With their lithe dancers’ bodies, death defying tricks and effortless grace, flying trapeze artists have always awed me, and I’m thrilled to be able to give this magical sport a try thanks to Access Circus and the Twilight Flyers team.
Wearing leggings, a comfortable top and socks, I arrive at the outdoor rig at Scarborough beach and am warmly greeted by Mikey Halcrow, a circus arts and dance professional who will be my instructor for the day.
After a harness fitting, a quick stretch and a safety talk which basically boils down to ‘don’t touch the high tension cables’ and ‘do exactly what we say’, we go over how to get onto the platform, which is more than 10m up in the air, and the moves I’ll be doing, on a static bar. Mikey makes it look easy as he breaks it down into a series of simple moves, which I try to replicate. Hanging by my hands is easy enough, but pulling my legs through my arms to hook my knees over the bar is a trifle more difficult, with my toes and heels tending to get in the way.
I’m assured that it is much easier in the air, as I’ll be doing the moves at the top of each swing where my weight is negligible, as opposed to at the bottom where forces of gravity and my speed make me almost twice as heavy.
The next thing I know, I’m climbing the ladder. It feels a lot higher up than it looks, so I focus on putting hand over foot until I’m there at the platform. I briefly enjoy the view of the crashing waves and wheeling seagulls as the guys clip me onto the safety lines. With the high sea breezes tossing my hair around, I get into position and lean out, reaching for the swing. At “Get ready!”, I bend my knees and at “Hup!” the signal to jump, I’m out, hanging in the nothingness for a second before I start to drop and the swing begins to move me in a huge arc.
The instructions start flowing as Mikey makes the ‘calls’. “Legs up!” and I scramble to hook my knees over the bar: done! I’m upside down and zooming head first to towards the platform. “Hands off!” and I release them, arching my back and stretching out as far as I can. I’m flying!
“Hands on!” and I reach to grab the bar again, “Legs off!” and I’m hanging by my hands, getting ready for the drop. I’m supposed to demurely fold my hands over my chest and drop backwards into the soft net. I let go, and immediately panic, scrabbling around in the air beneath me, landing on my butt with a big“waaaaaaaaaaaah!”.
It’s all over in seconds, and as I climb down, my body is flooded with adrenalin. My legs feel like jelly and I can’t stop laughing. I’m dying for my next go.
This time, we up the ante and attempt a somersault. Getting enough momentum to pull this off requires a few extra moves, but I go into robot mode and try to react exactly to the calls. Sure enough, after three “Forward! Back! Forward!” kicks, I’ve let go and am hugging my legs, spinning through the air until gently landing on the net. I can’t believe I’ve pulled it off! One more somersault later, and I’m ready for my final swing. This one is the least physical and I let go of the bar gently, spinning a lazy 90° to land on my back. For the first time, I don’t panic on the freefall and flop backwards onto the net with a smile of relief.
I’m addicted, and want to go again and again, but my body has different ideas, and after my harness is off I hobble over to the grass to stretch my cramping legs and massage my aching hands. My whole body is buzzing, and I’m sad that it’s over, but something tells me I’ll get to relive it in my dreams about flying tonight. Hup! Hup! Hup!