I took a 2-hour trapeze class from Trapeze Austin Saturday afternoon. It was terrifying and exhilarating, and included some life-lessons I didn’t anticipate.
When I first arrived I was handed the standard liability release form you’d expect. As I was filling it out I couldn’t help but be awed (and a little scared) by the height of the platform. It seemed improbable that I would be standing up there soon, and even more so that I was going to willingly step off of it.
Trainer Julia first took the 8 of us through some warm-up exercises to loosen up our shoulders and some general stretching. She explained that when you’re on the trapeze you want your body to be tight: loose = heavy. There was a rhyme, something like “You want to be tight in flight”, but honestly it kind of drifted across my consciousness without sticking because I kept looking up at the platform. I wise-cracked and talked more than I usually do, because that’s what I do when I’m nervous/excited. (Or over-caffeinated.)
Next they put belts around our waists, which were later clipped into safety ropes from the platform. The belts are cinched super-tight, almost to the point of being unbearably uncomfortable. I came to appreciate this later, when I realized that if the belt had any slack in it one good jerk on the safety rope would function like the Heimlich Maneuver.
We then moved over to a trapeze bar about 7 feet off the ground. Trainer Russell taught us how to swing our legs, get our knees up over the bar, then how to drop our hands, swinging from ONLY our knees. Ever wonder why they don’t slip off the bar and land on their heads like Humpty-Dumpty? I found out today: that bar is grippy! It has some surface with a soft-ish but raised texture. As long as you get it in your knee pit and keep your legs flexed you aren’t going to fall off. Whew, worry #1 squashed (instead of my noggin)!
We then moved towards the platform, where they outlined the sequence of events, from climbing the ladder through landing in the net post-swing. Then it was time to actually do it.
I went first on purpose: I’m typically a rip-the-bandaid-off gal. (Except with cold swimming pools. Brrr!) I climbed to the top just like I was told (hands on the rungs, not the sides), chalked up my hands, and then stepped to the edge of the platform. Worry #2 conquered: that I would freeze at the top and refuse to let go. I reached out for the bar with my right hand, then my left, bent my knees slightly on the ready command and jumped off on the “Hup!” command.
Life lesson #1: Listen. Unfortunately my first attempt was challenged by a loud children’s bouncy castle sharing the facility’s space (it’s an indoor soccer field). I could barely hear the commands Russell was calling out, and by the time my brain had translated his words through the noise it was too late: timing is everything. You execute most of the moves at the “peak”, so if you miss the window you have to try for it again next upswing. It wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t kill me and that was worry #3: my heart would stop mid-swing.
They got the bouncy castle turned off, and my second attempt was much more successful: I swung out, got my knees up over the bar, let go with my hands to reach back for the future “catcher”, then got my hands back on the bar, rocked my legs and did a back-flip into the net.
[Full disclosure: I was not as smooth as the written summary of my actions might imply. But I was complimented by Trainer Yoni as being the most “energetic” in our group. I think my terror translated into a frantic urgency to get it over with, so I guess that worked in my favor this once.]
Life lesson #2: Don’t over-think it. That’s always been an issue of mine, but you don’t have time on the trapeze, at least not when you’re a newbie. You listen for the commands and then DO IT. Worry #4 laid to rest: that my body won’t do what my brain tells it. I was afraid the fear would result in mental “white noise” overwhelming my ability to process instructions, but that didn’t happen.
Once we’ve all had a few turns it’s back to the ground to learn about catches. Here’s where the timing really matters: your catcher is swinging, you are swinging, and you need to meet up. If you don’t jump off on “Hup!” your swinging is out of sync with theirs. I did not go first this time.
Life lesson #3: Trust. You can’t wonder if the catcher can catch you: that’s his (or her) job. YOUR job is to reach back with your hands in the proper position, and when they say “Got you” you grip their forearms and let go with your legs, swinging with your feet pointed straight down. It never once occurred to me not to trust Trainer Yoni to catch me, but I did doubt my own ability to let go (worry #5). Turns out it wasn’t an issue. Russell complimented me on my second catch looking “smooth”. It felt smooth.
After that we learned a new trick called the Straddle Whip, which ends with you intentionally letting go of the bar while you’re upside-down, whipping your upper body up and dropping into the net belly flop-style. This drop was by far the hardest thing for me to do, but after an extra swing I did it. I’m sure I looked terrified because I was.
At the end my hands felt like hamburger: CrossFit has toughened them up but this was a new kind of abuse. I had minor scrapes on my legs and arms, I guess from awkward transitions with the bar. I was elated I had done it and yet relieved it was over – I wanted that belt off!
I can’t say enough about the amazing Trapeze Austin trainers (Russell, Julia, Yoni, Cassandra and Chris): their expertise, patience, and focus on safety while keeping it fun gave us a positive environment in which to work the edges of our comfort zone. But I’m most grateful for the training they did on the inside of my skull…my intact skull.
The post title is a reference to an old song called ‘The Flying Trapeze’, composed in 1867. The actual lyrics are “She flies through the air with the greatest of ease/The daring young girl on the flying trapeze”.
Images: Egg falling, all other author’s own