Certain fitness classes take plenty of time to work up to. Hot-as-hell Bikram classes tend to scare others. The same can be said of certain kinds of martial arts. It takes some courage to get your butt in the door. The (fitness) dragon I needed to slay? Trapeze classes.
It took me a whole five years to get myself to a trapeze class. The New York Trapeze School opened up a location in D.C.’s Navy Yard neighborhood in a bright white air conditioned tent about five years ago in 2010—right when I moved back to the area—and it has been on my bucket list ever since.
But after taking a class, I’m not sure what I was so afraid of. After signing a waiver (of course) and listening to an instructor give a very detailed introduction of what would happen, I was off.
Now, I won’t lie. I was so nervous that I only remembered a fraction of what the instructor told me. That’s common, and actually not something to worry about. The teachers will guide you through every step of the process. First, the instructor will tighten a safety belt on your waist (the kind that makes you feel like you’re constantly sucking it in) and once it’s your turn, you’re headed up a ladder to the main platform. Once the person in front of you—you go in the same order throughout class and the person in front of me made it easy by wearing bright green shorts—is standing on the platform and has released the safety clips, it’s your time to shine. Before ascending the ladder, you clip two safety harnesses to the belt loops on the sides of your waist belt. I’d recommend putting white chalk on your hands—it’s in a bucket off to the side—before heading up. The rungs and the steel bar on the trapeze are not easy on the hands. I’ve got the bruises to prove it.
Once you’re at the top, you climb onto a carpeted platform and grip a small steel ladder attached to the platform. An instructor at the top will let you know when it’s time to come around to the other side of the ladder. Once you’re there, the instructor on the platform unhooks one of your safety clips and puts the main safety line on you. An instructor on the ground holds onto the main safety line and uses this to help and guide students when they’re in the air. After you lean your hips forward while keeping your chest straight and your toes off the platform, you grip the bar with your right hand while you left remains on the small black ladder. You then grab the bar with both hands, bend your knees and hop up after they say, “hep.”
Once you’ve leapt off, you put your legs together, and swing away. Your first swing—the instructor even called out that it was my first time—is pretty easy—once you’ve gotten past the fear, of course. To drop back down onto the net, you simply put your legs together and sit down. The net is sturdy and doesn’t move too much. The way the system is designed, you’ll only swing backward and forward, so there’s no need to worry about going off to the side.
Once you’re down on the net, you crawl or walk over to these two handles on the side of the net. You put your hands in there palm up, hold on, ensure that you’re harness is on the edge of the net, put your legs together and flip front out of the net. The instructor is still holding onto the safety line so you don’t need to worry about screwing this up.
I found the entire process fulfilling and exhilarating. It was always a little scary heading up the ladder and jumping off the platform, but it always felt good – almost like finally acing that really hard test. The second time, I was even hooking my knees over the bar and letting go with my hands. The instructor will call out the cues (knees up, hands off, knees off), and the entire time spent in the air is surprisingly mindless. Think about the moment in yoga where your mind finally lets go. Or if you’re on a roller coaster and about to go down the hill. I blew my own mind by being able to do anything. I even managed a few back flips even, with the help of a harness of course.
Every class is also mixed level, which means that you get to see some pretty cool stuff from the other students. I watched catches—where one flyer literally catches the arms of a catcher and lets go), splits on the bar, a few really dynamic falls and at least one person who didn’t use the safety lines. I was the only brand new flyer—everyone else was either a regular or had been there at least once before—which was intimidating, but not a problem. The environment is very supportive. Onlookers, class participants and instructors will clap after an impressive flying session. My first fly even received a round of applause. Plus, it’s neat to see how you can progress with the workout.
Overall, I found this to be a very safe, supportive environment. I was also very impressed with how well each of the three instructors work together. They switch positions throughout the two-hour class—one on the platform, one works the safety line and another even sat up on another trapeze bar to perform catches. The cues were great and each and every student received personalized feedback about how they could improve. I never once felt unsafe. One quick note: you will get chalk dust all over your clothes. It washes out well, but you may want to leave your nicest activewear in the closet if you don’t want to get “dusty.”
Besides your heart pumping from fear, it’s mostly a strength workout as you have to hold your own body weight the whole time you’re on the bar. My sore upper back muscles, forearms, chest, bicep and tricep muscles can attest to that. My abs were even aching. The instructor will ask you to swing your legs back and forth during certain swings, which forces you to contract your stomach muscles to make it happen.
Now, trapeze classes are pricy and range from $49 to $59 a pop, but could be worth it if you have it in the budget or are just looking to really shake things up every now and then. The hardest part of this class is just getting there. Once you’ve had your first fly, you’ll probably be hooked. I walked around D.C. the rest of the afternoon feeling accomplished and satisfied. I honestly can’t believe it took me a whole five years to do this. But as with most difficult tasks, at a certain point after nearly endless pondering, you just have to make one giant leap. And then you’re finally flying.
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Would you ever try a trapeze class?