Ready, Set…Let Go

To be honest, (and why lie in a self-indulgent blog read only by a gaggle fabulous friends) my decision to go to trapeze school was a little superficial.  I thought it would be dramatic, provide ridiculous pictures…but I admit it was a gimicie “adventure.”  I never for a second thought I might actually become a trapeze artist or any other type of circus performer no matter how quickly I took to trapeze.  I am not particularly afraid of heights, so I wouldn’t be overcoming a life-long fear.  I was actually more nervous about wearing yoga pants in public than flying through the air two stories above the ground.  But it surprisingly turned out to be a tremendous learning experience for me.

I won’t mince words: I am terrible at the trapeze.  Ter-ri-ble.  Probably the worst person to ever attempt this airborne apparatus.

I showed up for class at the Trapeze School New York in Reading, Massachusetts with two friends: one who was taking the class with me, another to document my attempt to fly through the air with the greatest of ease.  As it turns out nothing I did on the trapeze that day came easily.
Getting ready to fly
The instructors talked us through what we would be doing: swinging on the trapeze with our hands hip width apart, then at the precisely right point we would hook our legs around the bar then let go!  We would then swing upside-down with our arms extended, then grab the bar again, unhook our legs while continuing to swing.  Finally we would dismount by doing a back flip and land on the padded net below.  Easy, right?  Well, they said it would be, if we listened to them and did what they told us to do when they told us to do it.  I asked a barrage of questions about timing and the impact of one’s body weight and flexibility (or in my case the lack there of).  The instructors dutifully answered all my questions, but kept reminding me, “You just have to listen to us.”  When I responded that I was a good listener so that would not be a problem, one of the teachers was skeptical.  He had seen a lot of different personalities here, he explained to me, and I struck him as someone who thinks too much. Of course, he was totally right.  I always believe I can figure out a better way to do something, and I was doing that as I prepared to take on the trapeze.
One by one we climbed up two stories to a platform where we were hooked onto safety lines.  Very quickly (I assume so we did not chicken out) we were instructed to stand with our toes on the edge of the deck.  “Ready?”  I bent my legs.  “Hup?” I hopped off the platform and was flying through the air. I should have known that jumping off the platform wouldn’t be the hard part.
Attempting to “hook my legs”
I was moving too fast to focus on anything.  I know the instructor on the ground must have said, “Hook your legs,” but I didn’t hear a thing.  I did attempt to hoist my legs up over the bar, but I was told afterward that I did it before I was told to.  I could not get my legs up over the bar.  I swung back and forth trying in vain to lift them up. Nothing.  I dismounted — no back flip for me — by flopping to the mat.  I needed to stop thinking and just listen I was told.  I went back up to the top and tried swinging again. “The first swing is for fear, the second swing is for fun,” they said.  I was actually more terrified the second time.  I knew what to expect this time around.  My hands burned from hanging on to the bar for dear life and I had a funny feeling in my stomach…something between nervousness and nausea.
My private trapeze tutorial not going very well
Again I tried to lift my legs and hook them over the trapeze bar.  Again…nothing.  My hands burned so much I was worried I was going to lose my grip.  After this swing, my friend and I  (she had not yet hooked her leg either – thank goodness I was not the only one) were taken to a practice area on the ground with a bar that was about five feet above the ground.  It felt like trapeze Special Ed.  Here I got some one-on-one assistance, and even then I could not hook my legs.  My instructor said that maybe I should try a different technique to get my legs up and over the bar.  Instead of having my arms shoulder width apart on the bar and bringing my legs up, and between my torso and the bar, I would swing with my hands right next to each other on the bar, I would bring my legs around the bar (spread eagle) then hook them over the bar outside of my arms.  This, they called “hocks style.”  I was the only one using this technique and every time I swung, the instructor would yell “Hocks,” because I really needed even more attention drawn to the fact that I was the worst trapeze student ever.
Hocks Style
After a few swings attempting hock style I still had not been able to hook my legs.  My friend had gracefully mastered hooking her legs and I was the only member of the class (which included children) who had yet to do it.  I was extremely frustrated, but then I actually resigned myself to the fact that I would not be able to do it.  I am not particularly good at being bad at things, but I was impressed with my ability to rationalize the fact that if the flying trapeze was one of the things in my life that I am not good at, that was ok.  I started to think that maybe I would sit out the rest of the class and spare myself the embarrassment of squirming mid-air above spectators.  I figured that the lesson I would take away from this adventure would be that I am not going to excel at everything I attempt…and that is just fine.
I climbed up the stairs to the platform one last time, comfortable with the fact that I was not going to hook my legs.  As I approached the edge of the platform for what I thought would be my final swing, Jen one of the instructor said, “Just stop thinking.  Let go.  Listen to him (him being the instructor who was giving me commands during my swing from the ground).”  I repeated her manta to myself a few times before I jumped off the platform. “Just let go.  Just let go.”  This time as I flew through the air I could actually hear the instructions “hook your legs” and I did!  It was not easy, fast or graceful but somehow I managed to get my legs around the bar and hook them over.  I released my grip on the bar when told and flew upside down with my arms extended.  Then I heard “hands on,” which meant I should grab the bar once again, unhook my legs and prepare to dismount.  I grabbed the bar again, but when I tried to unhook my legs I realized that a corner of my yoga pants was wedged between my palm and the bar.  I started to wiggle my grip in an attempt to free my pants.  This seemed to go on for quite a while.  In reality I am hoping no one noticed, but judging from the applause coming from my classmates and two friends below everyone noticed.  When I finally got my feet back on solid ground I realized that my instructors were right: it didn’t take that much strength or flexibility to hook my legs.  What it took was for me to relax…let go…and listen to the experts.  I had to surrender in order to succeed.

I managed to hook my legs for a second time on my next swing.  The rest of the class was moving on to “catching” when another person on a second trapeze grabs them by their outstretched arms and their legs slide off the bar.  I was feeling pretty proud of myself, satisfied with the experience and comfortable with the skills I had acquired, so I skipped the catching part.  I thought I should end on a high note…and not press my luck.

Thanks go to Laura and Cori for coming with me.  Two familiar smiles in the face if total humiliation and unexpected success made all the difference.  I’d also like to thank all the instructors at Trapeze School New York for their help and their patience.  They believed in me when I did not believe in myself.  They also taught me a very valuable lesson, one that I will continue to work on: Relax…let go.  Its amazing what you can accomplish when you stop stressing.

Click here to see more pictures from my trapeze adventure.  While I took my class at Trapeze School New York, I was not compensated in any way for this post.

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4 thoughts on “Ready, Set…Let Go

  1. It sounds like you did great! Sometimes it's more satisfying to work really hard on something and finally get it, than to jump up (or off!) and get it right the first time. And just so you know, the hocks style knee hang isn't special ed–there are a lot of people who just can't curl up enough to get their knees under the bar. You just happened to be the only one in your class. And I'll bet the people watching from below thought it was a more advanced trick. 🙂

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