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Feel the fear

… and sort of do it anyway.

I did my first trapeze class on Saturday. It was terrifying, in a terrifying kind of way.

I’ve always been quite keen on scaring myself. Not ‘put on a mask and stand in front of the mirror’ scared (sometimes the mask isn’t necessary), but trying new things and risking failure.

Some of the blame lies with Susan Jeffers, author of ‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway’, which I first read in December 1996. Steve, my ex held her partly responsible for our break-up in January 1997, though to be fair, it wasn’t Susan’s idea that I thoughtfully announce my decision at 11.50pm on New Year’s Eve.

But back to the trapeze. The 2 hour class was held at The Crossings, just outside Austin. The Crossings is described as a ‘Learning Center, Meeting Place and Spa.’ The courses are normally a bit weirdy beardy, lots of spiritual awakenings and transmuting and drumming for Jesus. The trapeze class has none of that, it’s proper daredevil stuff.

This was the first class of the season – they offer 5 or 6 two hour classes every week from now till the end of May. Without even trying it, I signed up for a package of five classes because it was cheaper and I’d already decided that trapeze would be my new brilliant thing. This follows recent attempts at mountain biking, paragliding and improv classes, none of which became my new brilliant thing.

Plus I imagined there’d be some kind of gradual build-up. Surely the first 2 hour class would be lots of talking and demonstrating – baby steps to get us used to everything. Not real baby steps of course, babies would be useless on the trapeze because they wouldn’t have the upper body or core strength, plus they wouldn’t listen to instructions very well.

We did some stretches, I was excellent at them. (We, is me, plus 2 moms and their 11 year old daughters). Then we went to a practice bar and learned how to swing our legs back and forth and then hook them over the bar and let go. I was sure I could master that if we practiced for another hour or so. But no, we were then strapped into harnesses, which were really just wide belts that they cinched until you could feel your kidneys poking through. Climbing the ladder to the platform was the scariest part for me. I’m not really a ladder type and the whole structure looked rather high. Plus it was windy. The instructor said he’d hook the kids into a safety belt when they climbed and that the adults could use it too if we wanted, though he pointed out that most people didn’t feel the need. As I’ve long known, I’m not most people.

I went first, by default, because the child who had been all ‘me first, me first’, decided to chicken out and despite my harsh glare didn’t budge from her seat. So I hooked up and started climbing, quite sure that I was going to die or at least throw up. I got to the tiny platform at the top and was clinging onto the metal frame. I then started panic babbling about how I couldn’t do this, how I wanted to go back down, no, I really really couldn’t do this, blah blah. Clearly the instructor had heard all this before because he just ignored me and told me to plant my feet on the edge of the platform. This is where it became even more counter intuitive. Feet perched on the edge, left hand on the metal frame, I had to reach out with my right arm and grab the trapeze bar. Then, with the instructor holding me from the back, I had to put my left hand on the bar and lean far out over the net.

Then a little jump off the platform and off I went.

This is where it became fun. The swing out felt a lot smoother than you’d imagine and when I reached the highest point (think pendulum), I hooked my knees up over the bar and let go. Two more swings while upside down, then I grabbed back hold of the bar, unhooked my knees and it was over. I let go and executed a perfectish backflip into the net. I feel like I should have whooped, or punched the air or something American but I was a bit too stunned and worried about my impending heart attack. I crawled to the edge of the net, slid down the pole and it was done. The 11 year old was already on the platform. Side note: she was of course brilliant and by the end of class was doing a catch – the instructor on the other trapeze bar caught her mid-air, you know, like in the circus. It’s probably easier when you weigh 40 pounds.

So that was it, first one over. The great thing about it being a small class, is that we got to fly lots of times. But three times up that ladder was more than enough for me. My timing was a little better each time, but I was no less terrified on the platform.

On the way home, I realised I was on a bit of a high. I couldn’t quite believe what I’d done and most importantly, done without making an absolute tit of myself.

I’ve since been humming the tune to ‘The Man on the Flying Trapeze’. You may not know it, it was written in the 1860s by George Leybourne and performed by Tommy Trinder in the 1944 movie ‘Champagne Charlie’ (factual note in deference to my brother Miles who generously emailed to point out the inaccuracies in an earlier draft) and the lyrics are:

He’d fly through the air with the greatest of ease,
That daring young man on the flying trapeze.
His movements were graceful, all girls he could please
And my love he purloined away.

Before looking up the song, I only knew the first two lines and I think George could have just repeated them, although it is nice to see the word ‘purloined’. I must mention this next time I appear on ‘I Luv the 1800s’.

I’ve been visualising myself going to my next class on Wednesday, and being all super confident and astonishing. But pride before a fall and all that. Although, if every fall had a safety net, then maybe we wouldn’t give a toss. Pride before a soft landing, parents would say, and the kids would laugh in their faces.

More on Wednesday.