The headline in a class catalog read: “Overcome Fear on the Flying Trapeze!” I thought you had to be born into the circus to attempt trapeze, but a Google search lead me to www.trapezearts.com, a school in Oakland with an introductory class ($40 for an hour and a half). The required skills—listening, trusting, letting go—are also relationship basics. So the day before my birthday, I drove to Trapeze Arts’ cavernous warehouse to face my fears.
My classmates included Jennifer, a trapeze veteran (who met her boyfriend at Trapeze Arts), and her three girlfriends, all first-timers. “Fear comes from wanting security. Trapeze teaches you to wait through your fear,” Jennifer said wisely.
When it was my turn to climb the narrow 25-foot ladder, I froze halfway. “Never stop on the ladder!” shouted Simon, one of our three instructors. I climbed to the top, pulling myself onto the tiny platform alongside a classmate and Charlie, another instructor.
Charlie attached two safety lines to the back of my trapeze belt. I stepped to the front of the platform and curled my toes over the edge. With my left hand, I grabbed one of the posts that supported the small platform. My white-knuckled right hand gripped one end of a trapeze bar. “Hips forward,” Charlie said. I shifted my hips forward, moved my shoulders back and clasped both hands on the bar as Charlie held onto the back of my belt. “Ready!” he said. I bent my knees. “Hep!” he shouted in trapeze lingo. I tried to hop off but only managed a crouch. My arms were bent instead of straight. I was so overwhelmed that I forgot to listen to Simon’s instructions. It’s like the adrenaline rush of infatuation; I had to drop to the net and start over.
Second time up, another timid hop. “Hang straight!” Simon yelled. I followed his order, and then blithely swung up high. “Legs now!” Simon barked. I lifted my legs over the bar then swung back, hanging only by my knees; I extended my head, arms and torso behind me. Exhilarating! “Drop!” Simon said. I fell into the net, crawled to the edge and back-flipped onto a thick pad so Simon could unhook my safety lines for the next student.
I repeated the process, then learned how to do a mid-air back flip. Although I had done it already, I still struggled with that initial leap of faith off the platform. “Pretend you’re jumping into a pool,” Charlie said.
“I walk into pools,” I told him.
“OK, [pretend] you’re hopping off a curb,” he said.
As they say in Zen Buddhism: “How you do anything is how you do everything.” I tend toward calculated risks. According to Janene Davis, director of Trapeze Arts, that’s where the therapeutic side of trapeze fits. “We’re psychologists in a way, because we deal with people’s fears. I’ve even got a couch in the corner,” she said, laughing.
Janene analyzed me easily. “You’re reserved in the beginning of a relationship, careful not to put your heart out there 100 percent, but you work, watch and let love build.” Wow, she’s right.
Before I knew it, it was time for “the catch.” After practice on the ground with Charlie, I stood on the platform with Janene. “Don’t try to grab for me. Just look and I’ll be there,” Charlie said. Once my knees were over the bar, I swung out again and Charlie grabbed my wrists. I gripped his wrists and then released my bar. We swung together for one perfect moment before I dropped joyfully into the net.
I listened. I trusted. I let go. And, like falling in love, I can’t wait to do it again.