Friday was a scorcher. Not the kind of day that inspires more than standing passively in a pool (which I did). So, that evening, when I headed to a new trapeze school in Brooklyn—Trapeze School New York—my fear of heights and the prospect of swinging dozens of feet in the air by my knees was less appealing than usual.
David and Anne Brown are both scientists with Ph.D.s (Dave studied molecular toxicology, Anne, molecular toxicology and pharmacology), who took a vacation to Club Med 16 years ago. One afternoon, while jumping on a trampoline, they saw people flying through the air on bar. Dave looked at Anne. “Let’s give it a try,” he said. One swing later, and their lives were changed forever.
“The first time, I felt a combination of fear and exhilaration, and the adrenaline lasted for me for quite a while,” Dave recounted. “I had a fear of heights, and it was not a simple transition, but every time I would look, I would be a little fearful, and then it went away.” Well, mostly. “Now I catch”—as in, other people, in the air—“and fly out without safety lines. There is a respectful fear, but not over the top.”
At the time, Dave was looking to start a business he could scale into a franchise, and one that would be helpful to people. After that swing he realized: America needed trapeze schools, everywhere if possible.
So far, he and Anne are off to a good start. With the opening of their Brooklyn school a couple of weeks ago, there are now seven separate flying locations. The first was in New York City in 2001; today there are two locations in Washington DC, one in Los Angeles, two in Chicago, and, with their South Williamsburg location, two here. To open in Brooklyn, Dave and Anne partnered with OnDeck, a loan provider who works with small businesses to offer the smaller-sized loans that they actually need.
In Brooklyn, as with their original location on West 30th Street (which they have since given up, replaced by Pier 40), Dave says they will focus on the curriculum portion of trapeze flying, which includes a fitness component. An online log book allows students to easily track their progress. They will also offer an intensive flying workshop that lasts ten weeks, for all skill levels and interests. “In the eleventh week there is a show and it’s like a real production with lights and music and costumes,” says Dave. “Normal, everyday, regular people become performers. It’s exciting no matter what level you’re at.”
I wondered, is there a certain kind of person who, more than others, wants to hang by their knees and swing through the air? Yes and no, says Dave. Over time, while he and Anne have seen students of all ages at their schools—as young as 6 and as old as 86—one demographic, more than any other, stands out: women.
“What’s really interesting about trapezists is 80 percent are female. Women dominate this sport for reasons none of us have been able to explain,” Dave tells me. “We’ve been discussing it for a decade, and coming back and back to it. Often times a girl and a guy will come together, and the woman will keep coming back.” I suggest, well, women, generally speaking, are pretty fearless, open to new things? Dave agrees, though of course the answer is not really amenable to a scientific answer, despite the fact that the scientist in him undoubtedly wants one. “It’s a discussion we’ve had for a long time, and it’s just kind of like the bottom line,” he concludes.
Well, I’m a woman. And on Friday, terrified, I knew I had to give it a try, too. Writing about it would be crap if I didn’t submit to my fear of getting up there. So, I did. A “catcher”—the trapezist who swings across from you, sticks out his or her hands, and catches you, if you have it in you to let go of your own bar—belted me very tightly into a harness. I was given a quick lesson on the ground: what I would grab onto and how I would lean forward once I stood on the real platform. And then up a very tall ladder I climbed.
In the course of that climb, my fear did not go away. It got worse. But, I had a lot of support. Namely, from a very experienced trapezist standing behind me, holding on to my harness until I heard the first question/command, “Lista?!” (Ready), followed by “Hep!” (jump). With his weight holding me back, and my support tight around me, I just said, well, here goes nothing, and jumped.
To put it lightly, it was a thrill. And, listening to what the instructor was telling me to do as I swung through the air—when to tuck my legs under the bar and over the top of it, when, in a scarier moment, to let go of the bar with my hands and hang by my knees—I was able to do this thing that seemed impossible and too terrifying for me to handle a moment earlier. When I let go of the bar, and fell to the net, I was somehow more scared, coming out of the moment, than I was swinging within it.
“The thought that keeps going through my mind is, ‘this is what I’m living for,’” Dave tells me about his own time in the air. “To be able to be completley in the moment, flying, it’s so exciting.”
As I flip off the net and get unharnessed and am covered in chalk, I think to myself: it’s sort of strange and sad that, as humans, we are required to feel like we are risking our lives to reach that mental space—one that, hypothetically, we all could have all the time— i.e., the present, the right now.
And yet, if those moments were so readily achievable, what would we live for? Perhaps it is best that, for the majority of our time here, the right now is somewhat out of reach. That inaccessibility makes us reach for that next accomplishment, the next challenge, and, in this case, for a pair of hands, swinging through the air.
New York Trapeze school, Brooklyn, is located at 30 Tompkins Ave, on the border of South Williamsburg and Bed-Stuy.
Photos Courtesy of OnDeck