Don’t you just get those days when you’re like ‘that’s it, I’m joining the circus’? Nope? Just me then. But in all seriousness, I actually did. I joined the flying trapeze department in Stellenbosch with the Living Arts Foundation. Here’s what went down… and up.
So how did I even hear about this? Well, my buddy and fitness instructor at Bloc11, Dave Bunting, is a circus performer among many other things. Naturally I was intrigued and obviously he invited me to come and give it a try. It took a little persuading as I’m not a fan of heights. I’ve jumped out of a plane and off a bridge before but there’s something about that juuust too-far-off-the-ground-to-land-safely height that gets to me. Okay, there are safety nets, but you know what I mean. Persuading successful, I left the office, jumped in my car and headed to Stellies.
Getting into the swing of things
Nothing quite like being thrown in the deep end. First up, I put on the harness gear and was given some general “on the ground” guidelines as to how it would work. The next thing I knew, Lionel (the instructor) wanted me up on the skinny platform 10m up.
“We’ll begin with a knee hang and a backflip dismount,” he added. What?? I can’t do a backflip at all, not even into a pool or on a trampoline – and now I needed to do one in the air? I was stressing, to say the least. My legs were complete jelly as I climbed up to the platform.
Once there, I had to lean out and grab the bar. I managed to grab it with my right hand but my left hand just would not let go of the secure pole next to me. One of the instructors had a tight grip on my harness and I knew nothing could happen, but eventually, Dave had to help me by pulling the bar closer and minimising the leaning. Both hands on, the next step was the step-off into nothingness. Cue butterflies on steroids in the tummy region.
Hang on, you got this
You know that feeling when you go on a scary ride or jump off a high cliff and your whole body goes into shock? That massive adrenaline feeling? I had that. All sound sort of blocks out and I just focused on gripping onto the bar as tightly as possible. It felt like an age before I became aware of Lionel calling out instructions from the ground. “Kick back, kick forward and knees up,” he commanded. Somehow, my body responded and I found my knees hooked over the bar.
“Let go with your arms,” he continued. What? I slowly let go and what a feeling. Swinging upside down, hair flowing, eyes absorbing the beautiful Stellies surrounds. But Lionel wasn’t finished. Time to step it up a level. Legs unhooked and back to swinging from the arms, it was time to backflip.
“Forwards, backwards, forwards and let go!” My first attempt was dismal, but on my third try, I got lucky. An actual backflip onto the landing mat. Yet again, Lionel decided to up the ante. “On your next swing, look back to the catcher and reach for his hands – we’re going for the catch.” Come again?
Catch and release
Sounds simple enough and looks easy when you watch the pros – but when you think about it there are a lot of things that can go wrong with a catch. And my brain was racing through the options. The timing has to be completely on point; I mean, you and the catcher need to meet at the perfect moment for a successful catch. Besides this, you also need to catch and release simultaneously. If you don’t release your knees, things will definitely end badly – especially for the catcher. This is what I had going through my mind when I climbed up for my attempt.
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Back on the platform, I grabbed the bar again. By now I was feeling a lot more confident on the platform. I jumped off and swung my legs up over the bar, not as neatly as I’m describing. Knees successfully hooked, I let go with my hands and swung back to look for the catcher. There he was, hands reaching out. Our hands met and we did what could only be described as a high five in the air and then both swung away, separately on our own swings.
It was a hit and miss, so to speak but I was actually relieved that I hadn’t managed it as I was 99 percent sure I would have dislocated his arms by not letting go with my knees. Safely back on the ground I was congratulated on my attempt as I tried to stop my knees from shaking. I’d survived my afternoon at the circus and while I don’t think I’ll ever be a very good trapeze artist, at least I survived to tell the tale. But I think I’ll stick to writing for now.