Trapeze School New York: Washington D.C. location
I was in D.C. to bury my father but before setting forth from my home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa for the thousand mile journey I had informed my four siblings who were to meet there of a death threat. In an email entitled, “Pat’s plan to kill us all,” I had warned them of my wife Pat’s recent action of enrolling herself, our twenty year old son Sean and me in Trapeze School New York in Washington, DC. I had invited my two brothers and two sisters who range in age from 47 to 57 years and our collective multitude of 19 children whose ages span from eleven tender years to 31 to join us. As our offer was declined via email one-by-one by all my sibs we figured that perhaps my overly dramatic presentation of our trapeze jaunt may perchance have been delivered in too bombastic a form.
Upon our arrival in the D.C. area we stopped at my brother Greg’s where we would be staying and I learned that my siblings had not shared our generous offer of trapeze inclusion with their offspring. Once we were settled in Greg’s home I started discussing our plans for the morrow’s high flying adventure with the five children of my younger, ex-military officer sister and her husband who is a former army officer as well as a combat veteran. I learned that Linda and Paolo had declined the trapeze experience without informing their children of our invitation to engage in death defying leaps of athletic prowess and acrobatic acumen. Her five children, ranging in age from 11 to 22 years of age, have been inoculated against my pot stirring ways and hyperbolic presentation of the mundane through many interactions over the years so they have learned that my charlatan presentations are oft times to be masticated and digested before being accepted but once they learned that we three would indeed be venturing to trapeze school the next day my eleven year old nephew Daniel was determined to take the first step in becoming a high flying child of Linda and become one with the acrobatics of the air. His mom put the kibosh on his dream faster than Wolf Blitzer can cry, “Gas!” when an Iraqi airplane flies too close by during Operation Desert Storm.
Dan was devastated and determined to come with us but Linda was insistent. As I was the one who had brought his hopes up only to have them dashed I lobbied hard for his inclusion and we worked out a compromise that only Missouri could be proud of. Pat, Sean and I would participate in Trapeze school and Dan would accompany us on the D.C. Metro from Shady Grove to the school by the Navy Shipyard where he would be our official videographer and cameraman. He was sad that he couldn’t participate but when Mom said that on another occasion she would like to bring him and any of his brothers and sisters who were interested in trying trapeze he took his disappointment in stoic stride and accompanied us in good humor and with a proper spirit of adventure.
Thus it was that when we arrived we discovered that we would be in the beginner class with one other participant, Wendy, who had attended trapeze school one time previously and who was ready, willing and able to take the next step and become more than simply a one time wanna’ be neophyte. We introduced ourselves and Wendy had the dubious pleasure of encountering me while I was in manic, social-interaction, excitable boy mode. As it turned out Wendy was a sandbagger or a ringer- one of those ept, intelligent, physically gifted folks who walk among us, but at first encounter she was laying low as she gathered the lay of the land and discovered who or what she had gotten herself hooked up with this time. As it turned out we had Pat, my 53 year old wife who is a life long athlete who combines physical fitness and low body weight with athletic prowess, our 20 year old son who is stronger than his mother, sports a lower BMI and also is a good athlete, Wendy who looked to be in her late twenties or early thirties and was also a gifted athlete with a fit form and good height to weight ratio and 52 year old me.
I am not ashamed of my body nor my fitness level but I am no athlete. I do not mean to say that I am out of shape because if we norm me with other old men I stack up pretty well. I exercise for strength, flexibility and endurance but that doesn’t make me an athlete. An athlete is someone who knows how to move his body. A dancer or a gymnast is an athlete while an old man who can run a seven minute mile is just in shape. Trapeze school favors athletes who are lighter and in good shape and at over two hundred pounds I only qualify on one score- I’m in fairly good shape. Wendy, Pat and Sean are athletes capable of soaring while I am a turkey trying to fly; no matter how hard I flap my wings I’m only going to get so far before I fall to the ground.
That being true Trapeze New York doesn’t care if you are a turkey, a sparrow or an eagle; the instructors that we had were dedicated to making our trapeze experience enjoyable, memorable and as difficult as we were willing to allow. I can not speak highly enough of my impressions of Remi, Aaron, Will and Trapeze’s photographer Emily. The three men explained, educated, demonstrated, cajoled, encouraged and cautioned in a fashion that makes me proud to have met them. As a bicycle mechanic and service writer I work in a service industry where my advice and skill can increase the enjoyment and safety of a rider’s cycling experience and as a former school teacher I love seeing passionate, expert instruction and these three men performed artfully and pleasurably.
My incredibly positive experience was no doubt influenced by our class size and the willingness and prowess of the participants. Our class might have been as large as 15 rather than our cozy four and I am convinced that our small class size helped both with the level and degree of personal instruction that we received. Wendy told my wife that in her last visit she had been in a full class that consisted largely of girls celebrating their friend’s eighth birthday and that more than one of the girls climbed the swaying ladder to the drop off platform only to stand there crying and announcing that they didn’t want to participate. A class size of four had to beat a class of 15 in regards to participation and instruction and four highly motivated adults no doubt flowed better and with greater purpose than the mixed group of young girls, Wendy, and her husband.
After checking in at reception our first contact was with Emily, the photographer. She introduced herself and was talking to us when Daniel’s role in our day came up. I was concerned that we might have a clash of desires and wills when I told Emily that Dan was with us as our group photographer. I have been places where venues restrict outside photography in an attempt to monopolize visual mementos as a way to rake in more money. Emily was friendly, conversational, inclusive of Dan in her presentation of some basic information and had a winning demeanor which at the end of the session lead us to electing to purchase her photos to augment the great stills and video Dan shot. Emily’s skill and presentation reinforced my favorable impression of Trapeze New York and at the end of our class her work was enticing enough to pry an additional $55 out of my tightly closed wallet where a heavy hand determined to restrict Dan or uninspiring photos would have failed to earn my approval or my extra dollars.
Emily was our first contact and while positive her’s was just a taste of things to come. Even though we arrived at Trapeze NY during what was obviously a lull in activity it was a busy place. The rectangular space included the two swinging bars poised at opposites ends above the long rectangular safety net, ropes and silks hanging from the 60 foot high ceiling opposite our waiting area, ground level trapeze training bars, bathrooms, offices and myriad additional apparatus and office paraphernalia. On the other side of the room women performed acrobatic routines using the ropes and silks and everywhere was athletic, purposeful activity. We had arrived early and changed into our tights and workout clothes, stepped out of our shoes and warmed up with stretching and a little strength training.
Shortly Emily introduced us to Will as one of our instructors. He and Remi were similar in size and color as both were compact, muscular, brunettes who were short of stature with short well groomed hair. Remi was clean shaven while Will sported the fashionable three day stubble so telling them apart from a distance was facilitated by Will’s facial follicles. Our other instructor was Aaron who was also muscular but he was taller, slightly bigger and a ginger. Aaron was on the belay line for much of our session and at the end of class Sean and Pat told me how much fun it was watching Aaron rise up off the ground whenever I dropped from the bar to the net as I probably outweigh Aaron by ten to fifteen percent. Pat and Sean thought it was a hilarious sight watching Aaron rise up as he made my fall from grace a slow, gentle drop rather than a fast and furious fall. The three men gave us important information concerning safety and forecasted our likely class activities and we were on our way.
I would like to address the question of “purpose” when it come to Trapeze New York. Do not fall for the verbiage that the staff only wants to take you as far in trapeze as you are comfortable as this is simply not so. The staff is in no way pushy but our experience shows that they want us to be all that we can be, to steal an old army slogan. I found their unstated, gentle prodding and desire to push us forward as a perfect balance between support and challenge. I felt our classes’ energy reciprocated with the staff’s desire to get the three of us to “catching” and Wendy to “flying” a winning combination that made for a challenging and rewarding two hours.
We were assigned an order of participation and told not to stray from it. Wendy went first, then Sean, followed by Pat and I was last. The order was prophetic as the first three participants all performed in a manner worthy of receiving medals while my performance was reminiscent of a special Olympian; I tried hard, was given fantastic support and advice, helped to proceed up the ladder of success but in the end I was the awkward turkey trying to fly with elegant eagles. The eagles and the instructors were supportive and I loved my progress but the difference in my abilities versus the other’s was obvious from my first time on the trapeze bar.
I was the last in our group to climb the gently swaying aluminum ladder to the platform twenty three feet above our heads. We had been given safety belts equipped with D rings that rested just above each hip and safety wires were clipped with Carabiners to these D rings just prior to ascending the ladder until we were safely on Terra firma.
The ladder is the same type that terrifies me whenever I have to climb up on the roof of my home but in this case there were two additions that made the ascent safe despite the swaying of the ladder. The ladder was secured to the platform and to the floor so because of its tethers it was not going to slide and fall to the ground thus preventing me from tumbling to the hard concrete. Additionally we clipped into an automatic fall breaker that was a nylon rope attached to a roller clutch that took up the slack as we climbed upward. The ladder rungs made my stocking clad feet protest in pain as I awkwardly climbed rung after rung, resisting the temptation to lead with my left foot on each step and instead forcing me to ascend first with my left leg and then my right. My mind assured me that climbing this ladder was safe but my viscera protested this intellectual reassurance. I climbed as quickly as I could and once I reached the top rung Will instructed me on the best way to transition to the platform and where and how to wait as he transferred my safety harness from the ladder unit to the trapeze one.
As Will was attaching the new Carabiners to my safety belt he asked me how I felt. I replied, “Nervous, nauseated, my heart is pounding so hard in my chest that it seems like it should be visible.”
“That all sounds pretty normal,” Will replied. “Are you ready go?”
“Absolutely ,” I said with a smile, “What do I do next?”
Will had me grab the bar and step off the platform. I had watched my previous classmates so I figured I knew what was expected of me. After stepping off the platform I was to bring my legs over my head, hook my knees around the bar, hang for a moment, remove my legs from the bar and dismount. I had seen Sean and Pat perform this drill while Wendy had done something slightly different and I was ready to try. My first attempt was not a success because I could not wiggle my legs under the bar and therefor I could not complete the first drill and advance to subsequent ones.
Aaron hollered up to me from his belay position on the ground that I was to drop to the net at his command and then dismount to the concrete floor. I did as asked feeling disappointed at my inability to follow Pat’s and Sean’s example but optimistic that I had not quit. Once on the ground Aaron said, “Some people have flexibility problems and sometimes an alternative technique for getting you legs around the bar works better. Do you want me to show you the alternate technique?’
“Hell yes,” was my immediate response and Aaron took me to the practice bar that was above two safety mats and which sat at head height. Aaron had me grasp the bar in the center with my hands touching one another. From this position I was to spread my legs, go around the bar, bring my legs together, hook them around the bar, release my hand hold on the bar and then hang from my legs. Aaron did a great job of explaining what I was to do and this technique relied a bit more on upper body strength and far less on flexibility. It was a match made in heaven for my stiff but not decrepit body.
Everything went well until I hung down and let go with my hands. I had not shoved my leg far enough onto the bar and my body weight rested on my calf muscle just below my knee. My leg immediately cramped and without giving Aaron any warning I immediately released from the bar and dropped to the waiting mat, surprising Aaron with my quick, poorly executed dismount. Aaron was concerned for my safety but after a quick discussion we established why I had fallen and I returned to my spot in the trapeze que.
I resumed my spot in the que and made my way to the platform. The alternate technique was far easier for me to use but the cramp in my leg made me refuse to attempt to hang and swing by my legs. This pretty much curtailed advancement on my part but our instructors continued working with me instructing me on how to try some back flip dismounts and hanging upside down while attached with both legs and arms supporting me. I was having fun and stretching my limits but I was falling farther and farther behind my wife and son in reaching for mastery. Everyone was supportive of my efforts and though I was saddened that I could not fly with the eagles I was happy that I was working toward a fun and difficult goal. Trapeze class rocked!
The decision was made for Pat and Sean to attempt passing from their bar and to be caught by Will on the other and Wendy to move on to an even more advanced flying transfer. Will removed his shirt, climbed the rope to the opposite platform using just his arms while holding his legs out in front of him at a 90 degree angle and once he was to the trapeze bar sat and gave instruction one by one to my three classmates. Wendy moved on to flying through the air with Will catching her while hanging upside down from the opposite trapeze bar and she and my family were joys to observe in motion. I continued to practice my more basic skills and enjoy my time at trapeze school.
Pat & Will
Sean & Will
Wendy & Will
I feel as though the $55 price for two hours of instruction was well worth the cost and plan to try more advanced techniques in the future. I do have to say that there were some unpleasant consequences of my time on the trapeze. That night and the next day my shoulders hurt so badly that I kept thinking of Senator John McCain and how he was tortured in Viet Nam by being hung by his arms. My shoulders hurt a lot. Two days later my shoulders felt better but my biceps were still quite sore. My wife was bruised and sore in various spots but was at least as enthusiastic as I about a future return to trapeze school. Our son suffered no ill effects and reported that he was willing to return the next day; youth has certain advantages!