Wednesday, April 19, 2006


I went to a flying trapeze class for the first time last night. There's a small but devoted group at the NY office, led by one of my old officemates, that does circus type things every so often. For me, that means juggling on Thursday afternoons (I'm slowly learning clubs) and now trapeze.

After we all signed the waivers (saying that they'll do everything they can to keep you from dying, but, really, they can't make any promises), they took us over to the low bar (only about 7 feet up in the air) to try doing a knee hang. As you might expect, this involves tucking your legs up over the bar, and then letting go with your hands and dangling from your knees. It reminded me a lot of the gymnastics I did way back in the first half of elementray school. (And I got to chalk up my hands again, too!)

After that one of the other teachers went up on the actual trapeze. It's worth noting that the actual trapeze is big. Really big. The net was about 8 feet up, the bar was probably another 20 feet up from there, and the ceiling was, say, another 20 feet up. So it's big. She swung out, dangled from her knees a bit, and then did a backflip off. We all applauded, and we all laughed when the guy told us that was the routine we'd be starting with. But he was serious.

A few minutes later, I was up on the platform, toes hanging off the edge, holding the bar wath both hands, and not falling only because the spotter was holding me from the back of my harness. (And, yeah, I suppose there were safety ropes too.) Then she said "Hep!" and I jumped off the edge.

There's something deep inside you that knows you're just not supposed to jump off of platforms 30 feet up in the air. When half the people in the class jumped for the first time, they didn't quite make it off the edge and ended up still on the platform. It looked really silly watching them, but then when I was dangling off the edge platform, I realized Oh, this is absolutely terrifying, that's why they couldn't jump!

But I did jump. That left me plummeting through the air, with this bar thing trying to pull me in an arc. It felt vaguely like waterskiing, actually, in the sense that you just have to hang on to this bar or else you're doomed. On the other hand, when you're waterskiing, there's not somebody on the ground shouting "Knees up!" at you. When I completely failed to react the first time (because jumping into thin air didn't actually help with the abject terror), they helpfully shouted it again the next time I hit the front of my arc. And when I finally managed that, they told me to let go with my hands, and by that time I'd just given in to doing whatever the voices told me to do. By the time they got to "Kick forward, backward, hands to your knees," the fact that putting my hands to my knees meant letting go of the bar and plummeting to my doom only vaguely crossed my mind. Luckily that safety rope was still there and they let me down slowly.

So that was my first time around. It reminded me a little bit of the first time I went shafting during my freshman year, and wasn't really sure I wasn't going to fall. That time, I decided that abject terror was a great way to forget about everything else I might have been worrying about. But it got a lot more pleasant and less scary as the class went on, and by the end, when I was able to dangle from my knees and reach my hands out by the front of my second arc, they deemed me "catchable."

That meant that I got to do basically the same thing, except there was somebody on the other bar to reach out and grab my arms at the front of my arc. The first time, I missed completely, for various mysterious reasons that boiled down to me being too slow. The second time, I did everything perfectly. I stretched out my arms, hit the top of the arc, and... there was nobody else there. So I hung out there for, oh, five or ten seconds until finally the catcher appeared, hit the top of his arc, grabbed my wrists, and pulled me off my bar. Then he stopped swinging, and I dropped back down to the net.

For whatever reason, after the catch, the whole thing didn't seem so scary anymore. I think I'll go again next time the group goes.

Oh, and on the way back, I mentioned bell ringing without giving the whole spiel. I was very proud of myself.