The Flying Trapeze Paradox

Well here we are. The Method Behind the Madness series has run its course. The goal all throughout was to highlight the curriculum we’ve developed and provide some insight into the why behind it all. My hope is that by now you understand why and how your takeoff needs to be functional, that your body position at catch point is something worth paying attention to and that how you land in the net always matters (two bounces!). The height of your swing—both where you start from and where you get yourself to—plays a significant role in your ability to feel what you need to feel in order to successfully perform a trick. And somewhere along the way, we may have touched on trampoline and strength and conditioning.

The truth is, I feel like there’s always more to say on any given topic related to flying trapeze because there’s always room for a different perspective. I don’t know about you, but I like reading Flying Trapeze blogs.  Two in particular that I enjoy are Lizzy’s Flying Trapeze blog and Kyla Duffy’s blog. The reason I enjoy reading their posts so much is that they both seem to approach flying trapeze as a practice or a work in progress. These are two insightful and dedicated reflective practitioners offering us a window into their own study of flying and I can’t recommend them highly enough.

catch scream
How’s that for serious?

It’s worthwhile noting that people come to flying trapeze—and continue to fly on an ongoing basis—for a variety of reasons. Past a certain point that varies from person to person, however, we have to ask the question: how serious are you about your flying?

Recently, Kyla wrote a post entitled Throw It Like You Mean It, which inspired this post.  (Before I begin to piggy-back on Kyla’s sentiment, I would like to offer a note of thanks: Thanks, Kyla!). In her post, Kyla begins by acknowledging that flying professionally and flying recreationally are very different from each other. This is absolutely and obviously true. In one setting, you’re getting paid to keep your legs straight and toes pointed. It’s your job to smile and style. It’s your job to take that return bar even if the timing doesn’t look quite right. In the other setting, it’s all just for fun (some might say). There are, however, a number of similarities between the two worlds and this is where things can get confusing.

Regardless of whether you are flying professionally or recreationally, there are some things that both worlds have in common. Two factors I would like to highlight here are the inescapable influence of physics and another is that very human drive to be better than you were yesterday. One is a vehicle for the other. And they both bring me to the point of this whole post: the flying trapeze paradox.

Right from the very first class, students are introduced to what I call the flying trapeze paradox. The nature of this paradox is essentially this: there are going to be things that you have to do when flying that feel scary and unnatural (at first) and if you hold back, hesitate or try to half-do it, it will turn out to feel just as scary and unnatural as you think. If, however, you decide to trust in yourself and the movement, it very often turns out to feel far less scary and a lot more natural. In some cases, I would say it even feels easier to do when you just go for it.

The most straightforward example from the first class is your first ever takeoff: when it comes time to lean your whole body out to grab the bar, the most natural thing to do seems to be to try to keep your hips back over the platform by bending at the waist and folding forward. And this results in the more terrifying takeoff experience. If, on the other hand, you trust it and lean forward with your hips first, shifting your weight into the front of the safety belt…it feels unnatural and scary at first, but grabbing the bar is almost instantly easier. Taking off from the platform is easier. Your initial swing feels smoother.

And let’s be clear: not only does trusting in the whole process and positioning your body correctly feel nicer, but it’s safer for you (and everyone else involved).

This paradox is present in some form or another throughout the learning progression and where you find it will vary from person to person because that scary thing that you need to do to make your trick work is different for everyone. A common example occurs when learning the backend uprise. Getting into position can be scary…but if you can just stayed (physically and mentally) composed in that moment, it’s actually quite a bit easier to do. And therein lies the rub.

The whole reason I started this post with a review of the pieces that form the foundation of the curriculum at TSNY is because Kyla’s post reminded me of the paradox—at various points along your journey, it’s going to feel scary to do the thing you need to do, and that lead me to thinking that sometimes, the scary thing is just putting in the effort. At every stage of the journey, it can be really hard. That first time takeoff or knee hang can be quite challenging as people confront the limits of the world they know. But as you progress, taking off from the platform becomes easy. Second nature. Now the challenges lie in finding out just how far you can go. Just what kind of amazing things you can train your body to do. And therein lies the magical opportunity: if you find yourself able to do the thing you once thought to be impossible, that can have a profound effect on your mind because suddenly, all of your notions of limitation are suspect. But it’s not going to be easy getting there. Staying tight the whole time you’re in the air so that you can master that trick you’re working on takes practice.

Diligent, mindful practice.

And strength.

And conditioning.

The key thing here is that sometime after your first knee hang it can become very easy to slip into that comfortable realm. Beware complacency. Trampoline and Strength & Conditioning are in the curriculum not just because flying trapeze is an incredibly physically demanding discipline, but because they represent avenues for you to take what you can do with your body further than you ever imagined.

Change your body, change your mind.

This could suddenly begin to sound like a personal transformation commercial, but it’s not. It’s just a gentle reminder that the magic is right there for you.

You just have to put in the work.