Plenty of people climb a ladder at work, but how many people get to the top, grab a bar and then take a flying leap? Stone Ridge resident and mother of two Cindy Sweeney does.
Sweeney is a professional aerialist. She just recently returned from her stint in a Dubai theme park called Global Village, where she performed as the “thrill act” on the flying trapeze three times per day, six days a week for a month and a half straight. Sweeney said she was dreamed of joining the circus ever since she was a little girl, but never imagined she would be doing so after being married for 18 years and raising two teen boys.
Sweeney was a gymnast for 14 years, but she got into trapeze-art only a few years at the now-shuttered trapeze school in Tillson. She said one day she and her friend, the trapeze school’s former director, were playing around doing handstands and her friend referred to her as “a natural,” insisting that she give it a swing. “She kept asking me [when I was] in my mid-30s, but I kept saying no because I was a mom, and didn’t have a right to my own life,” said Sweeney. “But she kept asking me, and now I am hooked, and it is a part of my life.”
So what’s the appeal? “It appeals to the way I use my body as a kid in gymnastics,” Sweeney explained. “When I quit I was really tired of gymnastics but was always looking for a way to use my body in the same way. Yoga, diving, martial arts — none of those did it for me. When I found this, it really appealed to the same use of my body, and so it felt very natural.”
Sweeney tries to keep it local for practice and performing, so she can stay on top of her family, but this winter she traveled with the Shrine Circus in Indiana and Michigan prior to her stint in the Middle East. She generally freelances, and finds herself turning down offers all the time. “Since I am a mom, it really is a balancing act [reporter giggled at the pun Sweeney didn’t know she made],” she said. “I would have to be on the road six to eight months at a time. So I mostly do fill-ins or short gigs.”
Born a performer
The common thread linking most aerial artists, Sweeney said, is they are very outgoing people. “You have to be a natural born performer, because even when you are just practicing, they are still doing it in front of people. People tend to be very gregarious, and ‘show’ people. Even when people start out, they have to take classes and get up in front of their classmates. You have to be OK with performing in front of people right from the start.”
One might expect Sweeney to train for hours every day and to live on three leaves of lettuce per week. As it turns out, Sweeney is one of the few blessed with good genes. “Because of my background in gymnastics, my body is used to being used and abused and I have good genes, I don’t do anything really,” she said. “I eat very well, I am very conscious about my weight. There’s no specific weight I have to be, but you have to be small because you have to be able to maneuver your own body weight.”
Sweeney said now that the trapeze school in Tillson is closed, she said the only place to practice is in New York City. She now trains and manages the scheduling at the Trapeze School of New York on Chelsea Piers.
“People who can be very large can be very successful if they can manage their own weight,” she explained, cautioning that trapeze can be very hard on the body, particularly the shoulders. Sweeney said like gymnasts, the skin on a trapeze artist hands’ tears and rips.
This reporter wanted to know about the costumes — dreaming of glitter, sequins, a colorfully kaleidoscopic palette of lightning-patterned body suits. Sweeney explained that costumes are usually provided. However, a lot of women will make their own costumes when they get into it fulltime.
Apart from cool costumes, a natural question would be one about serious accidents, which Sweeney said she has only suffered just one. It came at an inopportune time. Last May, Sweeney was supposed to begin first professional gig at Circus Circus in Reno, Nev. She said she felt pressed to practice a new trick she was not quite ready for. She landed in the net badly, dislocating her foot at a right angle. She tore all surrounding ligaments and broke her fibia.