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Trapeze amateurs take to air

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sarah Cuneo's passion for flying on a trapeze began, as these things often do, on vacation. Last fall, she visited Club Med, where trapeze arts were offered, and reasons why not were left on the mainland. Ms. Cuneo, 44, gave it a try.

Now she is a regular at the Trapeze School of New York's Baltimore outpost. Twice a week or so, you can find the mother of 3-year-old twins hanging and swinging 30 feet in the air overlooking the Inner Harbor.

"Once I tried it, I was hooked," the Bethesda resident says. "It is exciting. There is a progression to build on. It is physical and mental and relaxing at the same time."

TSNY Baltimore has been teaching decidedly non-circus folks to swing and release at Rash Field since 2004. The school offers two or three classes every day except Wednesday. Many people stop in for one class. (Prices start at $45, but packages are available.) Others, like Ms. Cuneo, are regulars, working out on the trapeze the same way others might schedule a weekly aerobics class.

"Anyone can learn," instructor Alison Malmon says. "You don't need to be a gymnast or to be particularly athletic. You need to listen, have a willingness to learn, to open your mind and to have some fun. To me, it is the best of all sports. There is no impact; there is a nice, soft net in which to land."

Ms. Malmon, a former gymnast and cheerleader who runs a D.C. nonprofit, had the athletic background to build on when she took up trapeze, also during a Club Med visit. She has been an instructor for several years. She is getting married this month at the Bolger Center in Potomac, where she and her fiance will have a trapeze rig set up on the grounds for guests who want to give flying a try.

"It is our gift to them," Ms. Malmon says. "Anyone can do it."

Indeed, TSNY Baltimore promotes trapeze arts for all. Children as young as 6 can take a class, and Ms. Malmon says she has taught senior citizens.

A typical two-hour class for first-timers starts with some ground training, in which students learn the safety rules and the basics of momentum and hand placement. Then they move to a ground-training area, where they practice how to jump off the trapeze platform and perform the knee hang, the most basic of trapeze moves. Also important is the dismount, in which students learn to somersault to the net gracefully and carefully.

Within a half-hour, the first-timers are ready to fly. They are rigged to a safety harness even when climbing the ladder to the trapeze platform. An instructor on the ground guides the students through the knee hang, shouting "legs up" and "hands off" to ensure the timing is right.

"Timing is so important," instructor Scout Day explains to the students before they take flight. "If you do what we say when we say it, the swing is going to do most of the work for you."

From there, some students work up to doing a catch move, swinging from the trapeze and catching the arms of an instructor swinging from another trapeze.

Rozlyn Giddens of Dumfries, Va., recently tried her first trapeze class. By the end of it, she really was flying.

"I was totally surprised," says Ms. Giddens, 40. "The first couple times up, I didn't listen to instructions. Each time up, they encouraged me. I actually got caught; I'm amazed. I am surprised you can make that kind of progression so quickly."