Flight Club Soars in D.C.

Posted July 17, 2009 at 3:22pm

Staffers may soon be quitting their day jobs in the halls of Congress to run off and join the circus. The District’s first trapeze school opened in Penn Quarter earlier this summer, giving Washingtonians a chance to practice their great escape, or simply have their Carrie Bradshaw moment.

The Trapeze School of New York relocated its Baltimore outpost to an outdoor location at the corner of H and Ninth streets Northwest earlier this summer and has been giving an eyeful to all who walk by. It is not unusual to see a student dangling upside down 23 feet above the ground as a group below claps and cheers.

“It’s fun, exciting, scary and it’s a challenge,— instructor Scout Day said of the trapeze.

D.C. residents seem to be up to the task. The school has been open for just over a month, and many of the beginner classes have already booked up with thrill-seekers. The school has a five-year contract to stay in D.C. and will be relocating to an indoor space at the Navy Yard in the fall. Classes range in cost from $40 to $55, and anyone age 6 or older is welcome.

Last week, Roll Call sent a reporter to don a harness and take to the bar to see what the buzz was all about.

On a sunny Wednesday morning, I gathered with fellow students for a two-hour class. After a 15-minute safety and instructional lesson in which the teachers had us practice moves on a bar on the ground, we were off.

[IMGCAP(1)]With butterflies in my stomach, I climbed the ladder 23 feet into the air to a tiny platform, which I was to leap from. From the ground, it didn’t seem that high up, but it seemed terrifyingly far from earth once I reached the top. One of the instructors hooked the safety lines to my harness while speaking a few words of encouragement and suggesting I visualize myself succeeding. She soon handed me the bar, and I was off and swinging.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about flying is how easy it is. Within the first half-hour of class I was (intentionally) hanging upside down by my knees and flipping off the bar and into the net. I have no athletic skill and the moves were extremely difficult on the ground, but once in the air the momentum of the swing made everything much easier.

Everyone in my class — a group of seven ranging from 6 years old to early 30s — was able to nail the knee hang on their first try. It wasn’t long before we were cheering each other on and clapping whenever someone performed the move in a particularly graceful manner.

At the end of the class, after three or four knee hangs, we were all given an opportunity to attempt a catch. This consisted of an instructor hanging from an opposite bar who would dangle upside down and grab our hands as we swung toward him. This move was admittedly more difficult — and scary — but even many of the first-timers were successful.

After the class concluded, many of the students — myself included — signed up for a second session, while Day talked of the satisfaction he feels after helping a group of students work through their fears. He says trapeze is all about learning to trust others and challenging yourself.

“All of those little things that people do here apply to the rest of life,— he said.