Latest fit­ness craze is in full swing

The Washington Times Weekly - - Page Two - By Evan Pon­del

Jen­nifer Dion is out for her “Satur­day morn­ing es­cape.” This means she is wear­ing one of her trade­mark black leo­tards, dan­gling up­side down from a trapeze, her arms out­stretched wait­ing to even­tu­ally con­nect with a “catcher” — a per­son on an­other fly­ing bar she will lock arms with.

Ms. Dion is no wannabe cir­cus per­former. She is an in­te­rior de­signer and mother of two who at­tends trapeze school in a non­de­script ware­house five miles east of Los An­ge­les In­ter­na­tional Air­port. Ea­ger for a lit­tle mid­dle-age ad­ven­ture, Ms. Dion likes the brief mo­ment of weight­less­ness she ex­pe­ri­ences when hurtling through the air and the Bar­num & Bai­ley al­ter­na­tive to her nor­mal rou­tine.

“This helps me get away from the kids, and I feel like the re­lease of it also makes ev­ery­thing bet­ter at home,” she says. “It’s not easy, though. I’m a mom and not as in shape as I used to be.”

Ms. Dion is one of a grow­ing num­ber of Amer­i­cans tak­ing up the trapeze as the latest form of ex­er­cise and ex­hil­a­ra­tion. For a na­tion that’s evolved through ev­ery craze from Jack La Lanne to bungee jump­ing, now comes swing­ing through the air, even if not al­ways with the great­est of ease.

Susan Davis, a phys­i­cal ther­a­pist with Mary­land Phys­i­cal Ther­apy in Glen Burnie, Md., is a com­mit­ted prac­ti­tioner as well. She stum­bled across the out­door trapeze set up by Trapeze School New York at Bal­ti­more’s In­ner Har­bor and has been go­ing there for four years. She had just had surgery on her knee for re­con­struc­tion of a lig­a­ment and knew that the skills in­volved in work­ing a trapeze didn’t re­quire much knee ac­tion.

“The trapeze was the first sport I could get back to do­ing be­cause it is mostly an up­per-body sport,” she says.

A gym­nast from child­hood, she rec­om­mends it for what she calls “core strength­en­ing,” as well as be­ing “great for help­ing with co­or­di­na­tion and a sense of body aware­ness. Tim­ing is very im­por­tant, and do­ing what you are sup­posed to do at the right time. So it gives you skill at con­trol­ling your body and hav­ing a sense of where you are in space.”

Plus, she adds, “You don’t have to be in ex­cel­lent con­di­tion to do it.”

In Los An­ge­les — the na­tion’s un­of­fi­cial trend­set­ter for all things bod­ily — ev­ery­one from lawyers to teach­ers to movie stars are grab­bing ae­rial bars. But the trend ex­tends well be­yond this sun-dap­pled play­ground.

“It is safe to say that trapeze has be­come a phe­nom­e­non, and it’s na­tion­wide,” says Janet Davis, a pro­fes­sor of Amer­i­can stud­ies and his­tory at the Univer­sity of Texas at Austin. “Things like Cirque du Soleil are now a per­va­sive part of the so­cial con­scious­ness, as­sum­ing a very cen­tral place in our cul­ture, and the trapeze, anec­do­tally speak­ing, is at the cen­ter of this phe­nom­e­non.”

Lit­tle did the in­ven­tor of the fly­ing trapeze, Jules Leo­tard, re­al­ize that what be­gan in the late 19th cen­tury would one day ex­pe­ri­ence a re­nais­sance among ev­ery­day peo­ple. Even Club Med of­fers trapeze classes.

No sign iden­ti­fies Ray Pierce’s trapeze school, just the faint whine of a swing that glides back and forth, 25 feet up. The school sits in a ware­house sec­tion south of down­town Los An­ge­les. The stu­dents per­form on a rig out­doors. They take ori­en­ta­tion classes inside.

“The first thing I tell peo­ple is that they have to learn to let go in or­der to fly,” says Mr. Pierce, a lo­cal trapeze guru whose wavy blond hair and rugged goa­tee evoke a sense of ad­ven­ture. “Don’t fight the swing. Let the swing take you.”

Those words ring familiar to a grow­ing num­ber of Mr. Pierce’s stu­dents — in­clud­ing Rick Grandy, who’s play­ing the role of catcher for Ms. Dion to­day. Mr. Grandy, a dig- ital artist, first ex­pe­ri­enced the trapeze sev­eral years ago at a cor­po­rate out­ing.

“I’m not a for­mer gym­nast. Not a per­former. I just think trapeze is fun and a great way to ex­er­cise,” says Mr. Grandy, who is tran­si­tion­ing to the role of in­struc­tor at Mr. Pierce’s school.

His girl­friend, Heather Cooper, is stand­ing on the trapeze plat­form and about to per­form a split — strad­dle the bar. Be­fore push­ing off, she yells “listo,” which means “ready” in Span­ish, and then Mr. Pierce, who acts as con­duc­tor, re­sponds with “hep” — trapeze talk for “charge.” Both words are tra­di­tion­ally said be­fore any trick on the fly­ing trapeze.

Ms. Cooper, an an­titrust and trade reg­u­la­tion at­tor­ney, is a for­mer gym­nast.

“So I at times look for per­fec­tion,” she says. “But like prac­tic­ing law, trapeze can be very tech­ni­cal.”

So tech­ni­cal that a cou­ple of bou­tique gyms in Los An­ge­les have hired ae­rial arts spe­cial­ists to teach “static trapeze,” which means the swing is hang­ing sta­tion­ary from the ceil­ing.

Kristy Beau­vais teaches static trapeze at Cool Baby, a fa­cil­ity in Los An­ge­les that or­ga­nizes ex­er­cise classes for fam­i­lies. A year ago it was dif­fi­cult to find a static trapeze of­fered in a gym set­ting, but Ms. Beau­vais says more peo­ple are look­ing to the trapeze as an al­ter­na­tive way to stay fit.

Among her stu­dents is John Midby, a film-school teacher. Dressed in sil­ver work­out shorts and a black T-shirt, Mr. Midby hangs from the static trapeze and be­gins swing­ing his body in a cir­cu­lar mo­tion. His legs spin like an egg­beater, whip­ping up the air be­neath him.

“I started do­ing this for fit­ness, and then I re­al­ized how much fun I was hav­ing,” says Mr. Midby, beads of sweat on his brow. “My kids think I’m cool.”

That’s pre­cisely the kind of think­ing that mo­ti­vated Ar­turo “Arano” Or­tiz to re­cently stop teach­ing trapeze at Club Med and start his own con­sult­ing firm, Cir­cus Ser­vices. Af­ter teach­ing at the re­sort com­pany for nearly a decade, more peo­ple be­gan ask­ing Mr. Or­tiz if he could rec­om­mend a trapeze school in their home­town.

“It amazed me how many peo­ple were get­ting hooked on trapeze,” says Mr. Or­tiz, who thinks peo­ple are at­tracted to its unique­ness. “You cer­tainly can’t find a trapeze rig ev­ery­where.”

Photo by Evan Pon­del

Ruthie Danziger of Los An­ge­les makes a soft land­ing in the safety net af­ter swing­ing on the trapeze for ex­er­cise at an ae­rial arts school.

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