Trapeze – The Beginning

“Don’t get smart and go right up to the edge of things,” has long been one of my grandmother’s more abstract warnings. All roads lead to the Grand Canyon or Niagra Falls, so watch your step. We assumed she meant cliffs and the like, but she might as well have meant trapeze platforms. In February, for reasons we can’t seem to remember anymore, R. and I, in defiance of all her warnings, began taking trapeze lessons. For reasons I also can’t sort out, it failed to occur to me before the class that the class’s requirements might run afoul of my fear of heights. This fear seems natural to me. You’re not supposed to step off things. Its against my grandmother and every instinct in your breakable body.

I have had nightmares about falling since I was a small child. In these dreams, there was no earth in view and no swingset, only my swing and endless, menacingly empty blue sky. I swung ever higher, with that terrifying snap of the ropes at the top as gravity’s pull on my small body exceeded the centrifugal momentum of the swinging. Then, as a teenager, I read Blue Window, a Craig Lucas play in which the female protagonist has survived a fall from a penthouse suite by crawling up her fiance with whom she fell from their honeymoon balcony when the railing gave way. That didn’t help. Now, subject to movie after vertiginous movie, from The Hudsucker Proxy to Spiderman, my falling nightmares are more straightforward: I fall and keep on falling. Trapeze does not suggest itself as a natural choice for me.

Nonetheless, oblivious, we tripped off to the Circus Center. Let me outline the training set-up for those who have only enjoyed trapeze from the ground, performed by tiny, fun, skinny people in fun-looking, sequined costumes who look like they’re having fun. A ladder rises up to a platform about 21 feet in the air (about the height of a high second story window), a net hangs about 10 feet off the ground extending behind the platform at a slope (in case you fall backwards off it) and compressing to about 5 feet from the ground when someone falls into it. There’s one spotter on the 2’x5′ platform with you. Your waist harness has rings on either side which are attached by carabineers to two ropes. These extend out towards the ceiling above you, come together in the rafters about halfway across the net, run sideways along the roof to the width of the net and drop to the floor as a single rope which is controlled by the other spotter on the ground who stands just to the side of the net. When the spotter pulls on the rope, it pulls on your harness. This is a good thing, when you start, because, in your initial terror, you have no ability (or skills) to keep yourself swinging: you’d come to a stop on about your second arc and just hang there. Which is tiring. Plus, boring.

So here’s how the first class went: R. goes up the ladder, the spotter holds onto the back of his harness, R. grasps the trapeze (about 9 lbs.) with both hands, body leaning out over the abyss. He bends his knees on cue and takes that small jump forward into the unknown when the spotter says, “Hup!” He swings out, they call, “Legs up!”, he hangs his legs over the bar, they call, “Hands off!”, he lets go of the bar to swing by his knees, they call, “Hands back up!”, he grasps the bar again, unfolds to hang straight and, on their command, “Hup!” again, he drops into the mat on the net. So far, so good.

Then I come up. By the time I get to the platform, it has fully dawned on me what a hugely bad idea this is.

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Categories: News, Nuisance, Miscellany

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