I’VE GOT A thing about heights. Put me 24 feet in the air, and my palms get sweaty, my knees buckle and I deeply regret climbing up the ladder that got me there.
The flying-trapeze instructors at Emerald City Trapeze Arts have heard it all. They are kind and tolerant if you babble about how scared you are; they may even distract you with funny stories. But when it’s your turn, they are all business. They get you into position and cheerfully shout, “Ready, and hep!”
In other words, jump.
People who have taken a trapeze class are contagious in their enthusiasm, which is how I got roped in. Trapeze is remarkably accessible — body awareness helps, but you don’t have to be fit to do it. As long as you are older than 6, weigh less than 250 pounds, and skip the liquid courage before you head to class, you, too, can fly.
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Emerald City has classes all day in its cavernous space. My class had a mix of people new to trapeze and those back for more.
Instructors put harnesses on each of us and taught us the basics, including how to stand on the board and how to jump off.
We also learned a bit about physics. Trapeze takes advantage of the peak of each swing, when the body is weightless, to set up for tricks.
For our first trick, we had to pull our legs up and hook our knees over the bar. It’s easier in the air, they said, and an instructor, who can see the high point of the swing better than we would, will shout when to do the trick. We would back-flip to release.
It was overwhelming. One experienced flyer bestowed this advice: “Listen; do what they say; trust.”
I tried to remember her words once I was up on the board, trembling as I gazed at the net below. The trapeze bar was heavy and not reassuring. Then the call came. “Hep!”
I jumped. I swung through the air, terrified; I forgot what I had learned. Then I heard the steady stream of calls: “Look at the bar, hook your legs, let go of the bar, arch your back, grab the bar, release your feet, get ready to release, three quick kicks, grab your knees!”
Suddenly, I was face down in the net. I had grabbed my harness ropes, slowing me down, and landed on my face instead of my back. I flipped over the edge of the net and was relieved to be on the ground; I wanted to do it again.
It was fun to watch others do more advanced tricks while owner-instructor Gary Kirkland entertained us with stories about the history of trapeze.
We worked on mastering the moves in two swings so we would have enough momentum to do a catch with an instructor. I got the back-flip, but I could not get my legs through my arms and hooked over the bar fast enough. So much for all that yoga.
They taught me a different entry, swinging my legs out and over the bar instead. It went more smoothly; I was rewarded with a cowbell declaring I was ready for a catch.
For that, instructor Dorian climbed hand-over-hand up a rope, where he swung merrily on a second trapeze. I went first. Fear of heights had not gone away. But I followed instructions, hooking my legs and letting go of the bar. Suddenly, Dorian was there, reaching for my arms. We swung two times, and then I popped down onto the net. I bounced up, triumphant and delighted.
Yes, I am now that person telling everyone to try trapeze. It will push you as far as you want for fitness. And you’ll be circus-ready in no time.
Nicole Tsong teaches yoga at studios around Seattle. Read her blog at papercraneyoga.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific NW magazine staff photographer.