The non-daring, young(ish) woman on the flying trapeze

When my friend Yiannis signed us up for flying trapeze school, I didn’t think too much about it. He had done it twice and my brother did it once. Somehow this made me think I had done it already too, the way I thought China would be like a really big American Chinatown. Wrong on both counts.

Our class was set for Thursday morning. On my way to Yiannis’s I wasn’t nervous. I was just excited to see my pal. I only started to get anxious once we got to the place, which was, incidentally, on top of a building. Not a skyscraper, but still, it would not feel pretty if you, say, jumped off the roof.

Luckily for me, about half the class were beginners or first-timers. Our instructor, Greg, was very good about showing us what to do and what to expect. (But all of that left my brain once I got up there.) Yiannis and the other more experienced people went first. He was really good! He isn’t afraid of heights at all, and was very calm the whole time. The other people were excellent as well, attempting tricks you’d see out of the circus.

Finally it was my turn. My hands were totally sweaty, my heart pounding and stomach churning. Even climbing the ladder was goddamned scary, although you’re attached the whole time. Then at the top, you feel SO high up (about 30 feet up, from what I gather from the web). You have your left hand on this metal bar, and your right hand on the trapeze which, let me tell you, isn’t within easy reach. To reach it, you have to hang your toes OVER the platform. Did you hear me? OVER the platform. The instructor holds you from behind by this belt so you’re basically hanging suspended. She tells you to grab the trapeze with your left hand, and now you’re REALLY suspended. Someone yells, “Ready!” and you’re supposed to bend your knees (which of course I didn’t half the time), and then, “Hup!” and you’re supposed to jump.

Did you hear me? You’re supposed to JUMP, 30 feet into the air, holding what is basically a stick, and let me tell you it was the scariest fucking thing I’ve ever done. You’re flying – no, you’re FALLING, and swinging through the air. You’re eye-level with tall buildings. I immediately thought, I don’t want to do this! I’ve changed my mind! LET ME DOWN!

Because I was so scared out of my mind, my timing was completely off, and couldn’t do the knee hang on the first try. Afterward (yes, I went more than once), I kept missing the timing, and because I did, I overexerted my stomach muscles to get my knees over the bar. Really, strength doesn’t have much to do with getting your knees up. If you do it at the right time, it should be easy because you’re using the momentum of swinging forward, which I didn’t get till almost my last turn.

Surprisingly, hanging by my knees wasn’t bad. I had thought I’d feel myself slipping, but it actually felt more secure. Plus I couldn’t see anything. And they told me I was good at arching my back, but I don’t know if everyone just felt sorry for me and was being nice. Finally, dropping off the trapeze also wasn’t too bad.

The second trick they taught us was a backwards somersault. Sounds hard right? Actually it wasn’t. After you do the knee hang, you come back up and just follow the guy’s instructions of how to swing your legs: “Forward! Back! Forward! Release!” Then you tuck your knees to your chest and naturally spin.

Our final trick was a catch, for which I have a visual aide:

Yes that’s me! You see me missing the first knee hang, but by then they knew that was my weakness and were prepared for it. I made the catch, though just barely. The video actually looks much better than how I felt.

Overall I had a great time, despite my terror. Like I said, the instructors were awesome. They were patient, encouraging, and never made me feel stupid. The only thing I wish they did was tell us how to deal with our anxiety, like deep breathing and relaxing our muscles. Otherwise, they were terrific.

The only downside was that afterward, I was extremely sore for more than a week, under my arms and right around my diaphragm. I could barely get dressed and it hurt to sneeze or cough. Now finally I’m better, though I’m still achy. It’s very hard to push-ups or the plank or chataranga.

Towards the end of our lesson, the sky had clouded over, and the weather cooled considerably and got a bit rainy. We grabbed some lunch (traditional Irish breakfast, yum!) then headed uptown and saw this exhibit which wasn’t as interesting as I expected, but that may have been because I was exhausted.

I wanted to hang out in Bryant Park afterward, but it started raining harder, so we ducked into the New York Public Library. That turned out to be cool because they were having this exhibit, which I had forgotten about. It was a bit random but fun. The highlight was Charles Dickens’ cat paw letter opener.

Another highlight: I was waiting for Yiannis to come out of the men’s room when who do I see but the guy who played Gale Boetticher on Breaking Bad. Just two days in New York and a celebrity sighting!


  1. […] 1 and 2 MB and I got acclimated and saw some friends; Day 3 I got terrorized on the trapeze. Days 4, 5, and 6, we got terrorized in a different […]

  2. ha! i think the instructors don’t give pointers on how to deal w/ the anxiety b/c they don’t have any. even though we’d discussed it, at the time, i found reading your account fascinating b/c i’m really just not scared of heights, at all, so, just like i find it fascinating that most people can recognize one another, i’m fascinated by what i consider to be your healthy/reasonable fear of heights (or, at least, jumping off them).

    • Yiannis – True, the instructors definitely don’t feel any anxiety, but they must see it on people’s faces all the time. They may not be aware that telling someone to try to slow their breathing and unclench muscles would be helpful, and that if they’re cheerful, calm, and encouraging, that’s good enough. And it is pretty damned good, but not quite enough for nervous wrecks like me. :)