I Tried It: Trapeze Workshop at Philadelphia School of Circus Arts

Because who doesn't want to feel like a circus acrobat every once in a while?

Coordination has, um, never been my thing. I can hardly make it through the day without tripping at least once, so I don’t know what I was thinking when I asked the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts if I could tag along for their “Intro to Aerials” workshop last Sunday.

Maybe it was the beginner-friendly description on the website or the fantastic reviews that I found online, but as I hoped on the 23 bus en route to Mount Airy, I was actually feeling more excited than nervous.

I checked in with the receptionist and was guided up into a watching room located above the main gym to wait for my instructor. That’s when, while watching the instructors below effortlessly climb the ropes while twisting their bodies in every direction, I realized something important: This was going to require a good deal of upper-body strength, something I don’t exactly have in spades, to put it nicely. I suddenly had flashbacks of failing the pull-up test in high school P.E., and couldn’t remember the last time I banged out 10 push-ups in a row—much less, 10 push-ups ever.

Hmm. This would be … interesting.

Once the five other aerial hopefuls who were in my class had gathered, we spent about 15 minutes stretching out and getting to know each other. Instructor Meg Skill did her best to calm our nerves before we got down to business, and I really did start to feel better, especially after hearing that I wasn’t the only one in the class with little-to-no aerial experience.

But all that went down the tubes when we got to our station: the ropes. We separated into groups of two, and Meg told us we would start out with something “easy” to warm up. Our first task, she said, was to “simply” climb up the rope using nothing but our upper body strength. (I think you can see why I’m using quotes here.)

I let my partner take a stab at the ropes first, hoping to put off my embarrassment as long as possible. I watched as she scaled to the top with ease, making me feel even more insecure about my impending doom. After she made her way down, she assured me, “It’s not as hard as it looks!” Yeah, maybe for her. I chalked up my hands and prepared for humiliation.

Let’s just say the ropes lived up to my expectations. I struggled with shaking arms and sweaty palms trying to make it to the top, but trying was as far as I got. Once Meg added a move that required flipping upside and balancing your legs over you head, I was a lost cause. I spent the next 20 minutes trying (in vain) to master the move until finally I was put out of my misery—it was time to move on to the low-hanging trapeze.

Given my success rate with the ropes, I wasn’t feel too hot on my luck going into the next activity. Meg showed us a simple routine, which we were to then do one by one on the trapeze. I watched each of my peers successfully complete the routine until finally it was my turn. While the ropes were not my forte, I actually wasn’t half bad on the trapeze. With the help of Meg and the encouragement from the rest of the class I was able to complete the routine and even mastered a move called the low-hanging hexagon! (Which also made for an impressive new Facebook profile picture.)

Our last stop was the silks, which were basically very pretty, very slippery ropes—ugh. Even with the confidence high I was on from the trapeze, I didn’t press my luck by trying to climb. I was, however, able to master the balancing-upside-down move I had failed at earlier. Improvement!

By the time the hour-and-fifteen-minute session came to a close, I was able to walk out the door with a measure of confidence and a new-found appreciation of the aerial arts (not to mention sore biceps, triceps, shoulders, and back muscles). And, hey, if this whole journalism thing doesn’t work out, I might have a real shot at running away with the circus.

The “Intro to Aerials Workshop” costs $25. Philadelphia School of Circus Arts is located at 5900A Greene Street in Mount Airy. Call 2150849-1991 for more information or visit their website here.

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