I can’t say that I’ve always wanted to run away with the circus, in fact, the closest I’ve ever got to the big top was reading Fifth Business as a kid, and creating body image issues for myself in funhouse mirrors. But as I approached my 35th birthday, I wanted to do something different, something that would test my boundaries and help me to regain some of the fearlessness of youth. I decided to try the flying trapeze. Now it’s not an original idea – I admit I saw it on an episode of Sex in the City, but the key was translating this idea into reality. I thought it was going to be difficult to find a circus in Toronto, but through the wonders of the internet, I discovered that the Toronto Circus school
offers drop-in trapeze classes in a hangar at Downsview park.
I convinced a few friends to join me and off we went into the unknown. When we arrived we were greeted by a pleasant looking woman who asked us to sign a waiver. I shrugged it off as a precaution and happily signed away my life – all in the name of fun. My friends and I looked at each other and broke out into a nervous giggle. This was safe wasn’t it…??? I tried to reassure us as we walked into the gymnasium. There was nothing to be afraid of. We would have a harness, a net, someone spotting us and of course a lot of practice before we even got up the trapeze.
Or so I thought. As we walked in, all I could see was the 20 foot ladder leading to a precarious looking wooden platform and the vastness of the distance between the trapeze and the net. We all looked at each other and gulped.
There would be no easing into the trapeze; we received a routine, saw a quick demonstration and were strapped in for the horror ahead. The first person up made it look really easy and gave us a false sense of security (we found out later that she was a regular). The trembling people that followed were more the norm. The closer we got to the front of the line, the more nervous we got.
As I had been the instigator of the madness, I had the pleasure of going first. I never thought I had a fear of heights until I got up to the ladder. My arms were trembling and I had to force myself not to look down. As I approached the platform, I kept worrying that I would lose my footing and plummet to the ground. The platform itself was probably only 3x2 feet wide and had to support the weight of two people.
I was sweating as I walked onto the platform and having some serious second thoughts. The spotter told me to grab onto the trapeze with one hand and perch my toes off the front of the platform. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest as I looked at the net below. Then I was to grab the trapeze with my other hand and when she yelled “hup”, (carnie talk for “go”) I was supposed to jump off with my feet. She yelled, I jumped and swung like a pendulum. I could feel the rush of the air beside me and my arms being ripped from their sockets. I hung on for dear life and could barely hear the instructions of what to do next. After a few swings I was to tuck my knees up and throw them over the trapeze, let go of my arms and then release to fall gracefully onto the net.
This is what happened – I kept swinging, my arms quivering, my body feeling like a dead weight. Try as I might, I couldn’t get my knees over the bar and was stuck there in limbo. After what seemed like an eternity, I heard a voice say something that sounded like “let go”. So I did. I fell onto the net in a heap and rolled onto the floor. I felt exhilarated. I took a second to think about what I had done and smiled. I just did the flying trapeze. Now how many people can say that?
P.S. I did better the second time around.
Heena is a labour lawyer with a large Canadian financial institution and has contributed several articles to Cashmere Clutch.
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