Flying Trapeze Basics: catch point and landings

Let’s talk about some flying trapeze ‘basics’. Whether you’re new to flying trapeze or you’ve been around for a while, I’m sure you’ve seen a professional flying trapeze performance—probably either live at a circus or on a YouTube video:

The flyer takes off from the platform, swings out and back and then performs a trick (which is often some variety of awesome) and is caught by the catcher. The flyer swings out with the catcher and as they swing back, they work together and then press off each other so that the flyer can sail up out of the catcher’s hands, turn and then catch the bar to return again to the platform.

We often call this a round trip, and in terms of your skill progression as a flyer at TSNY, this is our primary long-term goal for you. Most of the curriculum (until after Level 4) is geared towards building the skills you need to do a round trip of your own.

A big key to successfully returning a trick is (obviously) a smooth catch. In the early stages—from the knee hang through the ‘set’ release tricks and even to the pullover shoot—a smooth catch with any of these tricks is our goal. After you begin learning to swing and to do your first backend trick, the goal expands; catching becomes a check-point along the way to the larger goal of making a return to the platform. What we’re looking to do is have you build a set of solid backend tricks (such as a split, straddle, whip or hocks off), where one of them will become your go-to trick. From there, you’ll progress to the turnaround swing and half-turn. The skills you’ll learn practicing the half-turn (trick) will prepare you for turning out of the catcher’s hands. Once you can maintain height in your turnaround swing, you can work towards remounting the platform.

As soon as you start to learn the swing, you should also begin practicing your swing in the catcher’s hands as well (working in hands). At this stage of the game, it is important to remember that the most important prerequisite to successfully working in hands is a smooth catch.  So what makes a catch smooth? There are a couple of elements that contribute to a catch being smooth. For every catchable trick, the magic recipe calls for position and timing.

The part of that recipe that you, the flyer, can most control is your body position. For many tricks (we’ll talk about rotating and spinning tricks such as the layout and cutaway half in another installment), the goal is to have the flyer’s body positioned such that, at the moment of the catch, their body is in line with the catcher’s body (and by extension, the cables of the catch trap). It is important for the flyer’s body to be straight and tight—not only at the moment of the catch, but through the moment of the catch. The way we practice this is by holding that good body position from the moment you come off the bar to the moment you hit the net (for your second bounce!).

When discussing catch timing, we typically use the catcher’s point of view as our frame of reference.  If the timing is good, the flyer will arrive at ‘catch point’ and begin to fall with the catcher. This puts the flyer in sync with the catcher’s swing and enables flyer and catcher to work together effectively.  If the flyer gets there a bit early, you might hear someone say that the catcher was ‘still coming up’. Alternatively, if the timing is a bit late, the catcher will reach the peak of his/her swing and then be ‘going away’ (or ‘fading’) as the catch happens. In both cases, you will be able to see that the flyer’s swing has a bit of a ‘wobble’ to it. This is because flyer and catcher are out of sync. Sometimes, when the timing is off by more than just a little, you’ll see the lines person decide to slow the catch down to protect both flyer and catcher.

So what can you take away from this? Start watching the timing during catching. Notice the flyer’s body position (and tightness) at catch point. In your own flying, make sure that as you come off the bar and as you descend to the net, stay tight. With practice, you can also purposely position your body at the desired angle. Hint: a sure sign your angle at catch point is correct is that you have landed in the net flat on your stomach. Have a look at the TiVo replay of your own tricks to see if you’re in a good position when you need to be.

The more aware you become of what good catchable position and timing looks and feels like, the better you will be as a flyer. Work your swing and your half-turn. Make sure your landings in the net are solid. And most importantly, watch the schedule for those All-Catching Classes!