by Bess Hochstein
I’m standing on the edge of a narrow platform, twenty-five feet above the ground, reaching out to grab a bar with my right hand while my left clings to the rail of the ladder I’ve just ascended. Legs shaking, I bring my left hand to the bar, push my hips and chest forward, pull my shoulders back, and, at the sharp call Hup! jump off the platform for my first swing on the flying trapeze.
It’s a Friday night, and August’s full moon glows red over Omega Institute as Peter Gold, founder of Trapeze-Experience, shouts instructions from the ground below: Knees up!, and I pull myself up to fold my legs over the bar. Next, I release my hands and arch backward, hanging from my knees, arms extended. Then hands return to the bar, legs unfurl, and Gold calls for three quick leg swings before I launch into a backward somersault down to the net.
My heart is pounding as I’m helped out of the net and unhooked from the safety wire by one of Gold’s trapeze pros. Although I’m here to test my physical and mental limits, I never imagined I’d accomplish this on my first flight. Just a few minutes earlier, while frequent fliers practiced their tricks under the supervision of his crew, Gold outlined this routine to us fearful first-timers; I thought he was kidding until he walked us through it on a low bar, where he explained that the momentum of the trapeze would help us bring our body weight up and down. It’s dark by the time each of us takes our first flight “some successful, some thwarted by fear. Exhilarated, I float back to my cabin, too full of adrenaline to sleep.
The next morning I can’t repeat the trick. As others prepare for the catch, I try to regain my beginner’s luck. My fellow newbies progress as I flounder. Some nail their catch, triumphantly soaring into Gold’s outstretched hands, while others struggle toward the basic knee swing.
By afternoon, my body reaches its limit. Summer’s humidity compounds the friction of the bar, tearing the skin of my palms, and angry black and blues emerge on the back of my calves. I sit out the session, mindfully engaged as I watch my more adept classmates learn new tricks.
I tape my hands thoroughly the next morning and test them on the low bar before asking Gold to teach me the vertical split, a trick that won’t further stress my calves. He seems surprised that I want to continue, and pleased when I arch into the pose. Back up on the platform I’m nervous, but I nail the trick, swinging upside down, pushing my hips against the bar, one leg extended to heaven, the other toward earth. On the apex of the third swing, I launch myself toward an imaginary catcher, flying like Wonder Woman to wild applause below. I never make the catch, but that feeling of free flight was accomplishment enough “and addictive; I’ve already scheduled my next trapeze experience.