Sunday, October 15, 2006

“Look ma, no hands!”

Last weekend, I finally had a chance to try trapeze swinging, and boy, was I shocked to discover how truly hard it is! Pia, Yuhka and I trekked all the way to Oakland to fly at the Trapeze Arts Circus School.

Yuhka earned the “best amateur trapeze swinger” badge as she was able to swing and knee-hang and back-flip and catch all on the first try. Pia earns 2nd-best as she was able to do all of the above, though not necessarily on the first try. And I earn “worst amateur trapeze swinger” as I was barely able to handle the knee-hang up in the air. But, don’t feel bad for me – I pretty much gave up (mentally and physically) when I realized that I had to exert a lot of effort (and listen and follow orders) to accomplish the swing. These trapeze artists work hard to do their stunts! While I didn’t find the experience at all scary, – I actually liked being up on the 35-foot-high platform – I was definitely not yet ready for the physical challenge of the sport. ;p

How it works: All beginning students wear a safety harness fastened snugly around their waists. The harnesses have two clips that attach to long ropes, called safety lines, which control how quickly students fall. Students coat their palms with chalk to keep their hands from slipping off the trapeze bar. Before they can be caught by an instructor, they must rub their forearms with chalk to help the catcher get a better grip. Two safety lines are attached to the student's harness once he or she is on the platform. An instructor on the ground has control over the other end of the lines and alternately pulls on or lets the lines free to help the student control momentum. Before students jump off the platform, they practice their form on a static trapeze, one that does not swing at all. An elevated net is strung tightly across the trapeze practice space. The net provides a gentle, bouncy landing for students. Once they land safely, students unhook their safety lines and pass them up for the next flier. Then they roll off the side of the net onto a mat. An instructor on the platform helps students on take-off. The instructor clips the safety lines to the harness and pulls the trapeze within reach. Keeping a firm grip on the back of the student's harness, she shouts, "Leisto!" as a signal that the student is ready to fly. The climax of the first lesson is being caught by an instructor on a second trapeze. The instructor swings back and forth to gain momentum, then wraps his legs around the trapeze and hangs upside down. Timing and speed are crucial to a successful catch.

Cool fact: To Mythbusters’ fans: the 360 Swing Set Myth was taped at this circus school and our instructors were featured in the show. Adam & Jamie return to the school next week to debunk a pirate-myth!

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