Until recently, hanging upside down from a trapeze was not something I could have ever imagined myself doing. For one thing, my athletic prowess is essentially non-existent. For another, I am a consummate worrier, constant frett-er and compulsive over-thinker; I could probably give Woody Allen a run for his money. So any activity that requires me to be suspended more than three inches from the ground is normally something that I will strenuously avoid.
However, during an uncharacteristic spurt of adventurousness that can only be attributed to post-exam euphoria, I decided that this would be the summer I tried different foods, took a pilates class, and explored areas of the city beyond the borders of the St. George campus. It was fortuitous then that Adult Circus came to my attention shortly after I had declared this season “The Summer of New Things.”
When I first received an e-mail about Adult Circus, I momentarily dismissed it as junk mail promoting some type of fetish pornography. Once I realized that Adult Circus is actually the Harbourfront Centre’s instructional circus arts class, it seemed like the perfect activity to feed my newly-discovered daredevil spirit.
As it turns out, however, old habits die hard. Not long after I had registered for the course, I began to seriously doubt my decision.
“You have to sign a waiver before you participate,” I informed my boyfriend a few days before I was supposed to take part in the Adult Circus media day. “That means that they don’t want to be liable if you fall and break something, which means there’s a chance you might fall and break something. I don’t want to die. I think I should cancel.”
“You’ll be fine,” he said, suppressing a chuckle.
But when it came time to head down to Coronation Park, where Adult Circus holds its classes throughout the summer, I was still feeling anxious. Try as I might, I couldn’t shake the idea that I would soon be plunging to my untimely demise from the precarious heights of a tightrope. It was a blistering Toronto summer day, and when I arrived at the Adult Circus big top, I was, to put it mildly, quite sweaty. Uncomfortable and nervous, I began to survey the tent with unease. Acrobatic silks, a swinging ladder, and a single trapeze hung from the roof of the big top.
Near the entrance of the tent stood Marsha Kennington, Adult Circus’ principle instructor, and her team of aerial circus artists. They were all very fit.
“We had a lot of people back out today because of the heat,” Marsha told the small group of journalists who had assembled for the class. “You guys are the brave ones.”
The last-standing crusaders of hard-hitting journalism were ushered into the centre of the tent so we could practice some ground acrobatics. I was paired with an instructor named Rebecca Leonard, an unfailingly enthusiastic and intimidatingly muscular woman. Rebecca lay down on the floor, with her legs in the air, and told me to position myself by her feet and grab onto her hands. Once I had done so, she had me slowly lift up my own legs, with my stomach balancing on her feet. By this point, I was already feeling pretty pleased with myself, but Rebecca was determined to take things a step further.
“Do you feel comfortable letting go of my hands?” she asked.
“I don’t think I get paid enough for that,” I joked.
“Come on, arms up!”
I decided that it would be best to refrain from arguing with the woman supporting my entire body with her legs, so I let go of her hands and stretched out my arms. Contrary to my expectations, I did not wind up face planting onto the mat below me, but remained in the air, balancing on Rebecca’s feet. And furthermore, I found the experience more exciting than terrifying. I wasn’t elevated too far from the floor at that point, but this was soon to change.
Once I had planted myself firmly back on solid ground, we moved on to the acrobatic silk sling. Demonstrating the exercise that we were supposed to perform, Rebecca flipped over the sling, pulled herself upwards and seamlessly maneuvered her body so that it lay flat, with her legs pushing into one end of the sling and her hands gripping the other. Her movements were fluid, seemingly effortless and completely gorgeous.
Knowing that I would never be able to pull off this feat with even a fraction of Rebecca’s skill and poise, I began to feel nervous. The sling was suspended relatively high above the ground, and I was fairly certain that a fall from that height would be quite painful. But because Rebecca and the other journalists who had assembled for the media day were waiting for me to take my turn, I stood against the sling and clasped my hands on either side of the silk band.
“Ok, now kick your legs over your head,” Rebecca said.
“Um, how exactly am I supposed to do that?” I asked uneasily.
“Just move one leg up and the other will follow.”
I gave an uncertain kick with my left leg and Rebecca gave the other one a hearty shove upwards. Before I could register what had happened, I was hanging upside down in the silk. There was no turning back at that point, and following Rebecca’s step-by-step instructions, I pulled myself up until I was sitting in the sling, and then maneuvered into a plank position. Rebecca spun the sling around. The other journalists clapped. I felt surprisingly exhilarated. Perhaps I realized that I was perfectly safe under Rebecca’s watchful eyes, or perhaps a rush of adrenaline had simply drowned out my fears. Whatever the case may be, at some point, my nerves had dissipated and left me free to enjoy the excitement of it all.
As the class progressed, I found that I was actually quite eager to move on to the trapeze and swinging ladder, so I could try out different aerial tricks. At the end of the day, I not only left Adult Circus in one piece, but also enjoyed the time that I spent there.
I can’t say that this experience has turned me into an adrenaline junkie with a never-say-never attitude, but it goes to show that stepping outside of your comfort zone every now and then can prove a worthwhile endeavour. As it turns out, dangling above your comfort zone from a trapeze isn’t such a bad idea either.