrenaline rush than flying in midair -- the only danger is that you might become addicted.
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