- Associated Press - Sunday, August 31, 2014

WATERTOWN, Mass. (AP) - It is 20 feet up to the thin red board that serves as a launch pad for the flying trapeze. But the mental space in which the mind does its gymnastics is boundless, always reaching the same end: This is a bad idea.

Never mind the trained instructors with harness lines and the small troupe of cheering classmates. Never mind the safety net, eight feet off the ground.

Trapeze is not meant for novices; fear is. At least until the aspiring fliers let go of everything but the bar.

“You get to be Peter Pan,” said Eileen Frazer, 65, of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. “You never have to grow up, and you fly through the air.”

In a field straddling Watertown and Waltham, a new trapeze school is teaching potential circus performers and stressed-out 9-to-5 workers how to release and soar. It is one of a few such schools in the area, including one in Brattleboro, Vermont and another in Reading.

Most students at Revolution Trapeze are not acrobats, but the school’s owners say they have about a 90 percent success rate in getting people to perform basic maneuvers after one class.

“Beginner trapeze is like a giant game of ‘Simon Says,’ ” said Jon Wells, co-owner of the school.

New students have to focus and listen to instructors at all times, he said. Physical fitness is not especially important. Technical knowledge is irrelevant.

Rich Ridolfo, another co-owner of Revolution Trapeze, said he has taught people ranging in age from 2 to the mid-80s. He started taking trapeze classes five years ago in California, though he describes himself as the “least athletic person on the planet.”

“Anyone who has gone to a circus looks at it and says, ‘Wow, that’s amazing. I could never do that,’ ” he said.

Wells, who got into circus performing as a student at the University of New Hampshire in 2002, opened Revolution Trapeze in June along with Ridolfo after a two-year search for a site. They are still looking for an indoor facility, but for now, they said, the field behind historic Gore Place will do.

They have a custom trapeze rig, which Wells said cost about $30,000, a red trailer, a canopy tent, and little else. Students pull their cars onto the grass, and - depending on skill level - grab a harness before climbing 20 feet on a narrow ladder to the trapeze bar.

They are almost always terrified, which instructors say is probably the appropriate response.

“I fought MMA (mixed-martial arts) professionally, and I was a little scared up there,” said Mark Raposo, a brawny 33-year-old from Revere who wore an X-Men T-shirt to class one recent weekend.

“Fear is healthy,” said Wendy Kinal, a Revolution Trapeze instructor. “You need it to be safe.”

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