Fitness from a flying trapeze?
Everyone from lawyers to movie stars is taking up the trapeze as the latest form of exercise and adventure.
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.Skip to next paragraph
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Ms. Dion is no wanna-be 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, 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."
Dion is one of a growing number of Americans taking up the ancient and mysterious art of trapeze as the latest form of exercise and exhilaration. For a nation that's evolved through every craze from Jack LaLanne to bungee jumping, now comes swinging through the air, even if not always with the greatest of ease.
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 Léotard, realize that what began in the late 19th century would one day experience a renaissance among everyday people. Even Club Med offers trapeze classes. "You have to understand that for those people who do not perform, the culture of spectacle is [still] very much a part of our world," says Ms. Davis.
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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 Pierce's students – including Rick Grandy, who's playing the role of catcher for Dion today. Mr. Grandy, a digital 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 Grandy, who is transitioning to the role of instructor at 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 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."