Learning the trapeze, and with the greatest of ease


By Judith Stiles

Stuck in traffic, crawling down the West Side Highway toward the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, you will no doubt find a lot of drivers rubbernecking, not to get a glimpse of a nearby car accident, but to watch ordinary people flying through the air with the greatest of ease, or gleefully plummeting into safety nets at The New York Trapeze School. From April to October, at Desbrosses St. in Tribeca just north of Pier 26, with a backdrop of magnificent views of the Hudson River, students from ages 6 to 73, beginners to advanced, can partake in the thrill of flying trapeze.

“I looked out over the Hudson River with the sun glistening off the water,” recounts opera singer Cassandra Riddle. “Off the platform into midair, holding only the bar, my body swinging, flying, I felt like a kid again, free, full of life,” she adds.

Although the trapeze and the swings seem so exposed with a floor of concrete 30 ft. below, the students couldn’t be safer with state-of-the art equipment, safety harnesses, safety lines and a big, reassuring safety net between the flyer and the concrete.

After becoming acclimatized to a practice swing on the ground, in your first class you will be encouraged to swing on a bar 23 ft. above the safety net, and you might also try a knee hang with legs over the bar as you let go with your hands. That’s right, upside-down and flying through the air with the beautiful Hudson River zooming back and forth in your sightline.

The Trapeze School was founded in Upstate New York in 1999 by aerial arts enthusiast and expert Jonathon Conant. In 2001 Conant partnered with Anne and Dave Brown to open a school in the Big Apple, and by 2002 in conjunction with The Hudson River Park Trust, the New York Trapeze School opened its doors and started swinging from dawn to dusk. “The school caters to athletes, thrill-seekers, circus fans, children, community groups, corporate groups and anyone who simply wishes to try something completely different and exhilarating,” states Conant on their Web site.

On a whim, Laura Mady, the owner of the elegant jewelry store “Boucher” at 9 Ninth Ave. (near Little W. 12th St.), decided to treat her employees to an unknown adventure, a day of throwing caution to the wind, where everyone would be trapeze artists for a day. A graduate of the prestigious Rochester Institute of Technology, now an expert in creating jewelry out of semiprecious stones and gold, she understands the important balance of being precise yet free thinking in her work. It seemed a perfect fit for her employees to experience the precision required in aerial arts along with the freedom of flying through the air.

After the company outing, “Laura was hooked,” says her mother, Olivia, who is currently escaping the weather in Florida with a visit to her daughter in New York City. “Laura was never the athletic one in the family. Her idea of sports in high school was yoga and in a similar way she loves working out on the trapeze,” she adds.

There are no scores, no points, no competitions, no trophies at the New York Trapeze School, but rather students who are eager to learn for the pure exhilaration of the “sport” and nothing more. The instructors bring an easygoing and patient enthusiasm to their work, especially Arlie Hart who leads the morning classes. He loves aerial arts so much that on Friday afternoons he heads Upstate to visit a friend who has her own trapeze rig in the countryside where they can share a weekend of flying and fun.

Besides aerial arts many new activities for children and families have sprung up along the Hudson River. Long ago in the 1950s, recreational activities for neighborhood kids on the riverfront included wandering over to the old wooden pier in the West Village and throwing your brother’s baseball cap in the river to watch it float away. For girls the popular activity on the pier was collecting broken bits of colored glass (from old liquor bottles) and taking them home to add to last week’s collection of “rubies” and “diamonds.”

But today, neighborhood kids can pick and choose from a smorgasbord of activities from rollerblading, biking, kayaking, rowing, a skate park, batting cages, mini-golf, a playground, tennis (coming soon near Spring St.), juggling lessons, baseball, basketball, soccer and of course flying trapeze. And don’t forget what Hudson River Park Trust calls “passive recreation,” better known as lounging on a bench to simply enjoy the view. This is great for those who don’t have the stomach to try trapeze arts just yet.

Watching the students somersault and catch the next bar as they fly through the air is an exciting experience in itself. Yes, you do have to be brave to take the first plunge off the trapeze platform even with all the safety features surrounding you. If you need a week or two to muster your courage, don’t fret — in the meantime you can stroll down to Pier 25 for a rollicking game of mini-golf that is just perfect for landlubbers who prefer their feet on terra firma.

For more information on New York Trapeze School, go to www.trapezeschool.com, or call 917-797-1872.