St. Louis’ Newest Attraction – Flying Trapeze School
Those brave enough to climb a 30-foot tall ladder can learn to “fly through the air with the greatest of ease,” as the old ditty goes, and experience a new spin on the adrenalin rush.
Circus Harmony is a non-profit social circus headquartered at St. Louis’ fantastic City Museum where visitors can see a circus performance. Check the schedule for dates and times.
Visitors can sign on for a single “swing” on the trapeze or lessons that will have them swinging on the trapeze, learning to do a “trick” high in the air, and then being “caught” by an aerialist on another trapeze.
While this adventure is not for the feint of heart or those who fear heights, safety is front and center. Flyers are on a harness and swing over a net.
To start, flyers must climb a ladder that’s like “like climbing to the second-story window,” Jessica Hentoff, Circus Harmony artistic and executive director, said.
“You’re up 30 feet, and it seems like it’s really high, and you know what? Every time you go up it seems like it’s not as high as the time before,” Hentoff said.She should know.
During her performing days, Hentoff and a fellow aerialist were the only trapeze artists to do a unique trick they developed and did on a single trapeze.
“It (flying on a trapeze) is one of the most exhilarating things you can do,” she said. “You know how being a superhero is a typical dream for people? You’ll get to feel what it’s really like to be a superhero. It’s so much fun.”
Students get a demonstration, safety explanation and instructions first. They can also practice on a low-hanging rapeze before climbing the ladder to get to the platform where an aerialist awaits them. A little more instruction, and they’re off!
“Rather quickly we move you up to where you have your knees on the bar and before you know it, you’re reaching out to the catcher on the other trapeze, and then you get to do a somersault into the net,” Hentoff said.
“Flying” is for people age five and up, she said. And when she says “up,” she isn’t kidding. Her oldest student was an 87-year-old woman.
Don’t assume you need tremendous upper body strength to be successful on the trapeze. You don’t, Hentoff said.
“You’re just hanging. You’re not doing a pull-up where you need upper body strength. You just hold on for the length of time of the swing. Pretty much anybody can do it.
“And the more you do it, strength builds up very, very quickly. We also have phenomenal contortion classes at circus harmony” for those who want to build up flexibility, she added.
Manager of the Flying Trapeze Center is Matt Viverito, a home towner who fell in love with the circus as a kid when he attended Circus Harmony’s summer camp at City Museum. There he learned many circus skills but not trapeze. City Museum’s ceilings aren’t high enough to accommodate the riggings. “Their air space is a little too small,” he said.
He was a student at Circus Harmony all through high school.
“I wasn’t quite ready to give it up when I graduated,” he said.
So, when it came time to pick a college, off he went to Florida State University because it has a circus program.
“This (trapeze) is one of the acts I got to try there, and I just kind of fell in love with it,” he said. “It’s addicting. Once it kind of gets its hooks in you, it’s exciting. You want to do more, and there’s always something new to learn, and it’s just a lot of fun.”
Viverito graduated summa cum laude before running off with the circus. He joined the Flying Pages and traveled throughout the East Coast and Midwest thrilling audiences with his aerial act.
While working with the Flying Pages, Viverito perfected the triple somersault, a hallmark of serious aerialists. “It’s kind of always been a dream of mine,” he said. The trick takes “a lot of timing and strength and experience,” he added.
Stop in at the Flying Trapeze Center and you just may be lucky enough to see Viverito actually perform a triple somersault.
The Trapeze Center’s location makes it easy for tourists and homeowners alike to find.
“You come to Union Station which is easily accessible,” Hentoff said. “There’s even a MetroLink stop (at Union Station).
“We’re set up in the parking lot right next to the Hard Rock Cafe so we’ll have rock ‘n roll music to inspire and enlighten you.”
She foresees “flying” becoming a favorite date night activity and a fun thing to do with friends.
“It’s also nice that it’s out in the open and people can come and watch it. That’s why we offer the pay for swing. You might come down to watch someone else’s class and then you’re going to see how much fun they’re having, and you’re just going to want to try it. Pretty much everybody who goes up does it again.”
“Everyone who’s taken the class walks away with a smile,” he said.
If you go:
• The Flying Trapeze Center is at Union Station, 1820 Market Street in downtown St. Louis.
• It’s open April to October. This year it will be open until Oct. 19.
• Hours vary; visit www.circusday.org.
• The trapeze is suitable for people age 5 and older.
• The center is outdoors so flying is weather-dependent. If it’s wet, windy or very cold, the show might not go on.
• Cost: $60 per hour-and-a-half class; books of five and 10 classes receive a discount; $20 for a single swing.
• Make reservations at www.trapezestl.com.
• Check them out on Twitter @TrapezeSTL and on Facebook at Facebook.com/circusharmonyflyingtrapezecenter.
Guest Blogger Kathie Sutin a freelance writer from St. Louis, Missouri contributed to this blog.