When I was small enough to fit comfortably in a playground swing, I could spend hours there. I would pump my legs until I reached the highest physical point in the equipments’ apex, close my eyes, and keep the momentum going until I was physically ill — the full-body high was exhilarating. While attending a class at The Trapeze Club, I realized how much I missed that feeling. At the base of the Shawangunks, Carissa Borrello operates a flying trapeze school that attracts adventure seekers of all ages. Safe, tons of fun, and wildly addicting, the club is open May-October and classes run all week. Numerous instructors are present, and in two hours each student does something they didn’t think they could when they arrived at Stone Mountain Farm, which houses the club.
Some students are aficionados who have been hooked for years, others first-timers spicing up their week with an adrenaline rush. I was a nervous reporter with minimal coordination and upper-body strength.
The trapeze net is set in a field at the end of a dirt road, just past the Center for Symbolic Studies, also on the Farm property. Driving in, it looked to me like a giant hammock anchored to the ground with a steel frame. I was greeted warmly by Carissa and her instructors, trapeze artists Charlie Miller and James “J-Bird” Gibson, as well as instructor trainee Lizzie Schwartz.
They buckled me into a snug heavy belt and class began with practice on a low bar beneath the net. I was taught the basics, which, surprisingly, are actually pretty basic. Swing your legs, and let momentum pull them to your chest when you hear the command. Sounds easy. I grab ahold of the bar and begin to swing my legs.
“Look at the bar, knees up!” J-Bird says.
I momentarily flashback to grade school gymnastics and many, many failed attempts at a pull over and start to panic. I pull it together, do as I’m told and pull my knees up. Voila! It worked! I am now hanging on the bar by the crook of my knees as well as with my hands.
“Let go,” J-Bird says, and I do. “Arch your back!”
Before I know it, I am hanging by my knees with my arms stretched above me and at this moment I’m pretty sure Barnum and Baileys would beg for my employment. It was awesome. After a few moments, I am ready to grab back ahold of the bar and shimmy my legs to the ground, ready for the main event.
The class had five students including myself, and we each took turns climbing the 25-foot ladder to the upper platform. I reach the top, steady myself on the narrow perch, and chalk my hands as Lizzie straps my belt to heavy ropes. The ropes both keep my body supported and allow Charlie, who is on the ground holding the other end, to increase the power in each of my swings. At Lizzie’s “ready,” I bend my knees and lean forward. The action word “Hep!, (“go” sounds too much like “no”), directs me to leap. I fly.
“Back! Front!” Charlie commands from below. I follow with my legs. “Knees up!” I have some trouble, and someone on the ground reminds me, “look at the bar!” I do, which makes it easy to hook my knees, and then let go with my hands.
For a moment time stands still as the air deafens and the bright green of early summer rushes around me. “Alright, hands up!” someone says. I reach up and grab the bar, unhook my knees. I swing freely for a moment. Charlie then informs me I am going to attempt a back flip.
Alright Charlie, you’ve brought me this far.
The flip starts with a series of back-front kicks and the courage to let go and grab your knees on the command. I do, but my back flip turns into an ordinary fall. Which was fun in itself, so I wasn’t too disappointed. I easily walk across the net and hop to the ground as another student begins to fly above me.
Emily Rosakranse, 8, has been flying for two years. Her brother, Alden, 9, started last year. The Kerhonkson residents come weekly and have as much fun watching their classmates fly as they do flying themselves. I join them — as well as Sue Van Parys, 54, of Hurley and Sherry Karp, 57, of Middletown — at the picnic tables that face the net. It is here that the class congregates to watch each other fly while they wait their turns.
Van Parys is on her sixth class. “After the first class every muscle hurt,” she said. “It’s a fun workout.” Karp agrees. She has been attending the school for one year, often with Bella, a white lapdog who wears her own handmade Trapeze Club t-shirt. “It was always my dream to be in the circus,” she said. “I saw an ad in the paper and have been hooked ever since.”
Two hours fly by, I hang a few more times and actually nail the back flip. The last 15 minutes are reserved for “catching.” Opposite the bar used to fly is a another swing, called a catch bar. J-Bird climbs a separate ladder and sits on the catch bar, gently swaying as Alden Rosakranse starts to fly behind him. The nine-year-old easily hangs by his knees, and as he arches his back and reaches up, his hands connect with J-Birds’. The two swing together, a sort of finale. One by one, each student attempts the “catch,” then starts to pack up, telling each other to have a good week and that they will see them next time.
Most of Carissa’s students are repeats. “They try it once and get addicted,” she said. “It’s their therapy, the thing they do for themselves each week.”
Single class experiences, as well as packages, are available at the school’s website, www.trapezeclub.org, or by calling 255-4375.