31 August 2009

Come Fly with Me

It's not often that I have a particularly interesting or unusual answer to the question, "what did you do over the bank holiday weekend?" but I think that today qualifies. As soon as I saw the recommendation in the Daily Candy London newsletter for trapeze classes taking place near the running track in Regent's Park, I knew I should sign up right away because it was likely to be booked up quickly. I'd seen the trapeze structure in the running track as I jogged past over the past few weeks but assumed they were setting up some kind of human equivalent to the aviary in the zoo just down the road. I booked a class for yesterday afternoon and all seemed well but then--oh noes--on Friday, I got an email from the trapeze guru saying that because of the Daily Candy mention and a mention on BBC Breakfast, they had had so many people trying to book that their system crashed and that people who thought they had booked actually hadn't. However, he did say that they had added an extra class on Monday and if people wanted to sign up, they should get their skates on. I immediately replied saying, "sign me up now!" before checking I was actually free on Monday but luckily I got the place (in fact, when I saw the list of participants, my name was at the top so presumably, I was the first to reply).

Still, I was somewhat nervous as I walked through the park to the running track. The class was only ninety minutes long--could I really be swinging through the air after only a rudimentary amount of training? Apparently, the answer was yes.

There were about ten of us there and the trapeze team consisted of four people (one holding the safety rope attached to the person swinging, two at the top of the scaffold--ah hem, I mean, platform--and one supervising). It was a lovely sunny day--much nicer than yesterday--so I was initially glad I had worn shorts. First, we each did a test run of the skill we were going to do on the big trapeze on a low bar. This consisted of jumping up to hold on with your arms, pull your knees up to your chin and hook them over the bar, let go with your arms and arch your body backwards so that your head was facing upwards again (while pointing your toes), before bringing your arms back to the bar and letting your legs down.

This is pretty simple when on a bar about two metres from the ground and not careering through the sky, albeit with a safety net and a rope to prevent you from too much doom. On the real trapeze, we were supposed to do the same thing: hold onto the trapeze from the platform, bend your legs and then jump down, bringing your knees up as you swing forwards (so that you utilise the momentum correctly), hook your knees over as you swing backwards and then let go with your arms, arching your back around and stretching your arms upwards so that your head is upright again before putting your arms back on and then dismounting (the dismount itself was somewhat counter-intuitive: you had to swing your legs back and forth three times to build up momentum and then tuck your knees up to your chest and let go of the bar--the momentum would propel you into a back somersault before landing on your arse on the net (it was counter-intuitive because I felt like I should be actively doing something to make the somersault work rather than just letting go)).

There are various ways you could mess this up and the first four people in our group all failed to complete the move. Some people's hands slipped from the bar on the first swing so they didn't even get the chance to try to get their knees up. Some people held on OK but couldn't get their knees over the bar. Some couldn't get the three-swings-and-off dismount right. When it was my turn, I was therefore a little worried that I too would mess up. Climbing up the ladder to the platform, I felt fine but at the top when I was holding the bar my legs started shaking, even though I didn't feel mentally nervous; I think it was because I have quite short arms and the trapeze didn't reach to comfortably within my grip and so holding onto it required leaning out over the platform while trying to keep my arms straight and to think about all the things I had to remember. Eventually it was time to go and I jumped and I got my knees over the bar first time and then did the hands-off-arching-back-upwards thing I was supposed to do before it was time to dismount. This I messed up a little as I didn't let go early enough (according to the coach, "you didn't let go when I said let go; you wanted to wait a couple of seconds until you were safe"...er, yeah...).

Apparently, my performance was inspirational because of the other people who had still to take their turn, another three managed to complete the move (and one sort of did it but took several swings to get their knees in place). The second swing we each had was a repetition of the same thing. As I felt even less nervous this time, I thought my knees wouldn't shake but annoyingly I couldn't stop them. I'll definitely have to bring arm extensions this time. Again I got my legs over fine the second time and did a better job of the dismount (though I was criticised for bringing up my legs one at a time--that said it is bloody difficult when you're on the trapeze to remember anything let alone everything you've been told; it's hard enough to obey the simple commands from the rope lady).

Then it was time for the third and final swing. Those of us who had managed to get our legs on the trapeze were told we could attempt to try the same move but with one of the coaches catching us from the other trapeze that was set up. It was exactly the same, we were told, but we had to stretch our arms really far and the coach would grab us by the wrists and say, "gotcha," at which point, we had to grab his wrists and "let go with your knees" (by straightening them). We made the two guys go first but they didn't manage it. Then the girl who was probably the best in the group went and she managed to complete the catch. I asked her for tips but she said her mind was all blank and couldn't remember the finer points of any of it--this was the same feeling I felt for much of the swinging.

Eventually it was my turn and I swung and I hooked my knees on and arched my back upwards and I felt the coach grab my wrists but then we slipped apart and it was all too late (though I finally did the somersault dismount). Apparently, I tried to hold onto the coach's arms which caused him to not get a good grip on me. Given that I have a severe inability to trust other people, it makes perfect sense that my conviction that I will be let down by others caused me to come so near but yet so far from completing the catch. Grrr. Well, at least I was the second best in the group.

The school is only in the park for another week before they close up for the season and of course all the classes are sold out. Loads of Marylebone children walking through the park would obviously be very taken with the idea of going on a trapeze and so their expectant parents would try to wangle their way into a class but instead had to explain to the kids that it wasn't possible and then, presumably, think of some amazing way of making it up to them.

All in all, it was an incredibly fun activity and I am very keen to try it again when they come back from their circus tours next summer. Unfortunately, wearing shorts proved not to my wholly wise: I have a huge graze on one knee from landing on and crawling across the net and also big bruises and red marks under both knees from gripping onto that bar with all my might. At least the marks on the back of my legs should let people know that my injuries certainly aren't carpet burns...

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