I certainly wasn’t expecting to become a pro in my first lesson, but after a few swings, I was ready to step it up a notch—I wanted to try a catch. This involved pulling myself into the knee-hang position and then letting go of the bar mid-flight, in the hope that my partner would be there to grab my arms.
It’s truly an exercise of trust. To be successful, you must let go of not just the bar, but also your inhibitions, self-doubt, and, more than anything else, fear of falling.
I wasn’t sure I could manage that, given the trouble I had even jumping on cue. But when the moment came, I leaped off the platform, got into position, and reached out instinctively in front of me, straining to feel for my partner’s arms.
It was a beautiful moment. As our arms connected and I pulled away from the bar, I was free.
And maybe that’s the real appeal of trapeze. Beyond the showmanship and artistry, trapeze gives you a real sense of achievement in your first lesson. You learn to fly, for goodness’ sake. Getting out of my comfort zone—and for me, this was way out there—helped me realize that I am capable. I still have issues with heights. But I’m now more inclined to say “yes” when it comes to trying new adventures, from an intense black diamond ski run to a mountain scramble.
And beyond the adrenaline rush, I keep hearing about another benefit of trapeze from students and trainers alike: its restorative powers. Ford sees trapeze as a kind of meditation. His friend Melanie O’Donahue, 44, a scientist, started attending classes last year as a distraction from her mother’s breast cancer diagnosis. She says the sense of empowerment that trapeze gives her has helped her cope.
Stegman says the circus transforms lives, providing a sense of home for those who feel they don’t fit in elsewhere. “You feel like a superhero,” she says. “There’s something about circus that builds your mood and self-esteem and touches you in so many ways.”
I’m not going to argue with her. Someday, I’ll climb the ladder again. This time, without tears.