The dot-com collapse of the early 2000s represented, to some, an unusual opportunity. In 2001, Karyn Gladstone was one of those fortunate enough to receive some severance when laid off. With some money in her pocket, and few obligations, she spent the summer trying new things. Whitewater kayaking, Spanish lessons, and, most importantly, trapeze.
“I first got on a trapeze in New Paltz, N.Y. on a beautiful outdoor flying trapeze rig,” she says. “That first day I flew until my hands blistered and bled. I loved it from the start.”
These days, Karyn spends her days working as a project manager for a nonprofit-focused Web/technology consultancy. In her spare time, she flies.
While the seed was planted that summer in New York, she didn’t pick it up again until 2004, at the San Francisco Circus Center.
“I tip-toed in and out,” she admits, saying she “waffled between bellydance, aerial dance, and different kinds of trapeze before really committing myself about two years ago.”
Karyn is now an avid trapeze practitioner, training at least three days per week. We asked what the appeal of trapeze is over, say, sports not involving risking your life. First, she explained that with the proper precautions “its really not all that death defying.” She discloses that the combined rush from endorphins and adrenaline is “amazing.”
But it goes beyond that — the more immersed she becomes, the more she finds to love about it.
“At first, there is a personal fitness achievement component — [like] when I could first do a pull-up! There is a vibrant community, a creative community of unique folks doing cool things and making art with their bodies. And, once I started getting the hang of it, the amazing combination of artistry and skill that goes into putting together an act.”
While the “new circus movement” — more akin to Cirque du Soleil than Ringling Bro.’s — has gained much of its traction in San Francisco. She prefers double trapeze, in which two people perform (seen here), but there are solo opportunities as well. She points to static trapeze (which she also trains in); single-point trapeze , and swinging trapeze.
It is, naturally, physically demanding. Karyn surmises that her experience as a figure skater as in her youth helps out, something she says contributes to her body awareness when performing uncommon movements.
“I often find myself wishing I’d stumbled into trapeze sooner,” Karyn says. “It is tough on the body. When I watch the summer camp kids, they’re both fearless and resilient.”
But it’s not solely a young person’s game. Her husband, once a little leery of Karyn’s involvement, has been challenged to become a practitioner himself. While he’s made impressive progress in just about a year, Karyn says that “the best part about it is that he’s stuck with it because he’s found his own inspiration in trapeze — not just because he wants to do what I’m doing.”
There are a number of places nationwide to get on a trapeze. In Karyn’s Bay Area, she points to Trapeze Arts and Circus Center as places to get on a trapeze locally. Elsewhere, Trapeze School New York is a good place to start checking into it; TSNY has locations in Washington, D.C., Boston, and Los Angeles in addition to the Big Apple. Also check out Trapeze.net for tips on finding schools and other resources.