Learn­ing to let go

A trapeze camp teaches adults how to be swingers.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Living - BY RICHARD CHIN

WHEN I flew through the air, it was not with the great­est of ease.

But I did be­come the cau­tious, mid­dle-aged man on the fly­ing trapeze, thanks to an adult cir­cus arts sum­mer camp be­ing held in Marine on St. Croix.

The pro­gramme is be­ing run by Sherri Mann, owner of Fly­ing Col­ors Fly­ing Trapeze, which Mann said has the only out­door fly­ing trapeze in the state.

Mann has been teach­ing kids in trapeze camps for about 11 years at her lo­ca­tion near Big Marine Lake, Min­nesota, the United States. But this sum­mer she de­cided that peo­ple too old to run away to join the cir­cus de­served a camp, too.

When I gave it a try, many of my fel­low stu­dents were peo­ple who had some trapeze fly­ing ex­pe­ri­ence at fa­cil­i­ties like Twin Ci­ties Trapeze Cen­ter in St. Paul.

They were al­ready fa­mil­iar with tricks that have mys­te­ri­ous names like planches and strad­dle whips.

Dur­ing our stretch­ing warmups, some fel­low campers were try­ing splits. I could barely touch my toes.

One of the campers was Katy Van­dam, a 32-year-old swim coach from Min­neapo­lis who started do­ing trapeze in March. She goes to Twin Ci­ties Trapeze twice a week.

“I find it kind of like swimming, but in the air,” Van­dam said. “It’s re­ally free­ing.”

Chelsea Pioske, a 30-year-old from Ot­sego, said the trapeze is a com­bi­na­tion of ex­er­cise, adren­a­line and med­i­ta­tion.

“You can’t focus on any­thing else when you’re up there,” she said.

Net­tie Mag­nu­son, a 59-year-old teacher from Min­neapo­lis, came to the two-day camp to sam­ple the trapeze and other ac­tiv­i­ties in­clud­ing aerial silks, acroyoga and wa­ter sports like wakesurf­ing and pad­dle­board­ing. Mag­nu­son said she didn’t have any pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence in cir­cus arts.

“I’m not a heights per­son. I’m a ground per­son,” she said. But, she added, “I’m fas­ci­nated by the prospect I could do some­thing dif­fer­ent.”

From the ground up

When it was my turn to try the trapeze, the in­struc­tors first had me hang from a pullup bar on the ground to try to im­i­tate the ideal body po­si­tion to swing through the air.

I was told to im­i­tate a green banana and form an arc with my feet slightly be­hind me.

“It takes a life­time to learn a good swing,” said Shawn Klancke, who is Mann’s sis­ter as well as be­ing a trapeze rig­ger and a Min­neapo­lis fire­fighter.

Then I had to hook my legs over the pullup bar to try hang­ing up­side down. That felt awk­ward.

It’s been more than 40 years since I’ve hung up­side down from my knees at the play­ground.

Next I mounted the nar­row metal Jacob’s lad­der lead­ing to the trapeze plat­form above the ground. There’s a net, of course, and I also wore a belt hooked onto safety lines.

With the trapeze rig set in the mid­dle of an open field, I had a nice view of the clouds float­ing over­head, hawks and swal­lows fly­ing by and neigh­bour­ing fields.

“It’s like you’re fly­ing in the sky,” said camp coach Ka­t­rina Nord.

But I was mainly fo­cused on not fall­ing off and fol­low­ing in­struc­tions: Toes to the end of the board. Grab the bar. Lean per­ilously over the edge while a coach holds onto my safety belt. Bend the knees at the com­mand of “Ready.” Hop off when I hear, “Hup.”

And then I was whoosh­ing through the air, hang­ing from my arms, swing­ing in a big arc un­til the coach told me to let go and I dropped into the net.

Next, I was sup­posed to hook my legs over the bar dur­ing a midair swoop. But I missed the com­mand to pull my legs up at the top of the first swing.

That’s when you have a brief pe­riod of near-weight­less­ness and it’s easy to curl up and hang your legs over the bar. Some­thing to do with physics.

I got it right the next time. And when the coach told me to re­lease my hands, I was swing­ing through the air, hang­ing up­side down from the knees, the ground rapidly zoom­ing past be­low my head and dan­gling arms.

On my next turn, I fol­lowed the coach’s in­struc­tions as I was swing­ing from my arms and I swung my legs for­ward, back, for­ward and then I let go. Thanks to some more physics, I did a back som­er­sault be­fore I fell into the net.

Time to fly

The last les­son in­volved hang­ing up­side down again. This time, when I reached the near-hor­i­zon­tal point at the top of the swing, the coaches told me to arch my back and ex­tend my arms to an imag­i­nary catcher.

That’s the per­son who would be swing­ing on an­other bar at the other end of the trapeze rig, ready to grab my wrists and snatch me off my bar.

Purely the­o­ret­i­cal, I as­sumed, un­til Leo showed up.

Leo Ipsen looks like a high school kid be­cause that’s ex­actly what he is, a 17-year-old who just fin­ished 11th grade at St. Croix Prep in Still­wa­ter. But he’s al­ready an old cir­cus pro.

He’s been learn­ing cir­cus tricks for about 13 years with Cir­cus Ju­ven­tas, the St. Paul-based per­form­ing arts cir­cus school for youths.

“It’s my job to catch peo­ple who fly across,” Leo said.

“The whole rea­son we swing is to get caught by a catcher,” said Klancke, who has been a catcher her­self.

“Once you make that catch on the bar, that’s a cool feel­ing. You re­ally get hooked,” said Os­car Cumpiano, a 27-year-old Min­neapo­lis res­i­dent who was at­tend­ing the camp.

On my next trip to the plat­form, I was still fo­cused on not fall­ing off, but in the dis­tance I dimly per­ceived Leo swing­ing at the other end of the rig, wait­ing for a midair meet­ing.

I had my wrists taped and chalked to give Leo some­thing to grab on. The coaches also made sure I wasn’t wear­ing a ring or a wrist­watch that could re­sult in an in­jury.

I tried to jump promptly at the “hup” com­mand so my swing was timed to Leo’s. I swung my legs up onto the bar, but when I got up­side down, I could no longer see Leo be­cause I was swing­ing with my back to him.

On the re­turn swing, I saw the plat­form rush away and the net rac­ing by be­low. I rose up and arched my back and sud­denly Leo swam into view with his arms ex­tended.

Oh! There was a split-se­cond im­age of my hands clutch­ing at empty air. And then we swung apart.

With­out enough mo­men­tum to try it again, I dropped into the net.

But the coaches weren’t ready yet to send in the clowns.

“So much of trapeze is pa­tience,” Klancke said.

Nord told me not to focus on grab­bing Leo. All I had to do was to show up at the right time with my arms ex­tended and he would do the rest.

“When you’re a flier, your only job is to look pretty and put your hands out,” Nord said.

So that’s what I did – at least, the hands out part.

I thrust out my arms at the peak of the next swing. This time Leo’s hands clamped onto my wrists like a pair of hand­cuffs. With­out think­ing, I grabbed his wrists back, straight­ened my legs and re­leased from my bar. Now I was swing­ing be­low Leo on his bar.

Af­ter he dropped me onto the net, I flipped over the side and landed on the ground, feel­ing like Tony Cur­tis in the 1956 movie Trapeze.

The bat­ter­ies on the GoPro cam­era died when I did it a se­cond time. You’ll just have to trust me.

Af­ter­ward, my arms were a bit sore from the swing­ing and the back of my legs ached a bit from hang­ing up­side down. My neck got a bit tweaked from who knows what.

I’m not ready to get fit­ted for a leo­tard. But I was more than a lit­tle pleased with my­self. – Star Tri­bune (Min­neapo­lis)/Tri­bune News Ser­vice

Chin (left) and catcher Ipsen try to con­nect at adult sum­mer camp at Fly­ing Col­ors Trapeze. — Photos: TNS

Chin on his se­cond at­tempt.

Chin re­ceiv­ing some trapeze bar coach­ing from owner Sherri Mann.

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