Once when my sister was visiting from out of town, B and I took her there to try out their trapeze with some trial swings. It was terrifying but kinda fun too. Afterwards we stuck around and watched others swinging back and forth and I thought I'd like to try again some day. Some day came over six years later. My friend had bought a class but her shoulder was injured and it was too late to cancel so I got to take her place.
After I signed in and signed the waiver forms, one of the staff members slapped a safety belt around my middle and tightened it as tight as it would go. Then she slipped a hand in between the belt and my back and tugged on it to test it. She tightened it up some more. I'm so glad we women don't have to wear corsets any more. Class started with some quick safety rules. Don't walk past the red tape because that's where the person holding the safety lines walks. Don't walk under the net because if someone lands in the net while you're under there, you could get bonked as the net sags to catch them. Asking if anyone's injured and maybe shouldn't participate in class today. (I think they ought to ask that question when you register for the class and save people the trip out if they have a bad back or shoulder.)
Then a verbal walk-through of what we're going to do. Walk up the stairs to the platform and they'll clip two safety lines to the belt cinched tightly around your waist. Every time they say, "Ready," then we're supposed to get ready to do something in the next moment. In this case, ready means to bend your knees and HUP means hop off the platform. It doesn't have to be a big jump. After all, we're just dropping into air. We all stand up, toes right up to a line on the floor. We reach out and grab and imaginary bar. One by one, he goes down the line saying, "Ready...HUP!" and we hop over the line. Simple enough.
We sit back down for more talking. Once we're hanging from the bar, they'll call out instructions and we'll hang from our knees and then go back to hanging from our arms before dropping into the net. "So...any questions?" And the kids had plenty. "What if I can't get my knees up over the bar?" "What if I fall off the platform?" "What if I can't hold onto the bar?" "What if I fall off while I'm hanging from my knees?" What if I'm too scared to jump off?" Basically every question I had but was too self-conscious to ask myself.
They they started sending us up to the top, one at a time. I was surprised that we were not trying things out on the low trapeze bar in the back. Instead it was right on up to the top. We walked up about 2 flights of stairs. The steps are slotted and my feet hurt a little walking on them. I wonder if the slots are put there intentionally to sharpen the awareness of how high you're going. If so, it's working. I'm feeling nervous.
looking down through the stairs to the top
When I get to the top, she clips the safety lines to my belt, one on each side. She tells me to rub some chalk on my hands if I need to. I'm about to decline until I realize my hands are indeed lightly sweating. I don't think I NEED the chalk but I rub some on just in case.
standing up on the platform, getting ready to jump
Stand at the edge of the platform with your feet about shoulder-width apart and toes right up to the edge. Lean forward and grab hold of the bar. The bar is surprisingly heavy. By now, one of the staff has grabbed the back of your belt and is leaning back to make sure you don't fall off the platform until they tell you to. Back straight, hips forward, shoulders aligned above hips. Maintaining that alignment, lean forward such that you would fall off if the staff member wasn't holding on to you. Talk about a moment of trust. From on the ground I hear the call, "Ready... HUP!" My brain just whirs in confusion. I was supposed to do something... he repeats himself, "Ready...(bend your knees!)" I obey and bend my knees, reminding myself to jump. "HUP!"
leaning forward on the platform before a jump
view from the top
"Jump!" says my brain. But the rest of my body rejects that signal. It surprises me that I was so afraid to jump. I've gone skydiving after all. Twice. And yet...look at the view. I'm about 22-23 feet up in the air. I promise myself to try my best to follow instructions. "Ready...HUP!" And this time I hop with a little strangled "Gah!" escaping me. I feel the rush of acceleration but the person on the ground is already calling out instructions.
"Knees up!" Again my brain fumbles the words for a fraction of a second before I bring my legs up between my hands and hook my knees onto the bar. This position is easier somehow, now looking up instead of down. It's hard to hear the instructions even though they're wearing a microphone. Whenever the water show is going, the loud music almost drowns out the instructions.
Turns out that getting your knees up and over the bar is a lot harder without momentum from swinging on the bar. I got home and thought I could practice on my pull-up bar but found it took a lot more effort to get my feet up to the bar. I could do it, but only if I kicked and swung myself up. But up on the trapeze, that step had been easy enough that most of my class was able to do it on the first try.
"Hands off!" I let go with my hands and find that I'm hanging from my knees. "Look for the other trapeze!" I'm so disoriented that I don't even know where to look but I like this position. I would've been happy just swinging back and forth in a knee hang but already they're calling "Hands on the bar! Bring your legs down!" By now the swinging has slowed considerably. I think I lose momentum quickly because I'm not doing all the kicks and stuff that the more experienced folks know how to do. I wonder if the safety lines do anything to slow me down too? Not sure. But now they're telling me to let go and I drop down to the net. I think the safety lines are slowing the rate at which I fall. Whenever any of the staff land in the net, there's a big WHOMP as they hit the net since they don't use the safety lines on themselves anymore. At least I think that's what's happening.
I crawl across the net and am momentarily confused by how to get out of the net. She explains that I grab the two handholds, palms facing out, place my waist at the edge of the net, and then just lean forward and I'll tumble over the edge, landing in a standing position on the mats below with my hands still holding those loops. Neat. The class rotates through one by one.
Knee Hang. My hair's in-flight mohawk
Each time we come down, the person on the ground offers some feedback and a tip to try to remember for the next time. Same for each time we climb up to the top. "When you're hanging from your knees, really focus on arching your back and looking for the other trapeze." "Keep your legs in front of you when you jump." "Point your toes down when you have your knees hooked over the bar." "Make sure the bar is right behind your knees." "Try keeping your ankles together when you're hanging from your knees." But they only give you 1-2 tips at a time so you're not overwhelmed. Good thing too. Every time I step off the platform, I've forgotten what I had meant to concentrate on anyhow. Every time I go back up to the top, my hands start lightly sweating. Even sitting here typing this and Thinking about going up makes my hands perspire. I notice my palms get a little moist just watching videos of other people on the trapeze. Every time I come down and walk back to my seat, my legs feel jelly-like and I'm a little wobbly on my feet. When I'm in the air, it's still all a confused blur in my head.
The staff members were all very supportive, encouraging us to try things we didn't think we could do but not pushing too hard and forcing us to do anything we didn't want to do either. One little girl would keep saying she didn't want to do whatever the next trick was and the staff would say, "You don't have to if you don't want to. How about you just do the stuff you did before then? And then if you feel like it when you're up there, you can try this next thing too? If not, you can just come back down." And sometimes she'd try, and other times she didn't. I was startled that some of these tricks were doable with very little in the way of instructions.
They teach us another thing to try. When we're going to drop down, they're going to call out, "Kick forward-backward-forward. Let go and grab your knees!" When you do that, you do a little back flip off the bar as you fall to the net. Looks cool and it doesn't seem to require much strength to do a back flip. If you kick right when they tell you to, the momentum of your swing gets rolled into the movement and your body just tumbles into the flip. Pretty cool. They had also told us how to do this one when we did our trial swings several years ago and while I hadn't gotten it right away back then, this time it works every time. One time I rotate too much or not enough but I end up landing hard on the back of my head. That jolts me for a little bit but no harm done.
We all get to go through 4 times. Some students get everything on the first try. One has difficulty getting knees up over the bar. One girl just shakes her head no whenever told to try the back flip, preferring to let go of the bar and clutch the safety lines on either side of her as she's lowered to the net. One girl lets go of the bar too soon and just hangs there in mid-air for a moment before they lower her to the net too. I think they were trying to get her to grab the bar again but she just wanted to come down. The little girls are adorable. They tell each other they're scared but they're also ohmigod excited and blow kisses to each other from the top of the stairs. Another woman who has a little more experience has joined our class and she's working on a move where she twists and changes direction and gets into a split on her turns. I'm a little bummed that there are 9 people in our class since I figure that means fewer turns for me. But on the other hand, I find we're learning by watching each other too. After another person goes, one of the girls next to me says, "She didn't bring her knees up to her chest so she didn't do a flip."
Backflip - Kick forward, bacward, forward, grab your knees!
Now they're ready to show us another trick. When we're in Knee Hang, backs arched and arms outstretched, Tad's going to be swinging on the other trapeze (the catch bar?), also hanging from his knees, and he's going to grab hold of us by the wrists. Our legs will naturally let go of our fly bar and we'll be swinging from his hands. I'm excited to try this one. This is the trick I had watched others do on previous visits to Jordan's Furniture and I had wanted to be able to do it too. But I have questions. What if I miss his arms and my legs let go of the bar? What if he catches my arms and my feet don't come off my bar? He insists that neither of those things will happen. In both cases, I'd just continue swinging in Knee Hang -- in the first case because I wouldn't want to let go and fall and in the second case, because he'll just let go of my wrists. But what if I don't let go of his hands? He assures me that I wouldn't be able to if he let go. So...remember... arms way out, fingers together with thumbs out in an L-shape, hands angled slightly outward so it looks like a Y with my forearms, and then just HOLD STILL and let the catcher grab hold. He'll catch us by the wrists.
There were three staff members, rotating between 3 positions. One at the top of the platform, clipping you into the safety lines and helping you get onto the bar. One down below holding the safety lines and calling out instructions through a microphone. And a third sitting with the class offering tips and feedback and sending us up to the top one at a time. But now Tad (?) would be catching us on the other bar so we all trooped up to the top. I asked the more experienced student how the catcher gets up to his perch and she said he climbs a rope. And sure enough, he started climbing up a rope without even using his legs. His legs were just straight out as if he were sitting and up he went. Well if he's strong enough to do that, sure he's strong enough to catch me. But what if he just tired himself out doing that? I rub chalk on my hands, wrists, and forearms.
The other difference is that the calls will come from the catcher instead of the person on the ground. The catcher's timing his swinging bar with the student's swinging bar so he calls out "Ready...HEP!" right when he really does want you to go so that we can be lined up for the catch.
Some of the folks in front of me miss the catch. The little girl right in front of me does it successfully! Buoyed by seeing the trick work, I step up for my turn. Whoosh forward and legs up over the bar. Hands off and reaching back and I don't really see him because all I see is a blur still but then I feel his hands on my arms and sure enough, my legs come away from my bar and we're swinging together. How cool! I think I'm supposed to do a little kick backwards and forwards when he lets go of me so that I land lightly on my back but I miss that and flop clumsily into the net. But I got the catch! I'm immensely pleased with myself.
On my second try, I arch back and this time I spot his hands! I'm pleased that I was able to actually see something but then our hands touch and I'm swinging back away from him, still in a knee hang. They call out instructions to do a back flip instead. Apparently when I saw his hands, I moved my hands and so he didn't get a good grip on me. Oops. That's ok. I want to come back.
From a knee hang, he's caught my wrists...
... and then my legs let go of my fly bar. I'm caught!
They have a deal where if you sign up for a 2nd class right at the end of the 1st class (before you leave) then they'll give you a 3rd class for free. The classes are expensive but paying 50% off for 2 classes seems doable. Not sure if I'll continue past the 3rd class given the cost. We'll see. Classes last 2 hours and cost $60 on weekends. ($50 for weekdays and $55 for weeknights) My class that day was through a LivingSocial deal ($39) and I know I've seen Groupon and Yelp offer deals for trapeze classes too so that's one way to try to get the cost down a bit. And if you want to just get a little taste of it, you can do a trial swing for $10, or 3 for $25. We had done the 3 trial swings 6 years ago and for those they taught us the backflip but no knee hangs and no catch.
They have a photographer who snaps photos and if you like them, you can buy prints or digital copies. Not cheap. But I decide to buy the USB stick with digital copies of all shots of me for $35. I wasn't going to buy the photos at first until she said that if I bring back the stick on subsequent visits, I can get the next photos for $10 each time. Since I already know I'm coming back for 2 more classes, I figure that brings the price down to $18.33 for pictures each time. That's still expensive but...I like photos and I had come alone. Even if I did bring someone else to take pictures, I figure the staff photogrpher's shots will come out better. I still suggest bringing along a friend if you can. They don't offer video footage. I lucked out and asked one of the moms to take a video for me. She was so nice that she shot four videos! I hadn't expected her to do that but I was thrilled to be able to see what it looked like.
If you really get into it, they also offer Intensive Flying Workshops (IFW) that are a series of 8 or 10-weeks of weekly classes. I think they try to set it up so you work with the same set of instructors and students for the whole time and at the end, there's a class performance and you get to take home a DVD of the performance.
If you're in the Boston area and you'd like to see one of their free performances, they have one this Saturday night 7:30pm-8:30pm at Jordan's Furniture (the one in Reading, not Natick).
Trapeze School New York: Beantown
50 Walkers Brook Dr
Reading, MA 01867